Thursday, September 23, 2010

At Least It's Not Sideways

So I wanted to share a video and a tip from me today and I went to my file of flip videos and remembered - most of them are sideways. I didn't know the camera only really works in one direction. So, that limited my options and I picked this one of a very friendly dog in Oregon. I didn't even preview it. It was one of two that would work so I picked the dog. What's the point? Sometime you sit down to write and everything comes out sideways or backwards, or worst, there's so little coming out of your head that you feel ridiculous. How can I be a writer when this is what I produce, you might say? Well, we all have those times and that's when you get a soda or a cup of coffee or whatever you require, look again, and find some little kernel works. Dump the rest, and work with the one sentence, one idea, one metaphor that speaks to you. That new beginning should really help.

So what about the dog? That was about my only choice for this blog but we can work with that. This is the kind of scene I like to put right before something terrible happens. Someone is outside throwing a ball to their two very cool dogs. Rusty takes off with the ball. What happens next? Does someone scare your character? Does a mountain lion show up? Does the character get bad news? Try writing a scene that starts out perfectly normal and ends up with your character having a huge problem. The more everyday the scene, the bigger surprise the problem will be. So, now, what happens to Rusty and Lizzy? You figure it out.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Writing Tip from MG Author Rosanne Parry

Rosanne and I had our first novels debut within a month of each other. They are twins in setting and some of the details - both deal with families changed by their loved one's deployment overseas. Both are set on ranches in adjacent counties - no kidding. We even both have a character named Paco. We didn't know each other until the novels came out. And the books are very different. A study in different writers, different voices. Since then, Rosanne and I have worked together on several projects. Our next one is a panel presentation at the National Council of Teachers of English in Orlando in November. So I'm excited to share her tip here:

Look for Rosanne's new novel, Second Fiddle soon.

Here’s a back to school writing idea to help your young writers tackle revision. The What-I-did-over-summer-vacation essay is a classic and one that can do with a little spicing up. Once your students have gotten back into the groove of writing with the standard essay. Let them go back to it and re-vision the piece with an imaginative element.
What would have happened on your summer vacation if….
A magical creature had come along
A natural disaster had occurred
Your favorite story character had come along
It had all happened in a different country
It had all happened 100 years ago
If you had super powers
If you were blind or unable to speak

Let them imagine a different outcome for a familiar event, and see how that moves a non-fiction essay into the realm of fiction.
You can take a look at some “revised” stories in published books. The Graveyard is a re-visioning of The Jungle Book with ghosts instead of animals. The 3 Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig is a role reversal of the Three Little Pigs story. For high school students, A Curse as Dark as Gold is a retelling of the Rumplestiltskin story.
Having revised something in a more light-hearted context of the exaggerated vacation story may make it easier to tackle more academic revisions in the future.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Seize the Day

So I'll take a look at my video library from the summer soon and post some new writing ideas with video. In the meantime I have Rosanne Parry's and Janet Fox's tips to post. Rosanne's on Thursday or Friday I think. But I want to use today to talk about stories.
I have a whole bunch of them in my head. Real ones that my relatives told me, experiences of my own, and then, of course the fiction that's always cooking. I love family stories and geneology - mainly because of the stories that go with it. And here's the thing. If I don't write them down and pass them on, they'll disappear. My kids know some of them, but I don't know which ones. I'm the one with the stories. So I need to tell them. Our neighbor and friend died suddenly last week - no warning at all. And he wasn't old. He was young if you asked me. Any stories that he had went with him. He left some songs. So, if you are a writer, a storyteller, a student with ideas - write them down. Don't worry about how silly they sound or how polished they are. There is no time like today. Only you own your stories. Only you can tell them. If you write them and want to change them tomorrow, all the better. But please, write them down and let them go. You need to start.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Author J.T. Dutton's Writing Tip of the Week

You'll notice it's been two weeks and I have writing tips lined up from several wonderful writers. I've been busy finishing a partial manuscript for my agent to submit and trying to catch up on yard and maintainance work before I head to Kansas City and Junction City, Kansas for the Kansas Association of School Librarians Conference and a writer's workshop with the Kansas Region of Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. I'll also be visiting Eisenhauer Middle School in Manhattan and maybe another middle school or two. The trip should be really fun. So, here it is - another writing tip - this one from J.T. Dutton, my Class of 2k9 compatriot, author of Freaked and Stranded. Jen is an English teacher so this one should be good. Suzy

