Wednesday, November 24, 2021

The Gratitude Attitude with GROGgers with Kathy Halsey, Sue Heavenrich, Tina Cho, Patricia Toth, Christy Mihaly, Leslie Colin Tribble, Suzy Leopold

During this Thanksgiving holiday consider adding the gratitude attitude to your life for a healthier mindset, a happier life, and even better days creating. We GROGgers are sharing what we are grateful for along with some inspiring messages and images. Please join us in what you're grateful for posting in the  comment section.           

Kathy Halsey: This is a wonderful day. I have never seen this one before."  - Maya Angelou

I love this quote from poet Maya Angelou as it is the beginnings of wonder and thanks. I think of a new day, full of possibilities, looking for wonder and awe in the world. What will I see today that I have never seen exactly the same before? As writers, it's all about POV, and I choose to see the world like a child experiencing a number of first. Wonder fills my well and makes me smile. 

I lucked into a webinar with Jeffrey Davis through The Writing Barn and can't wait for this book, TRACKING WONDER. 

These days I'm tracking wonder through the eyes of a new one year old rescue pup, Scrappy Doo. What excitement in a new toy or outside? Scrappy helps me find the joy as do nature scenes like this captured by GROGer/photographer Leslie Collin Tribble. No filter indeed when Mother Nature and Leslie are scouting the wonder.

Sue Heavenrich:  When we live in the spirit of gratitude, there will be much happiness in our life.  ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

I think about this when I am outside planting seeds, or gathering vegetables from my garden: how thankful I am for the bounty of the earth. When I am kneeling next to the beds pulling weeds from between the beets and carrots, I smell the richness of the soil. I see the beetles and spiders busy on their errands, and hear the humming of bees, the chorus of birds. Even when a chipmunk climbs the fence and leaps to the thick sunflower stalk, I am grateful that there are many sunflowers - and we can all share the seeds. It's true, you know ~ the thing about being happier when we appreciate the gifts around us.  And there is something else: a realization that I have enough.

Tina Cho: Being joyful isn't what makes you grateful. Being grateful is what makes you joyful. ~Ann Voskamp

When I'm feeling down or overwhelmed, I ask myself--did I write down my blessings for the day? I keep a notebook where I try to write something I'm thankful for each night before I go to bed. Lately, I've been thankful for the cheery flowers. I do NOT have a green thumb, and so for this plant to actually bloom instead of die is a miracle. 

In this season of my writer's life, I'm extremely thankful for...

  • my three critique groups and the unique angles each brings to my manuscripts that greatly need help. 
  • my wonderful agent who believes in me and my writing, even when I don't.
  • my awesome editors who show me how to take my writing to the next level.
  • the kidlit community, who is more like a kidlit family that is very supportive.
  • readers, who read our books & blog posts!

Patricia Toht:

Like Kathy Halsey, my gratitude quote is from Maya Angelou:

"The more you practice the art of thankfulness, the more you have to be thankful for."

If there's one thing that I've learned over two decades of writing, it's that consistently practicing an art makes you better at it. This is as true for gratitude as it is for writing. I frequently pause to count my blessings, especially when things are feeling tough or irritating. I love this song by Bing Crosby, so fitting for the season. 

Christy Mihaly: 

"There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in." ~Leonard Cohen, "Anthem"

This time of year in northern New England, I dread the gloom, the slow leaching away of our light. We'll soon be down to those shortest days, when the sun sets before 4:30. 
I've been thinking about the darkness, and the light. And so this brilliant Leonard Cohen lyric came to mind. And then I thought of the wonderful Louise Penny novels. I love them all, and several pay homage to Cohen's words, and explore the notion of "how the light gets in" through the cracks, the imperfections, the breaks. I'm grateful for the light that shines through our flawed creations. And I'm grateful for Goodness, which, as Louise Penny and Leonard Cohen and many other beautiful souls have reminded us, still exists despite our doubts, and continues to light the darkness. Thank you.

Suzy Leopold:

“Today is today, and it is a gift.” ~Tomie de Paola

Look and Be Grateful is just one of hundreds of beautiful picture books written by Tomie de Paola. The message of this book is sweet and simple. It is an ode to gratitude and mindfulness that includes brilliant illustrations.

As a creator—a writer and painter, I have the ability to communicate meaningful thoughts and feelings of gratitude through the written word with pen and paper and with paints and brushes. I am grateful for the opportunity to share my love of writing with readers. I am grateful to gift my creations to family and friends.

