Monday, October 30, 2017

Todd Burleson Teacher, Librarian, & Technology Specialist Extraordinaire

By Janie Reinart

Give three cheers for our own Todd Burleson, a passionate educator and librarian/technology specialist. Todd was recently named as the 2016 School Library Journal's School Librarian of the Year!  He started the Grog Blog and is now adding author to his list of accomplishments.

Be excited people! There is a raffle (Rafflecopter will pick the winner) to win one copy of Todd's book,
The Green Screen Makerspace Project Book launching November 24,2017.  There is info toward the bottom of the interview about how to get the book for 20% off and free shipping!

Without further ado, here is the interview.

1. Who is your agent? 

I actually don’t have one!  I did for about a year and a half and it wasn’t the right fit, so I decided to explore other options. 

I was lucky enough to have become friends with Colleen and Aaron Graves.  They wrote the highly successful, Big Book of Makerspace Projects, also through McGraw Hill/Tab.   

When their publisher asked them to write a book about using a green screen in maker spaces, they said that they weren’t experts, but knew someone who was-me!  So, they asked me if I would want to write it.  The rest, as they say, is history!

2. How did you get the idea for your book?

As I mentioned above, the push came from my friends Colleen and Aaron Graves.  Once they set the idea into motion, I had to come up with a full book proposal for my editor.  That was a process in and of itself.  

I had to sum the book up in one concise paragraph.  Next, I had to create a table of contents. The meat of the project is the 24 step-by-step projects. I didn’t have to include all the steps, but I did have to share an overview of each of them.   

Once that was accepted, the book was a go. I received several deadlines to help the process stay on track. My editor, Michael McCabe, proofed each stage, gave feedback and guidance and encouraged and affirmed me along the way.

3. What is your favorite part of the book?  

Like choosing your favorite child, that is hard, but I would say I enjoyed writing the section about the history of visual effects in film the most.   

I am a huge history nerd and being able to immerse myself in some of the earliest historical films and study how filmmakers made ‘magic’ happen in their creations was mesmerizing.   

My favorite of these early filmmakers is Georges Méliès. He was a genius!  Some of the work he did ‘inside the camera’ still baffles viewers of his films today. 

The best example of this genius is his The Four Troublesome Heads (FrenchUn homme de têtes). In this film, he creates the illusion that he removes his own head several times and all sorts of craziness ensue. 

He had an incredible understanding of how the actual medium of film could be used and stretched to make the magic happen in his movies. 

I also enjoyed reaching out to colleagues around the world who were using green screen.  Many of their project ideas are in or inspired the projects in the book.

4. How long did it take to write?  

The book took about a year to write from start to finish.  Once the book was written, the post-production took about six months.  I had prepared myself for enormous amounts of work in post-production, but my editors made it a fun process.

5. What is your writing routine? 

I’ve discovered that I CANNOT write from home.  I am incredibly distracted and it is easier for me to go shine my shoes, iron my shirts or do dishes; anything other than the hard work of writing.   

My favorite table at our local public library and my trusty sketchbook and water bottle!

SO, I essentially claimed a table in my local library. I went there each weekend for about 3-4 hours on both Saturday and Sunday.   

While I was there, I cued up my playlist of ‘tunes.’  My tunes aren’t what you might think of as typical music.  In fact, I use something called ‘Binaural Beats’ to help me focus and drown out all other thoughts and distractions.  It might sound weird, but it truly works for me.  I’ve since learned about a smartphone app called Insight Timer

This free app is categorized as a meditation app, but there are thousands of tracks of all different lengths and arrangements.   

Some are purely binaural beats while others include guided meditations or simply musical selections for focus and meditation. 

I’ve since discovered that there are different frequencies related to different types of activity from sleep to study. I highly encourage other writers to give it a try.  

Another part of my ‘process’ is that each spring I take a writing retreat. I've stayed at a variety of hermitages, which offer me complete and utter isolation and peace.   

