Thoughts on Writing Poetry

Gleams When Wet cover

I’m struggling to write a poetic picture book. To fill me with the metaphor, imagery, rhythm and meter that I’m striving for, I’ve been reading other books of poetry. Two interesting things happened during today’s readings…
Gleams When Wet cover
First, I was reading Gleams When Wet by Debra Spencer. I had picked it up at Half Price Books on a whim, since I’m mostly searching for ideas that have to do with water. Interestingly, it’s mostly set in the Monterey/Santa Cruz, California, area, which is where my oldest child is currently studying marine biology, so that was a fun connection. There are some beautiful and intriguing poems in here, as well as insightful commentary on life. It made for quite an enjoyable afternoon. (Yes, sitting and reading poetry all afternoon is sometimes actually my job. How lucky am I!?) What particularly struck me, however, is the inscription from the author (“To XXX, another adventurous father, with love from Debra“) and the handwritten card still tucked inside: “Happy birthday, XXX — I think you’ll enjoy this. Her poems are wonderful! See page 54! I also love Old Sailor’s Manifesto (p. 34) — and many others. Enjoy! Love, Mom” (*Note: Name changed to XXX to protect the innocent. 😉)
When I first read these words, I was instantly saddened. His mom had poured so much love into this thoughtful gift (not to mention it was personalized by the author)! How could he have given it away to end up on the shelf at my local HPB? But then I thought, selfishly, how lucky I was that he did, else I would never have happened upon it in my random HPB treasure hunt! Then I thought, maybe he read them and they just didn’t connect. It’s kind of sad that Mom missed the mark, but hey, it happens. Hopefully, he appreciated the thought, at least. Or maybe he read them and loved them, taking pictures of or typing up his favorites to file them away digitally rather than cluttering up his physical space. In the end, I’ve decided, it doesn’t matter why he didn’t treasure it. The real gift was in the giving. No matter what XXX felt about the gift or his reasons for passing it on, it warms my heart to think that his mom loved him, that she also loved words, and that she wanted to share them with him. As I struggle with my poetry project, I have often thought that perhaps it’s not worth it, perhaps it’s too far outside of my wheelhouse and I should stick to what I’m good at, perhaps no one will ever read or care about my words. Perhaps Debra thought that, too, before Mom came to get Gleams When Wet signed for her son. Perhaps, if I keep struggling, some other Mom will lovingly buy my poetic picture book for her child, and I’ll to get sign it, “To XXX, with love.”
River of Words cover
Another book that struck me was River of Wordsedited by Pamela Michael. It’s a collection of poems written by young people–many as young as 6 or 7–about the natural world. And. it. is. so. good! Not only did it do exactly what I was hoping for–filling my artist’s well with even more water images and metaphors to potentially use in my own project–but it was incredibly inspiring as well. Yes, these young writers are clearly very talented, but they are certainly not professional poets.  Yet, their poems sing with meaning. The depths of what they are able to say with so few words reminds me why I’m trying to complete this project in the first place, to convey something that is deep and meaningful to me to young readers. And the success the poems achieve in conveying each individual author’s essence gives me hope that perhaps my poetry can one day make that kind of connection with readers, too.
So, thank you to the poets out there struggling to make your words and meaning flow. Thank you to publishers who still believe in creating beautiful poetry books for children and adults. And thank you to everyone who buys books to share with those you love. 💛

Emmanuel's Dream wins CA Young Reader Medal!

A few weeks ago I was honored to travel to Pasadena, CA, to the California Library Association conference to receive the California Young Reader Medal for Emmanuel’s Dream. This is a very special award because the winning book in each category is chosen by the kids themselves.
First, the award tea itself. There were teas and sandwiches and all kinds of yummies, and look at the lovely decorations:

stage decorations
The edge of the stage, with the book covers and other images inspired by the stories.

cup and saucer with tiny bicycle and horse
Bicycles for Emmanuel’s Dream, horses for The War that Saved My Life.

It was fun hearing the other speakers and getting to chat with the librarians during the book signing. And it all came with an honest-to-goodness medal!

front of medal
The front of the medal.

back of medal
The back of the medal.

