Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Stretch With Ekphrastic Poetry and Writing

By Janie Reinart

It's time to “work out” your writing muscles. Take a deep cleansing breath and stretch

Today, I invite you to bring the visual arts and creative writing together. 

From the Greek meaning to describe, ekphrastic poetry or writing uses a painting or work of art as the jumping off point for entering into that work of art and creating something new in our response.

An example is John Keats, Ode on a Grecian Urn where the figures are in motion but frozen in time.

             What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?
            What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?
               What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?

Don McLean's hit song Vincent (Starry, Starry Night) is another example of using paintings and Van Gogh's life to create music.

Starry, starry night.
Flaming flowers that brightly blaze, 
Swirling clouds in violet haze,
Reflect in Vincent's eyes of china blue.

One of my favorite authors, Tracy Chevalier, wrote a story using the painting of the Dutch painter Vermeer as her jumping off point, Girl with a Pearl Earring.

In an interview, Tracy says," In the painting the girl’s clothes are very plain compared to other Vermeer ladies, and yet the pearl is clearly luxurious. I was fascinated by that contrast, and it seemed to me that the pearl was not hers. At the same time, I also felt she knew Vermeer well, as her gaze is very direct and knowing. So I thought, "She knows him, she’s close to him, but she’s not well off. Who is she?" His servant. It just seemed right."

I had the opportunity to participate in a project partnering works of fine art with poetry called Silver Apples of the Moon.  Each participant juxtaposed a favorite poem with a piece of visual art and then explained how it enriched our lives and touched us in a personal way.

The poem I chose was When Someone Deeply Listens to You by my friend, John Fox. The painting,The Red Kerchief by Claude Monet was at the Cleveland Museum of Art. 

Here is an excerpt from my essay, The Deep Color of Love, dedicated to my friend and colleague, Jane Clark

Silence frames this fleeting moment like the delicate lace curtains painted by Monet. Listen. Just listen. Loneliness glances out the window of a bare nursing home room...

I search her face for signs of her old self. There is blurriness there-like Monet's sketchy brush strokes. She is ensnared in her body, frozen, just looking back at me... 

As the red cape in the picture draws my attention, so my eyes are drawn to my friend's right hand. It is the only part of her body that she can move now. 

Her fingernails painted a deep red-the color of passionate living, of love, of life-blood-are her last act of defiance against her brain tumor...

We share three precious hours in that room...Her death a few days later leaves me staring, frozen in grief... Her memory " is now at home within." 

Share your creations with us in the comments. Mention what work of visual art was your inspiration.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Save the Scraps: Guest Post by Carrie Charley Brown

Revision ignites my thoughts… Oh, the possibilities!  And with so many directions to turn, why ignore any of them?  As writers, we are quick to dismiss an idea that doesn't sit right. If you are like me, typing most drafts directly into the computer, that little backspace action can permanently erase a perfectly good idea. Fast. But, what if you had kept your nearly dismissed ideas?

Most of us already have a bank for our initial ideas.  We know enough to write them down and stuff them into a special container, folder, or notebook. So, why not do this when revising, as well? It’s easy when we receive a critique back. Even if we aren't initially ready to accept the feedback, we can save it for later when our defense walls have dropped.

When writing first drafts, we all approach them a bit differently. In fact, I don't always do it the same way every time, either. Sometimes, I brainstorm the plot bones first. But mostly, I am a pantser. I just want to get the ideas on the paper and see where it leads me. That’s when I encounter the little angel/devil friends sitting on each shoulder.

Angel:  “Now, now, now…you need to follow the rules.”
Devil:  “Don’t listen to her. You’re going for unique. Live a little.”

Before hitting the delete key, copy and paste that idea and put it in a document dedicated to your manuscript. I use the title of my manuscript followed by the word “brainstorm” or “ideas.” The page looks like a hodgepodge, but at least the ideas are still there. It comes in super handy when revising.