Typically I find locations that are surrounded or close to large forests or bodies of water as I find time in nature to be incredibly rejuvenating.   

After about a week I start to go stir crazy and need to ‘talk!’  One last thing I’ve done that has helped me a better writer and a lot more ‘present’ in my life was to remove the social media apps from my phone and desktop computer.

The hermitage I wrote at last spring break.

If I REALLY want or need to post something I still have my accounts, but not having them in my face all the time has eased that sense of ‘anxiety’ that the “FOMO” or Fear of Missing Out generates in me.

I also found that I much preferred writing in Google Docs than using Word.  Of course, the industry standard is Word, but while I was drafting for myself, I stuck to Google Docs because it autosaved and was available to me on every device I own.  I know there are purists out there that LOVE Word.  I am NOT one of them.

6. What is your favorite writing craft book? 

To be honest, it depends on what type of book I’m writing.  While I haven’t had any of my picture books published yet when I’m writing them, I immerse myself in the books I ‘see’ like my book to gauge where it will fit into the market.  

That being said, I spend the vast majority of my writing life pouring over authors like Barb Rosenstock, Jacqueline Briggs Martin, and Jane Yolen.  I am bewildered by the way they make every single word count and how the illustrators seem to squeeze the visual details that are implicit in the words.  

When it comes to writing non-fiction book projects like mine, I look to those who have successfully done it and I don’t have to look much further than my friends Colleen and Aaron Graves.  Their highly successful book helped me see how to effectively organize and then explain projects.  I wanted the projects to be accessible to teachers and students of all experience levels.

Huge thanks to my writing idol, Barb Rosenstock!

Barb's newest book about one of my all-time favorite artists!

7. What inspires you to write?  

The biggest inspiration for me is the desire to share and express my creativity.  With my green screen book, I wanted to demystify the process of using green screen.   
It truly is as simple as downloading an app, hanging a green Dollar Store tablecloth, yelling action and then doing minimal editing.   

Once the hurdle of the technology is bridged, the students will begin pushing the materials and technology to do exactly what they want; much like Georges Mélie´s did back in 1898!  

When it comes to some of my picture book projects, I am eager to share the lives of little-known individuals or tell stories in interesting ways.  I hope I can bring their stories to new generations so that their stories will live on for generations to come.

8. What are you working on now? 

I am currently working on re-writing a manuscript from another perspective about Orville Wright.  I’ve uncovered some new artifacts and interviews that have given me a fresh perspective to enter the ‘event’ I’m writing about.  

My hope is now that I’ve ‘delivered’ on one substantial project, I can land a book deal for some of my other work.  

I will be in The United Arab Emirates the first week of November.  I’ll be there presenting as part of the American Library Association Conference which takes place during the world’s largest children’s book festival.  Who knows?  I hope to meet some niche publishers and get my books out into the world!  Wish me luck!

9. Words of advice for writers.  

I have two things I recommend.  First, if you want to be a writer, read, reread and reread people who are doing it well.  I’ve found that literally copying their words by hand helps me connect and think in a unique way.  Sometimes I’ll do this several times to ‘see’ how they pace their story.   

After doing this, I try to imagine how I might illustrate the book in a different medium or from another perspective.  While I’m not an illustrator, even rough sketching the different page spreads helps me explore the complexity of the words and the ‘voice’ of the author.   

The second thing I recommend is that writers write, write, write and write. Seems elementary, but you won’t grow without practice. It’s also beneficial to put a draft away and let it simmer.  I have multiple projects going at the same time.  While I work on one, others are ‘cooking.’  I’ve actually found that the longer I keep them ‘away,’ the more capable I am to be re-explore it.   

I try to change the perspective of my stories in subsequent drafts to use alternative approaches to getting the story across.  When I’ve done this several times, I look at the work in totality and explore what really ‘sings’ and what strikes me as strong.  