After the ceremony, I had some time to walk around and explore the city. The weather was perfect, and Pasadena is lovely.

Quote on electrical box
I loved the quotes painted onto the electrical boxes!

I stumbled upon a street fair in honor of Day of the Dead. There were many talented artists selling their wares, vendors, music, dancing, a puppet show, and chalk art! There were a lot of people out and about enjoying the festive atmosphere.

chalk artist at work
A chalk artist at work during the street fair.

A bearded dragon named Robert, enjoying the street fair with his pet boy.

I, of course, had to visit the local independent bookstore, Vroman’s!

bookstore shelves
A nice display at Vroman’s

The nice young women working there recommended Trejo’s Cantina for dinner, and it was so delicious!
Mexican rice bowl
Delicious dinner at Trejo’s Cantina!

The Vroman’s gals also told me not to miss the new ice cream shop in town, Wanderlust, which features flavors based on exotic travel destinations. They had me at ice cream! It was well worth the walk. I chose honey lavender, and it was divine.
So many interesting flavors!

As you can see, it was an amazing trip. Thank you so much, California young readers! 🙂

What I've Been Up To This Month

The month isn’t even over yet, but so much has been packed into the last few weeks it feels more like two months already! That’s not exactly an excuse for neglecting the blog, but, you know, life happens. Anyway…

Beachside Nonfiction Workshop

I started out the month at the Beachside Nonfiction Workshop with Candace Fleming & Jennifer Swanson. It was amazing! The faculty were all stellar, the location was gorgeous, and the attendees were lovely. It was fun hanging out with other nonfiction geeks for an entire weekend. We all struggled to answer the “So, what do you write?” question, however, since we can usually just get away with “Nonfiction,” and have that be the end of it! I didn’t take nearly enough photos, but here’s the view from my hotel balcony…

Yes, it was hard work. There were a lot of sessions, and they were mostly master level, plus networking and critiques. I came away with so much useful information and new ideas to apply to my works in progress. There were obviously some other perks, too!

Seattle Reading Council Appearance

In the middle of the month, some of the members of my critique group (and all agency-mates at Erin Murphy Literary, as it turns out!), did an appearance at the Seattle Reading Council. It was a billed as a “Books and Chocolate” event… what could be better?! We each talked about our books and process and then took questions. The crowd was mostly teachers and librarians, so it made for a wonderful evening of sharing book love (and chocolate!) among likeminded new friends.

School visits

I had an elementary school visit where I got to talk to several third-grade classes about my writing journey, grit, and writing with emotion, as well as several fifth-grade classes about evaluating sources and spotting fake news. It was an awesome visit with super-engaged audiences, but alas, no photos. You’ll have to take my word for it!

I have another visit coming up early in June (the last one of the school year!), so I’ve been making sure everything is ready for that one, too.

SCBWI-WWA Spring Conference

Finally, I attended and helped with the SCBWI Western Washington‘s spring conference, Imagine That! It was a great weekend: hearing from inspiring speakers, getting feedback on one of my works in progress from a powerhouse editor, and catching up with author and illustrator friends in the industry. I’m still soaking it all up and processing what was said! Good stuff.

Book Releases!

Along with all of that I’ve been getting ready for the Two Truths and a Lie: Histories and Mysteries paperback release on May 21 AND preparing for the upcoming new release of Two Truths and a Lie: Forces of Nature on June 25th! I’ve designed and ordered postcards and swag, scheduled social media announcements, and made other plans to get the word out.

TTL: Histories and Mysteries cover
TTL: Forces of Nature cover
 

Works in Progress…

And, of course, there are those works in progress, too! Earlier this month I submitted both a nonfiction picture book revision and a graphic novel proposal to my agent. I’m currently revising a nonfiction picture book, a fiction picture book, and a middle-grade nonfiction manuscript. I’m also working on a brand-new nonfiction picture book draft and a young-adult nonfiction proposal. Busy, busy!