I suppose I’m the same way when critiquing professionallyI like to share all of the ideas that pop into my mind, and the result is a very honest, detailed critique, that takes about two-four hours of my time. I would much rather share things ahead of time with a client. We value those first impression opportunities with agents and editors too much to waste them.

Through it all, you can always turn back to your hodge-podge of deleted phrases, sentences, and ideas. You can also turn to mentor texts and the countless articles that are posted online.  

If you have not yet joined an online writing community of some sort, the support is priceless. My go-to communities are the 12x12 PictureBook Challenge, PiBoIdMo, ReviMo, KidLit 411and my own ReFoReMo . Each community has a Facebook group where writers can ask questions, recommend mentor texts, and share valuable articles found on the Internet.

So, back to that critique we saved for later. Now that the ideas have sat in the back of our minds, we'll be open to experimenting. Don’t be afraid to start a rewrite or let your plot go in a new direction. You’ll never really know if it works unless you try it. You might have 20 different versions that include 3 different points of view, 5 different plots, and varied word lengths. That’s okay. It’s part of getting to know your story and finding the one that clicks. It’s also part of being open to growth and finding your best inner editor. It will take some time. Be patient with the process and enjoy the opportunities that revision places before you.

Carrie Charley Brown is a professional critique mentor with an editorial eye. She is the founder of ReFoReMo, a research challenge for picture book writers. Carrie is a children’s writer and contributor at Writer’s Rumpus and Kids Are Writers. She was a 2014 CYBILS award fiction picture book panelist and was formerly an elementary teacher. You can follow her writing journey at 

Friday, April 24, 2015

Wherever You Go: A Moving Experience by Kathy Halsey, inspired by Pat Zietlow Miller

I hope this post inspires you and me. Sometimes we writers must write for us, and that's where I am today after moving from Phoenix AZ back to Columbus OH. That's about 1,870.7 miles with a Corgi, according to this cake my husband's congregation gave us. 
I welcome new adventures, just like the rabbit does in Pat Zietlow Miller's new rhyming PB, WHEREVER YOU GO. In fact, this inspiring book was literally on my door step the day we received keys to Hedley Place. This cheery book, reminded me that I can always find the road home again. But, it HAS been hard to keep my writing momentum going for the least 2 months.
Pat's opening lines reminds us to "just open your door." She tell us that "Roads...reach;" and "Roads...grow," and "Roads...climb."
My road to Ohio has loomed like a mountain. But the rabbit and Pat remind us on our ascent, we'll be 
"Clinging to cliffs,
Chasing a cloud.
Reaching the top.
tired but proud." 
So what did I do when life made it hard to write? Here's what helped and is still helping:
1. Pack a writing notebook and a WIP. I did jot notes and ideas as we traveled, but I never touched the WIP. Just having it in the car made me think about another way to approach the story, though.
2. Keep reading & connecting. I  kept up nightly w/FB posts on writing. It was all my brain could manage, but my tribe nourished me.
3. Look at illustrator Eliza Wheeler's spread above. Our MC, Mr. Rabbit, found some friends to help him climb. I began to connect to Ohio writers before I left AZ. I emailed my SCBWI Ohio RA, made plans to meet YA writer Jody Casella (THIN SPACE, YA debut) in person, and attend a critique group that meets at the Upper Arlington library monthly. 
4. Make commitments. I won't wobble off the road if I make promises to others. This week:author interview Monday w/Patricia Toth, this GROG post, and the Ohioana Book Festival Saturday where I'll meet Jody and an old friend from the Sate Library of Ohio. 
5. Grow your road and make it new. I have a new office set-up, my files are organized, and my picture book/middle grade library is alphabetized now. 