Every day is a gift to be grateful for.
Watercolor by Suzy Leopold
Inspiration from Tomie de Paola
We GROGgers are always thankful for our resident photographer and outdoor woman, Leslie Colin Tribble, who reminds us via her art that wonders await us. 

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Take a Look Around - What Inspires You?

Most writers and illustrators spend an incredible amount of solitary time in one key  location—whether it's their office, studio space, or a favorite out-of-the-way nook. While lost in thought when we're digging deep—and inevitably searching for a bit of inspiration—what do we look at? What does our gaze settle on?

A piece of beautiful art or a memorable photo? 

A knickknack with an important back-story? 

A meaningful quote?  

What fills us up and nudges us on? Friends in my creative community shared their thoughts with me.

Carmela Martino glances at an opaque blue-gray egg that was a gift during the time she worked on her M.F.A. at Vermont College. At the end of a semester and a period of working closely together, her mentor presented her with the glass egg. She noted it was a symbol of Carmela's yet unborn stories still waiting to be shared. Simply holding or rubbing the smooth, cool glass egg in her hands helps Carmela seek out inspiration.

Looking at a beautiful piece of art and remembering the story associated with the piece plays a central role for many of us. Julie Phend's husband bought her a piece of woodcut art from Costa Rica entitled "El Escribidor," which means The Writer. She noted "it reminds me that I am indeed a writer, and I have a responsibility to develop my skills."  And what a lovely show of support from her husband.

Michelle Schaub studies a postcard she picked up when she signed up for her first Highlights poetry workshop.

At the program, she worked on polishing a manuscript that would later become her first book sale. She didn't know at the time how attending the workshop would boost that project. "I went for the experience, and I met so many amazing people who have become mentors and supporters," she noted. "It reminds me to say 'yes' to opportunities because you don't know where they will lead. And to enjoy the journey as much as the destination."

Dana Easley hangs watercolors in her office so she is surrounded by creativity while she works on her writing projects. (Cool fact—she actually created this art, too, which I think is pretty amazing!) Who wouldn't be energized and inspired looking at beautiful florals as you ponder a first draft or tackle a challenging revision. It's a reminder that our own creativity knows no bounds.

Dana also has a large quote displayed on one of her office walls that says "Books turn Muggles into Wizards." It reminds her of the joy and value of books. (Created from a vinyl adhesive decal  ordered online—you simply rub it on the wall surface.) I love Dana's example of a big quote on the wall of your office. How cool is that?  I'm going  to have to think about how I can use this awesome idea.

Patty Toht has a few favorite quotes that help her move forward. There are two that she keeps taped to her computer . . . "Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere."—Anne Lamont, Bird by Bird. (I need to remember that as I start my awful first drafts . . .) And then there's this one, "Many of life's failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up."
—Thomas Edison. I love both of these!

When Christy Mihaly was out for a nature walk, she spotted this hand-painted stone. Who painted it? And who took the time to leave it as a sweet surprise for someone to find and brighten their day? An unsolved mystery. It reminds Christy to take notice, be present—and yes, to take joy! (Plus it makes her smile—and a happy writer is usually a productive writer.)

Suzy Leopold finds inspiration from a beautiful hand-quilted creation made by her mom. Displayed right next to her writing desk, gazing at the lovely quilt reminds Suzy of her mother's love as well as her supportive and encouraging words: read, write and create every day. (Bonus—on a cold winter's day Suzy can also use the quilt for an extra layer of warmth to chase away the chill!)

Sherri Rivers surveys the Word Bird art perched on her bookcase and reflects on the amazing experience she had at a Highlights Nonfiction Workshop. During the conference, attendees bid on items as a small fundraiser and this cute piece caught her eye. After winning the bid, her workshop leader would not let her pay for it and bought it for her! Whenever she looks at this little treasure, she remembers the joy of attending the conference, the kindness and generosity of her workshop leader—and the kidlit community in general. Sherri knows that words count and can change lives!