Yes, I do love my job. More so every day, in fact! =D

2018 CYBILS Round 1 judge

2018 Cybils Round 1 Judge logo
2018 CYBILS, here I come! I’m excited to share that I’ll be a CYBILS judge again this year. The CYBILS Awards recognize authors and illustrators whose books for children and young adults combine both literary merit and popular appeal. In the past, I’ve always helped with judging the younger nonfiction category (Nonfiction Picture Books in 2011 and 2012, and Elementary/Middle Grade Nonfiction in 2014). This time around, however, I’ll be a Round 1 Judge in the Junior/Senior High Nonfiction category, along with the following talented bloggers:

Nominations will open on October 1st, and our shortlists will be due in December. There are usually around 70 entries, so I’ll be doing a LOT of reading in the coming months. (And hopefully a lot of blogging, too–get ready for those reviews!) Finalists will be announced in January, and winners are announced in February.
2018 Cybils logo
 

On fear, and how writing is like a guitar

Fear is funny. Not funny, really. Maddening, frustrating, debilitating.
Ortega acoustic electric mini bassAfter a busy month or so, I hadn’t had time to practice my bass guitar at all. I wanted to. I missed it. So I took it out of the case and sat it next to my chair so it would be easy to grab whenever I had a few free minutes. And from there it mocked me. I was afraid to pick it up. Afraid I’d forgotten everything. Afraid I would suck.
Writing is like that, too. I think the writers who advise others to “write every day” do so for this reason most of all. The longer we go without doing something the more room there is for doubt and excuses, so we go even longer without doing it. It’s a vicious cycle that can be difficult to break out of.
Sometimes, the missing doing the thing becomes greater than the fear and overcomes it. Other times, we force ourselves past the fear. We have been here before and can see it for what it is.
I finally picked up the guitar today. I can still play. In fact, I think I played better today than I have in months. It felt joyous, both the ability to make music and the letting go of the fear.
Soon, my schedule will allow me to get back to writing again, too. And I am not afraid. In fact, I’m looking forward to it.
What goals are you avoiding because of fear? Perhaps it’s time to begin.
Begin

2017 in review, and a sneak peek at 2018 goals

2017

If you’ve followed my blog for a long time (or know me at all), you probably know I can be a little obsessive about setting goals and doing annual performance reviews. So, as 2017 comes to a close, I thought I should reflect on what I’ve accomplished the past year and think about what 2018 might bring.
2017
One of my main goals for 2017 was to get more comfortable speaking in public.  It’s a good thing I was able to do that, since (and probably because) I got a lot of practice! Here’s a quick summary:

  • 24 keynotes, assemblies, presentations, or workshops for young people,
  • 17 Skype visits,
  • 7 presentations for adults,
  • 6 bookstore appearances,
  • 2 roundtable critique sessions,
  • 1 radio interview, and
  • an 8-week improv class.

The success I feel here isn’t so much from the quantity, but from the quality. First, it’s gotten MUCH easier for me. I can do these talks in stride now and don’t stress out for a whole day prior and then need a whole day after to decompress. That’s a big win! Also, the improv class was oddly terrifying to think about, but so much fun and such a great experience in practice. So, I’m really glad that I pushed myself out of my comfort zone.
I also had some success with major writing goals and projects:

  • TWO TRUTHS AND A LIE: IT’S ALIVE! was released in June, and I put a lot of time put into promotion, including developing promotional materials like curriculum guides and swag, and creating new presentations around it.
  • We’re just now putting the final touches on the second book in the series, TWO TRUTHS AND A LIE: HISTORIES AND MYSTERIES, which we researched, drafted, revised, copyedited, and sourced photos for all in the past year. This one is so good, I can’t wait to see it out in the world next June!
  • We have the outline for the third TWO TRUTHS AND A LIE book just about wrapped up, too, so 2018 will see a lot of work (and fun!) on that front.
  • I wrote a brand-new picture book from scratch, revised it, and it went out on submission! I’m hopeful this one will find a home in 2018.
  • I revised my MG nonfiction project and sent it back out on submission. Alas, it looks like this one will need yet another fresh approach, which is also on the schedule for 2018. I’m mulling over a couple of ideas about how to proceed.
  • I worked on revising two other picture books, one fiction and one nonfiction, but neither one is quite ready yet. More work to come on both of those in the year ahead, and hopefully they’ll be ready to send out soon.
  • I started researching a new picture book biography. I’m really excited about this one, and the research so far has only fueled my interest further. I hope I can complete a first draft in the coming year.
  • I had a new idea for another nonfiction picture book and have started researching that one as well. This one is still in the idea phase and will take some noodling to get just the right approach, so for now I’ll keep researching and thinking and see what happens.