I’ll go through and mark up the physical print out of the drafts and then file it away for another chunk of time allowing the drafts to ‘cure.’  

I work with several freelance editors who I pay to give me their gut reaction and thoughts about how I might tweak the piece. Then, I share with people whom I value and trust and let their thoughts permeate a bit.   

To me, it’s very important to keep in mind that the essence of the story should be fairly simple.  How you craft and tell it is the hard part. The next step is the loneliest: submitting to publishers. 

I think you just have to have a thick skin and believe in the project or story.  Another reason to have multiple projects in motion is so that you can distract yourself from the lonesome act of waiting for feedback. 

Every once in a great while, you get a morsel of advice. These are like garnets found in a mountain stream.  Use those to encourage you through the long, solitary process. 

Want to win a FREE Copy of Todd's new book?  You have several ways to enter to do so.  The drawing will take place on November 6th and Todd will send an autographed copy to you as soon as it is published!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Can't wait? I don't blame you!  You can take advantage of this special offer to get 20% off the purchase price and FREE shipping.  Just use the info below!

Thank you, Todd, for a fascinating interview. Best wishes on your book launch. Pre-order here or use the info above for the special offer!

Todd Burleson
Todd Burleson is a Teacher-Maker-Librarian at the Hubbard Woods School in Winnetka, IL. The community helped develop, as part of their school library, a makerspace they call The IDEA Lab.  Todd's passion is the awakening of curiosity in learners of all ages and maintaining a balance of books and bytes.   @todd_burleson


  1. Thank you, Todd and Janie, for this instructive, detailed interview. I love knowing about Todd's process and how he tackles both fiction and NF projects. Todd, you're our GROGger rock star! Thrilled for your success!

  2. Many thanks for writing this interview and thanks to Todd for a journey to success! Todd, your honesty and candor reinforce what is said so many times--read, read, read, and write, write, and write. Congrats on your new book and sharing your adventure with us!

  3. We want to use the green screen to take student projects to the next level!

    1. Amanda sign up for the raffle. Good luck.

  4. Congrats, Todd, on your new book. Great interview, Kathy & Todd. Wow, have fun traveling and promoting your book.

    1. Tina, what a journey for Todd. So proud of him.

  5. Congratulations, Todd! What a story! There are several great writing suggestions in there too, so thank you for helping us along the path!

    1. My reply posted below. My phone seems to have the hiccups.

  6. Kathy, don’t you love the idea of a hermitage? So cool.

  7. Angie, I loved Todd’s suggestions too!

  8. I enjoyed reading this interview about our outstanding GROG leader, Todd. I learned more about him, who he is, and who he is as a reader and writer. May life's journey fill your heart with peace while enjoying all that you love to do.

    Thank you, Janie, for featuring Todd through this insightful and heartwarming interview.

  9. Read, write, and explore how you might show the story-great tips, Todd. Thank you for sharing suggestions and your journey with us. What an inspirational interview Janie and Todd.

    1. Charlotte, Todd's book sounds so intriguing.

  10. I love this blog and I appreciate your input Todd. Thank you. I also love maker spaces and I think a green space in a maker space is a wonderful idea.

    1. Elizabeth, I would like to see Todd in action!

  11. Great post! thanks for sharing your insights, Todd.

  12. Todd's book sounds fascinating. I look forward to reading it. And the Orville Wright MS sounds very interesting. In the back of my mind, I keep thinking a story my dad (a pilot) told me years ago (that is related to Charles Lindberg) could somehow make it into a book, but I haven't figured out how yet. Perhaps your book will someday become a mentor text for me. Good luck on that one!

    1. Heather, good luck with the story your dad told you.

  13. This is a totally awesome interview. Thanks so much Janie and Todd for the helpful insights. I can't wait to read Todd's book -- it sounds just fascinating. (And isn't it a great story about how we never know what connection or inspiration will lead to a published book?!)