I have one favorite object that speaks to me.  I keep a heavy, round paperweight in a prominent spot on my desk. It's right next to my computer monitor, so I see it whenever I sit down to work. It reads: "The difference between ordinary and extraordinary is that little extra." When I'm done with my umpteenth draft of a picture book project and think it just might be across the finish line . . . this paperweight serves as a nice braking mechanism. It encourages me to have patience and set high standards for this work-in-progress. It reminds me to use my critique groups for input. It sends a message to gather and listen to the feedback from industry professionals at conferences. And most importantly,  it signals to give my project more effort before sharing it with a key decision-maker. (Besides, it looks a lot nicer than a big red STOP sign!)

Take a look around. What inspires YOU in your favorite workspace? 

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

GROG Roundtable Part 2: Routines and Cues for Revision Facilitated by Kathy Halsey

Roundtable on Revision: Routines and And Cues

In Part One of our Roundtable we discussed our thoughts about how to write consistently. In Part 2 we chew on a topic that writers are always curious about. . . how to pysch yourself into revising. The GROGers have tips and tricks to make your revisions go better.

Kathy Halsey: 

I write my revisions in purple and the Com San Serif font to train my mind that this is revision work. When I see purple, I know my mindset changes. I know everything can be changed. 

I also use my MacBook Pro to read my revision back to me and change as I hear it aloud. On  a Mac, Choose Apple menu, Go to System Preferences,  then to Accessibility. Then click Spoken Content. Select the “Speak selection” checkbox. By default, your Mac speaks text when you press the keyboard shortcut. Again, see System Preferences.

Christy Mihaly: 

My favorite revision tip is to give something to my critique partners! Honestly, they're brilliant. Then I just have to try to reconcile their various comments. 

On my own, for picture books, doing a dummy really helps clarify where I need to revise. 

I  have a cool writer's tool for this: a reusable, 32-page dry-erase notebook that's great for sketching out stories. [Images attached, including one showing how I mapped out spreads for WATER: A Deep Dive of Discovery (which is 64 pages).]

Finally, when I'm stuck with a story I often find that rewriting it from another character's point of view helps get things unstuck.

Carol Coven Grannick:

I happen to love revision much more than the first draft. Re-reading, often aloud, is my door to noticing that something—I may not know what, yet—is “off”. Whether short poem or middle grade novel, I trust the “off” feeling (whether it’s from me or critiquing colleagues). And so it goes over and over, fine tuning one draft after the other until it feels right.

Sue Heavenrich:

Like Christy, I use my critique partners to help me see things that could use revision, or to help me clarify what I’m trying to say. Often I’ll print out what I’m working on and put it in my Morning Pages notebook. I might try a different structure (using rhyme instead of prose) or a different point of view. Or I might wad the whole thing up, toss it against the wall, and say: “If I had to explain this to a kid, how would I do it?” Then I write that into Morning Pages. 

Some of my best ideas for writing and for revision, though, happen while I’m in the garden or turning compost or out for a walk - so I make sure to tuck an index card and pencil in my pocket when I head outside. 

Suzy Leopold

The revision process is a time to bring order to my thoughts. It’s a process of discovery to reread, rewrite, rethink, review, and reconfigure the story idea to write an improved version. My stories include multiple revisions. The following are suggested tips for revision to consider:

  • Revising requires time, patience, and reimagination.

  • Read the manuscript aloud

  • Write a pitch or one sentence description 

  • Create a book dummy

  • Be deliberate with word choices. For example: use a blue highlighter to identify active verbs versus passive verbs, pink to identify dialogue.

  • Read and reread mentor texts

Every writer has his/her own approach for the revision process.

Patricia Toht

My creating is done in fits and spurts, depending on how busy my day job is. But, even if I’m unable to create something new, I usually have something old that can be revised. 

One part of the revision process that I love is focusing on word choice. While it might seem tedious to some, I enjoy taking one sentence at a time and examining each word. Is it necessary or superfluous? Is it the BEST word for THIS sentence? Is there an opportunity to add internal rhyme, assonance, alliteration? If I need to reduce text by a specific count, I write the number of words I'm removing (with a minus) and once in a while adding (with a plus). It's a great visual to show progress!

Four editing resources I keep at hand

Julie Phend

Like Patricia, I love revising for word choice and sentence flow. And, like Carol, I read it aloud for the sound. I have much more trouble revising a whole novel--my first drafts are often messy muddles. What helps me the most is Martha Alderson’s plot planner. I put the plot line on a long piece of craft paper, and use sticky notes above and below the line for specific scenes. The visual really helps me see where the problems are, and the sticky notes make it easy to move scenes around.