I am tired, proud, and I have this lovely tree, new to me, in my backyard! Thanks to Pat Zietlow Miller - I also have inspiration to keep going for the summit.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Meet Author/Illustrator Sue Shanahan ~By Suzy Leopold

Today is a special treat as I share an interview about an admired author. She is also an amazing illustrator. The blog post today is All About Sue Shanahan and includes a dozen questions and answersWithout further ado, please welcome Sue and her sweet smile. 
Sue Shanahan
Q 1: Tell us about your book, Love You to the Moon and Back.

A 1: I wrote Love You to the Moon and Back in response to an app company’s request. They liked my art and wanted to use it in a children’s book app. I wrote a poem around pre- existing illustrations that I had painted. My intention for the book is to give the children in your life a tangible sense of your all encompassing love. 
Sue's precious daughter and grandson.
Q 2: Tell us about your lovely illustrations, magical realism. What medium do you use?

A 2: For years I painstakingly drew with colored pencil over watercolor washes. I would put 40 to 60 hours into a piece! Yes, I know it was crazy. It began to sap me of the joy of creating. Last October I invested in an array of Daniel Smith watercolors and decided to paint with abandon. Using them as my primary medium allows for less control and more fun.

"We have to break the spell!" said Annabelle.
Glory in the Morning

"Oh, my goodness!
You're a fairy, aren'y you?"
asked Annabelle.
Glory in the Morning

Q 3: What inspired you to write your first book?

A 3: The first book I wrote is Glory in the Morning. It’s funny, but for a long time I had no idea why this story burned in my heart. After I published it I realized it was about me. Because of the dynamics of my family of origin, I grew up feeling invisible. Like the fairy in my story, being seen and loved for who I was by friends is what kept me alive. I know that sounds dramatic but love does heal and transform. 
Glory in the Morning
By Sue Shanahan

   Q 4: If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?

   A 4: Anne Lamotte. I really like her writing in general, but her book, 
   Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life was a game 
   changer for me. I felt like she had taken me by the hand and 
   showed me how to be a writer. 

   Q 5: What books are you currently reading?

   A 5: Every morning I read 365 Affirmations for the Writer by Jane 
   Hertenstein. It's a daily shot of encouragement in the arm. Also, I just
   finished reading Nightbird by Alice Hoffman. I am a big fan of her 
   writing. As for a children's book I'm reading, Over the Hills and Far 
   Away: A Treasure of Nursery Rhymes. It's the kind of book you fall 
   into and linger over.

  Q 6: What is your current WIP or what is your next project?

  A 6: I am writing a children's book on guardian angels and working 
 on essays for Maria Shriver's website and the Huffington Post. I also 
 am painting a very special portrait of a little boy who has passed on. I 
 am painting him as an angel. 

  Q 7: If you could invite five authors and illustrators to dinner who 
  would you choose?

  A 7: William Joyce, J. M. Barrie, Susan Branch,
  Mary Engelbreit, and Beatrix Potter.

  Q 8: Share something about yourself that very few
  people may know about.

  A 8: When I was a teenager I wanted to be an 
  album cover designer. I painted a portrait of the     
  lead singer of Led Zeppelin and brought it to a        
  concert of their's in Chicago. I was hoping I could
  somehow give it to him. I met the drummer's
  girlfriend in the bathroom and she arranged a 
  meeting for me with Robert Plant so I could present
  him with the painting. He loved it! It was all crazy
  and surreal but left me thinking that maybe I did 
  have talent.
Led Zeppelin and Sue!
Q 9: When did you first know you would like to be a writer? 

A 9: In 2012 I decided to heed marketing advice and create a blog to help build a following for my art. When I introduced my blog, Commonplace Grace, I had no idea I could write or how much I would love the process. To my delight my work was noticed by Arianna Huffington and my blog has been a regular feature in the Huffington Post ever since. I've written and illustrated two children's picture books, Glory in the Morning, and Love you to the Moon and Back. They both are now available on Amazon and iBooks. 

Q 10: How do you come up with ideas to write about? 