2018
As you can see from the above, I’ll have my work cut out for me in 2018 with one new book to promote, one under contract to write, (at least) two picture books to finish revising, the MG nonfiction to re-envision, and the two new picture books to research and draft. Phew — that’s a lot of big goals. Wish me luck! =D

Photos from the Two Truths and a Lie launch party

Okay, so it’s been more than a month since the launch party for Two Truths and a Lie: It’s Alive!, and this post is _way_ overdue. In my defense, we’ve been hard at work on the second book in the series, and a writer has to have her priorities, right? Alright, so perhaps there’s no reasonable excuse for how neglected my poor blog has been lately, but I’m vowing to try to do better going forward. And I definitely want to share some of the highlights from the launch party, so in the better-late-than-never category, here we go! =D
First, the cake! In the flurry of activity getting ready for a launch party, I always forget to take a picture of the cake at the actual event, so this time I took a picture of it in the shopping cart when I picked it up. It’s a good thing, too, because this is, sadly, the only picture I have of it.
the launch party cake
There were also gluten-free cupcakes with decorations that said, “The cake is a lie.” (That’s a geeky gamer reference, in case you haven’t heard it before.)
Before we even started the actual launch party event, I got to sign a book for a brand-new fan who just happened to be in the store when we started setting things up. Fun!
signing for a new fan
After thanking everyone who helped make this book possible (in broad strokes, because I could go on all day!), I did a little reading from the book. (You can’t have a launch party without a reading, right?) Since we were in a bookstore surrounded by books, I selected the story about book scorpions and book lice. What are those, you ask? You’ll have to read the book! And then you’ll have to decide if they’re real or not. 😉
a reading from chapter 4
Then we played a game show-style quiz game, using our smart phones. To my immense relief, it worked! People could answer using their devices and the system would let me see who answered the most questions the fastest.
setting up the game
Kevan won the first prize–a Bigfoot Air Freshener for his car. (Is Bigfoot a truth or a lie?)
Kevan wins a Bigfoot air freshener
She looks worried! I wonder what was in her bag? Ah, yes… I think it was the Groucho Marx Disguise Glasses (so she can fake her identity).
what will she win?
Dan was so excited to see what he won that he ripped open the bag and sent his prize flying halfway across the store! Fortunately, it didn’t hit anyone. If I recall correctly, he got the Enchanted Unicorn Bandages. (Are unicorns real?)
Dan launched his launch party prize
This young guest was clearly thrilled to win the Glow-in-the-Dark Jellyfish Ornament! (It’s as close as I could get to a Pacific Northwest tree octopus (see chapter 5) or the Praya dubia (chapter 6).
winner of the glow-in-the-dark jellyfish
What did Laura Moe win? Was it the Dr. McPhee’s Snake Oil Soap? I think so!
what did Laura win?
And, finally, the grand prize winner… Alan won his very own Mike the Headless Chicken (see chapter 5)! Fortunately, this one is just plastic and doesn’t require food and water through an eye dropper.
Alan with Mike the Headless Chicken
It was a great launch party and such a memorable day. Thank you again to everyone who helped make this book happen, to Secret Garden Book Shop for hosting my launch party yet again, to Curtis Manley for catching all of these fantastic photos for me (except the cake in the shopping cart, of course), and to everyone who came to the event. I love being part of such a supportive community of writers, booksellers, and readers! 💙

Launch Party for Two Truths and a Lie: It's Alive!

Two Truths and a Lie cover
Two Truths and a Lie cover

Please join me for the West Coast Launch Party for
TWO TRUTHS AND A LIE: IT’S ALIVE!

 

Sunday, June 25th, at 2 p.m.


A trivia-style game-show challenge. . . with prizes!