You've seen how GROGgers get creative to make revision work, what can you add to our discussion? Give us a revision technique that works for you or one we haven't suggested in the comments. Thank you.

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Shannon Hitchcock Writes from a Sense of Place

 by Sue Heavenrich

She Sang for the Mountains: The Story of Jean Ritchie Singer Songwriter, Activist 
by Shannon Hitchcock; illustrated by Sophie Page 
‎Reycraft Books, 2021

Jean Ritchie grew up in the Cumberland mountains of Kentucky. There was no radio in her home; instead, her family sang. She eventually went to college and moved to New York to work, but music stayed with her.

I grew up listening to Jean Ritchie and others sing Child ballads and protest songs. So when I heard that Shannon Hitchcock had written a book about Jean Ritchie, I knew I had to read it. And then, because of so many different connections, I knew I had to give Shannon a call. Because...
  • Jean Ritchie’s songs inspired me build a mountain dulcimer.
  • I’d hiked the Appalachian Trail and felt a kinship with the land.
  • And I met Shannon at a writing retreat half-a-dozen years ago.
Fortunately, Shannon picked up the phone…

Me: Your books have such a sense of place. Even without illustrations, the language – hoot owls, rain playing a lullaby on the farmhouse roof – evokes images of rounded, green mountains and a slower pace to life.

A lot of those words, that language, comes naturally. I grew up in rural North Carolina on a 100-acre farm. The people in my family are big storytellers; everyone embellished stories of things that happened. The language is figurative, though a lot more so a generation ago. People now are influenced by TV, radio, travel. My grandparents, not so much. In fact, my grandfather never spent a night away from home. So they amused themselves by telling stories. 

As the kids grew up and started their own families, they got parcels of the original farm. So we all lived close together and gathered for family dinners and holidays. That’s when the storytelling happened.

Though I haven’t been to Kentucky, when I read Jean Ritchie’s autobiography (Singing Family of the Cumberlands) That book resonated with me and I felt a kinship. It reminded me of how my grandfather grew up, how I grew up. I wanted to know more, so I started researching.

Me: In your book about Jean, you show a sense of time and change. She moves away from home and even writes protest songs, yet there remains an anchor to her home in Kentucky. 

Shannon: Although Jean spent most of her married life in Port Washington, New York, she had a deep sense of belonging to Kentucky. She owned a cabin in Kentucky and is buried there in her family’s plot. Her love of her homeland not only shines through her autobiography, but also in the books she and her husband, photographer and filmmaker George Pickow created together. Their books document Jean’s love of her home and mountain music. Here is a wonderful article that showcases some of George's photographs of Jean and features some of her singing.

Jean wrote “Black Waters” to protest coal mining and mountaintop removal that was poisoning the rivers in the 1960s. Rainwater would pick up sulfur and other contaminants and carry them to the river below. The yellow and orange sludge stained the rocks and killed off the life in the river. Probably one of the best sources who wrote about Jean’s activism is Silas House. He shared this remembrance of Jean after she passed. 

Me: Could you share how your books came to be published?

Shannon: I had been writing Appalachian biographies for a while, but no one seemed particularly interested in them. Then I read about Reycraft books in Publishers Weekly. I realized I’d met the editor, Wiley Blevins (he’s from West Virginia) so I sent him an email. Reycraft seeks diverse books, and I wondered whether regional diversity would fall under that umbrella. They were interested in my book Saving Granddaddy’s Stories, about the storyteller, Ray Hicks. I noticed that a lot of their books fall into series, or clusters, so when I submitted She Sang for the Mountains, I brought up the idea of doing a series. Fortunately they liked it, so I’m working on a third book in what I call my Appalachian biography series. It’s about quilting. God willing and the creek don’t rise, it will come out next year.

Shannon also mentioned the importance of finding an editor your story resonates with. It turns out that Wiley Blevins, the editor at Reycraft, is the grandson of a coal miner. He suggested that Sophie Page, who did the wonderful mixed media illustrations, use actual coal. She did, and it adds a distinct flavor to the art. 
We then got to talking about Jean Ritchie songs that inspire us. One of Shannon’s favorites is Jean's environmental hymn, “The Cool of the Day.” For me it was the first song I played on my dulcimer: “Shady Grove.” You can find some early recordings of Jean Ritchie in the Alan Lomax collection

Check out Shannon’s website here, where you can find out more about her and her wonderful books. Review copy provided by the author.