A 10: My stories and essays are already in me waiting to come out. Everything I write is about me directly or indirectly. My book Glory in the Morning is an allegory of my childhood. It took me getting some distance from the book before I realized that. 

Q 11: What inspires you to write? What inspires you to create, paint and draw?

A 11: That is the age old question, isn’t it? To me inspiration is a mysterious driving force that is part of the fiber of our being. You end up putting down on paper who and what you are. 

     Q 12: Where can readers find out more about you?

    A 12: Amazon Book Links: 

Web Site for Sue Shanahan
Sue Shanahan's Blog: Common Place Grace
Facebook for Sue Shanahan
Twitter: @SueShanahanArt

Thank you for sharing your love of literacy with us and your special stories. What a delight to learn more about you, your books and your gorgeous illustrations. This Sue [Leopold] thanks you, Sue [Shanahan]. Hopefully, someday I can meet you in person and give you a big hug. After all, we both live in the Land of Lincoln.

And, now for a generous offer. Enter to win a book give away by Sue Shanahan. There will be two lucky winners.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, April 20, 2015

Meet GROGger Kathy Halsey ~ by Patricia Toht

Here at the GROG, we writers come in a variety of flavors. 
If I had to choose one flavor to describe my fellow GROGger, Kathy Halsey, it would be super-duper-confetti-cake-wonder-cream. (Okay, I cheated with all of the hyphens, but Kathy is all that!) Here's your chance to get to know her a bit better.

When did you first know that you wanted to be a writer? What drew you to writing for children?

Kathy: Since I was a child, books surrounded me. Both my parents read to us - MIKE MULLIGAN, MILLIONS OF CATS, and LYLE, LYLE CROCODILE, among other classics. Newspapers, Time, National Geographic, and Smithsonian magazines were everywhere.

After many years as a 7th grade English teacher, I acquired certification as a school librarian and fell in love with books all over again. I experienced the power that reading had for K-12 students, the right book for the right reader, and I wanted to wield that power that writers have.

Now I write stories that I wish had been there for me as a child – biographies of women who knew no boundaries, adventure stories, and humorous tales to make kids laugh. Being a kid isn’t always easy. I advised many a student as an educator about big life issues, and I know they need to laugh.

 What inspires you to write? How do you come up with ideas that you want to write about?

Kathy: After my first PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) in 2011 with the amazing Tara Lazar, I found that ideas surround me and can pop up daily. I enjoy coming up with titles, and I carry a notebook in my purse for brain bursts. The sheer exuberance, honesty, and lack of artifice in children inspire me. They are society’s truth tellers.

I carry a notebook, too, Kathy. What a shame if those ideas slipped away before we wrote them down!
Can you share your author history with us? How long have you been writing?

Kathy: I wrote poetry in 5th grade, kept a journal off and on since I was 12, and was accepted into a juried master class in poetry at Ohio State. Writing to publish began in earnest 2.5 years ago when I hit a certain birthday ending in zero. I joined SCBWI, hit Facebook, and joined every group I could for writing challenges and information. My 15 years as a school librarian gave me the deep reading background all writers need.

What authors have mentored you?

Kathy: At my first AZ SCBWI meeting, I was blessed to meet Dianne White (author of BLUE ON BLUE), who became my first mentor and part of a face-to-face critique group in Phoenix. Ada Kent, friend, librarian, and former Newbery committee member, encouraged me to go to The Mazza Museum Summer Conference in Finlay, OH, several years ago. They instituted a writers’ track that year, and Ohio author Michael J. Rosen gave me my first critique. Alayne Kay Christian, Miranda Paul, Dianna Aston, Kristen Fulton, and my agent Jodell Sadler have all made an amazing difference in my writing! My writing buddies include a myriad of GROGgers, and Pamela Courtney, Jackie Wellington, and Pam Vaughn. They inspire me.
Kathy and fellow GROGgers
kicking up their heels with Kristen Fulton

If you could invite any author or illustrator to dinner, who would it be?