Q&A, exclusive behind-the-scenes gossip, and outtakes!

Book swag!

Charitable giving!

Free snacks and drinks!

Books, books, and more books!

 

Where, you ask?

Secret Garden Books
2214 NW Market Street
Seattle, WA 98107
206-789-5006

(Click here for directions.)

** Come early to enjoy the fabulous Ballard Farmers Market before the event!

If you can’t make it to the party but would like to pre-order a signed copy, please visit http://www.secretgardenbooks.com/book/9780062418791 and put the dedication info in the Order Comments box. Thanks! =D

Goals: looking back and pushing forward

Done!

I recently wrapped up what I think will be my last in-person school visits of the 2015-2016 school year, and promotion activities for the three books that are out is starting to die down. This seems like a good time to pause and reflect on my goals and progress, especially since I was too busy at the beginning of the year to do my usual review and planning exercises.
Since this time last year, I’ve done:

  • Done!1 high school presentation,
  • 13 middle school presentations,
  • 4 elementary school presentations,
  • 6 Skype visits (including one to Hawaii, one to Brazil, and one more to go!),
  • 3 radio interviews,
  • 2 preschool storytimes,
  • 2 teen library events,
  • 1 adult library event,
  • 2 Girl Scout workshops,
  • 3 bookstore signing events,
  • 1 book launch party,
  • 1 blog tour,
  • 1 book trailer,
  • 1 storytime activity kit,
  • the Texas Book Festival in Austin,
  • the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) conference in Columbus,
  • the Pacific Northwest Library Association conference (PNLA) in Portland,
  • the International Literacy Association’s (ILA) conference in St. Louis,
  • one research trip to St. Louis,
  • Indies First! on Small Business Saturday at Secret Garden Books,
  • 1 guest lecture at the University of Washington,
  • 2 appearances at a children’s museum,
  • 2 summer camp visits,
  • 2 Twitter chats (including one for WWE moms!),
  • 2 recordings for TeachingBooks.net,
  • 1 SCBWI Crystal Kite Award presentation at SCBWI-WWA’s Inside Story event,
  • 1 middle-grade book written and submitted,
  • 3 picture books revised (but not yet finished),
  • 1 YA project edited and revised (still in progress),
  • preliminary research for 2 new book projects,
  • at least 2 major website overhauls (one here and one for Online Author Visits),
  • volunteering for We Need Diverse Books,
  • volunteering for SCBWI Western Washington, and
  • 19 blog posts.

Not too shabby! It’s so easy in this business to feel like I never get anything done. I have a stack of in-progress manuscripts that I desperately want to perfect so they can go out and try to find their publishing homes, and every day that they don’t quite get there (or worse, don’t make any progress at all!) feels like a big fat failure. Listing out all of the things that I have done makes me feel a little bit better. I haven’t just been spinning my wheels, after all! I didn’t get to finish everything I had hoped to by now, but I did check off some big goals and also did a bunch of things I hadn’t expected or planned on. And, many of the things listed were firsts for me and/or major highlights, so there’s a lot of personal growth hidden in that list as well as some major accomplishments to be proud of. So, all in all, not bad!
Still, there’s so much more I want to do! My goals for the rest of the year include:

  • TKfinishing up revisions for the first book in the Two Truths and a Lie series: It’s Alive!,
  • completing the photo research for It’s Alive!,
  • attending the ALA Annual Conference in Orlando to accept the Schneider Family Award,
  • revising my nonfiction picture book until it’s ready for submission,
  • revising one of my fiction picture books until it’s ready for submission,
  • revising the middle-grade nonfiction proposal until it’s ready for submission,
  • revising the YA project until it’s ready for submission,
  • finalizing the outline for Two Truths and a Lie, Book #2, and beginning the writing,
  • and writing more blog posts.

There are several other manuscripts I hope to finish revising, as well as a handful of new ideas I’m really excited about researching further and beginning to write, but those will all just have to wait until I complete the above. Revision is one of those things that’s difficult to predict how long it will take, so I’m not sure if this list is even anywhere close to doable. I’ll check back in January to let you know how I’ve done! 🙂
 

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