Photo by manhhai
Kathy: My dad introduced me to Robert Benchley and James Thurber. I’d love to chat with Thurber. We both love dogs, went to Ohio State, and I am doing research on him for a biography now. I adore his illustrations and dry humor.

Tell me about the reading program you started at the indie bookstore in AZ.

Kathy with illustrator Lynne Avril
at Changing Hands Bookstore
Kathy: I’m always in bookstores, and I noticed how adults often looked lost when choosing books for kids. I reached out to Gayle Shanks, the owner of Changing Hands Bookstore, an indie that’s been around for 40 years, volunteering  to do book talks for adults. Her sister, another former educator, also had the same idea, and the Grandma’s Club took off!

This rewarding experience gave me a chance to hone my public speaking skills, read tons of new books from picture books to middle grade, and connect with local authors. When I go on my first book tour (I think big – Julie Hedlund taught me that), I know that Changing Hands will welcome me with open arms.

What else would you like to share with our GROG readers?

Kathy: Believe in yourself.  Surround yourself with people who share your goal to be an author. Look for opportunities – make them happen. Be bold, brave, and generous to others in the field. Remember, children’s writers write for the noblest audience there is! Give them your best.
Kathy and me at the SCBWI LA Conference,
affirming that two GROGgers are better than one!

I'm so glad to learn more about you, Kathy! Thanks for giving us a taste of your life, and best of luck with your writing.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Stories of our Jewish Friends + Family by Jan Annino

            Stories of our Jewish Friends + Family 

            This week is a special time for students and families who think about Jewish families.  It is a time of remembrance of those who survived, and who didn't survive, The Holocaust. (Also targeted: Polish people, Jehovah's Witnesses, homosexuals, the Roma people, the physically or mentally disabled, children who had a black parent, and, select others.)

           My heartfelt connection to The Holocaust began with great sobs and shock in reading The Diary of Ann Frank in school and in learning about the fate of the people in the secret annex.

            To balance my sadness fortunately I played with a school pal, Susan Entenberg, when I was nine and ten. Not only did her older sister let us listen to her Beatle records, but there also was an extra unintended joy in visiting and staying overnight. 


            Her mother explained that the family’s strict Kosher kitchen was too easy for children to mess up, simply by placing food and dishes in the wrong pantry or area. A rabbi would have to come in and a ceremony would re-consecrate the kitchen. I remember coming home and announcing that I wanted to be Jewish. No kitchen duty for children. And such sweet treats to eat. Yum! In recent years my hubby & I attend our neighborhood's cultural Jewish Festival weekend, where we load up on favorite Jewish foods. If the weather is good, we can walk. But then, we can't carry so many goodies home.
            This year’s days of reverent Holocaust Commemoration are April 16-19. At a particular moment in Israel, the entire nation is asked to stop activities and assist in the remembrance.  Indeed, all over the world people will find ways to remember, such as several March of the Living events in Europe.

            Our family has previously visited  The United States Holocaust Memorial, which provides a reliable source of important information.

            Here in my hometown,  special services with Christians and Jews together are offered during the year and this week is no exception. Last weekend, my husband and I were fortunate to attend a small talk at the WordofSouth books event that showcased excellent student art, solicited from students of all faiths, by our hometown Holocaust Education Resource Council.


            With encouragement from my writing group, I submitted a Jewish topic picture book manuscript that I had worked on for a couple of years. My story is inspired by real life. In it an observant Jewish girl is thrilled by the approach of Easter, although this girl’s excitement naturally mystifies her visiting grandpapa. By the end of the story, we see what goes on at Easter for her and -  her grandpapa’s reaction.

            It is helpful to me that I have friends & colleagues of Jewish heritage to consult,
but I am especially fortunate that one of my regular writing critique partners who is Jewish
strongly encouraged me, Christian, to submit to KAR-BEN. This publisher brought out a popular picture book on The Holocaust. The Whispering Town is a picture book that beautifully tells a child's role to help defy Nazi's in Denmark. It is uplifting to read.


            KAR-BEN is a respected imprint of Lerner and well-regarded for publishing Jewish-theme topics. Favorites of mine from the KAR-BEN house include not only The Whispering Town, but also,  Feivel’s Flying Horses, Goldie Takes a Stand and Rifka Takes a Stand.
            If you are pulled to writing on Jewish themes you will naturally be reading the best in books for young readers. Some resources:
JEWISH BOOK MONTH – about mid-November thru Hanukkah

              Another resource is the comprehensive, 170-page HITLER YOUTH by renowned nonfiction children's author and former teacher, Susan Campbell Bartoletti. While focusing on the
Nazi activities that few children and teens escaped conducting in pre-war and wartime Germany, the book also documents the brave children who resisted the Nazi activities. Learn about 16-year-old Helmuth Hubener, who was beaten in a Berlin jail, tried, and at age17 in 1942, executed. The teen created a Nazi resistance movement within Germany as adults were managing to do, also risking death, in the rest of Europe. Other students who clandestinely worked against Hitler are documented.

            May this never happen again. But, recently, we attended a university talk where the terrorism of the killers known as ISIS was compared to Nazi Germany. My response is to remain informed, hug children & help train them up in the good ways.  I find hope in writing poems, stories & books of quality, for young readers.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Pinterest for Writers Part 2 by Tina Cho

Welcome back!
This is a continuation of Pinterest for Writers which you can read part 1 here, if you haven't done so.

I already established why authors should use Pinterest. Did you know there's also a set time that's better for pinning to reach your followers?

According to Fannit Marketing Services, the best time to pin is on Saturdays from 2-4 pm, and 8-11 pm. Perhaps that's when women have downtime and can spend it perusing Pinterest without kiddos bothering them. The infographic listed here also shows posting times for other social media sites as well.

I usually check the Pinterest board feed once a week and pin to MY boards when I come across things I want to save. As with all social media, use your time wisely, and you'll get a lot accomplished in your day.

Another thing to remember about Pinterest is that teachers LOVE Pinterest. They pin lesson plans, books to use in the classroom, and crafts. I have a Teachers Pay Teachers store and created a board for my TpT items. Educators repin those pins along with other educational products I've written for work-for-hire publishers. If you want your books to get noticed by teachers, start an educational board to attract teacher followers. You could also make a board and pin lesson plans and teacher guides that relate to your book. Author Barb Rosenstock has a wonderful board of teacher-related items for her picture book The Noisy Paint Box. 

More ideas for boards:
  • quotes for writers
  • setting for your book (scenes, character's bedroom, maps)
  • info about your characters (favorite food, clothing styles, pictures, pets)
  • how-to boards (I have a how to write a novel board and everything pertaining to that goes on that board)
  • poetry
  • other ideas were listed in part 1

Lastly, did you know there are SECRET boards? You can make a board and in the settings click the button to make it a secret board for your eyes only. I made one secret board for my current WIP which takes place in North Korea. I've pinned scenes, people, web sites, and articles that pertain to this WIP. Why a secret? Well, I don't think my followers would like to be bombarded with pins about North Korea, and secondly, sometimes a WIP is secretive until it goes out into the world :) Try making a secret board for your research or anything that you want for your eyes only. 

If you want to learn how to gain more followers or use Pinterest more wisely, check the articles pinned on this board.

If you're a newbie to Pinterest and want to know how to pin and set up your boards, check this video.

And here are boards of some of the groggers. Feel free to follow all or some of our boards!
(Thanks Grog friends for sharing Pinterest tips!)

Tina Cho
Suzy Leopold
Marcie Atkins
Jan Godown Annino
Patricia Toht
Janie Reinart
Grog Blog

Happy Pinning!