Last year, I was invited to teach a three week arts immersion course at Hiram College (in Ohio) to unsuspecting business, nursing, and biological science majors. They chose my writing section instead of dance, fine arts, and theater because they thought writing would be less weird than standing on a stage singing, acting, or painting..
On the first day, I asked the group to draft original poems about an emotional state.
A woman in the front row of the class raised her hand.
"Does it have to rhyme?" she asked.
"Please, no." I said.
"I'm not that creative," a guy in back complained.
I'd heard this kind of thing before..
I suggested they all start the poem with a microwave oven. It was the first appliance that came to mind.
Generally speaking, new writers fall back on tried and true patterns of comparison and overly fixate on what they think is expected of them. They write about rainbows when they are feeling happy and clouds when they are feeling sad. I told the group that experienced writers venture out of the safety of cliche and make something more of their feelings and perceptions.
The process of inventing similes and metaphors is entertaining, like playing 'pretend' as a kid. It can crack into a whole level of thinking that some people aren't used to enjoying. Best of all, there is no way to be wrong when you search for authenticity.
So we made a list of ways in which a microwave oven was a metaphor for frustration. In my opinion, it's a very creative list for baffled students: Microwaves reheat food and turn it soggy. Their molecules bounce around but stay trapped inside. They only come in a few decorator colors, mostly black, they only do what you tell them to do.
The consensus when we finished brainstorming was that microwaves truly were oppressed appliances. We discovered the truth at the heart of the beast.
For extra credit, I suggested everyone consider happy microwaves. Here are the ways my students think a microwave can be joyful--they channel power from electrons, they bleep when you turn them on, they make life better for college students and give them something to eat besides institutional food.
"This class is strange," the guy in back stated when we finished.
"True enough," I agreed.
"But", I added, "A good life is more than rainbows. It can be household appliances too."
Somehow, given the kidding around the followed and the original poems they turned in, I think they got the point.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Author Sydney Salter's Writing Tip of the Week

You are in for a treat. A number of writers - all my friends so far - have agreed to share a writing tip for you so you aren't always hearing from me. We are starting with Sydney Salter who not only writes funny, interesting books, but she's a truly nice person as well. This is what Sydney says about herself: Sydney lives in Utah with her husband, two daughters, two dogs, two cats, a pair of quiet tortoises, and a baby bearded dragon. When not writing, she enjoys reading, cooking, hiking, skiing, traveling, and searching for the ultimate cupcake.
She sent a video too. It may take a minute to open, but how fun is it to hear from the real person - or the virtual one at least. Enjoy and try this very cool exercise. Sydney Salter’s novels include My Big Nose And Other Natural Disasters, Jungle Crossing, and Swoon At Your Own Risk.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Biblio Burro - the Library Burro

Just one thing to share today but what a treat. This is from my friend Yuyi Morales' Facebook page - and YouTube. If you wonder why we write, look at this. Doesn't matter if you speak Spanish or not. It's all in the video. And for a writing tip? Try this exercise - particularly if you DON'T speak Spanish. What do you know from the people's expressions? How can you describe them? Can you write a scene from the video without dialogue so we get the whole picture? Now write it with dialogue. If you have a friend who speaks Spanish, have them listen to the video and translate if for you if they can. How close is your version?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Oh, That Writing Thing

I had lunch with a friend today and she told me I'd always been a writer. I corrected her - I started writing as an adult. But I was always a day dreamer. In fact, I used to get in trouble for that when I was in elementary and junior high school. There was always an interesting world in my head to inhabit. So that led to the train of thought that as an adult, I often judge my progress by words or pages written. How many time have you writers seen a post that says "Yay, I wrote 2,000 words today." Yes, that's a measure. But you know what? Yesterday I put not one word onto paper, or shall I say entered none on the screen, but I found the heart of my current novel - while I was walking my black lab Ralph before the sun rose. That's progress. That's that writing thing. Cheers.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A Moment I Almost Missed

I've been walking every morning. So lucky to start my day in one of the most beautiful places I know - my own valley. I really didn't want to go this morning, though, but Ralph, ourbig black lab, was so excited I opened the door and out we went. I was on automatic, slow to wake up. Decided to walk up a side street that I usually skip and a pinto mare began to run right to me. There was something different about her, besides her desire to see me - most horses ignore us (that's me and Ralph). We met at the corral fence. She was eager to be petted or fed or ridden. I didn't do any - she's not my horse - but I did stare. She had the most amazing blue eyes. Stunning. Clear and bright blue. I've never seen a horse with two bright blue eyes before. Look for it in a book. That's where inspiration comes from. Walks you almost didn't take.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Computer Cat #2

So have I talked about this before? My cat loves to stretch out between the keyboard and the monitor. Then he occasionally bats at the keys. Writing prompt - what if he learned to type? What would your cat say? Any cat? Are there cat poets out there? Complaining cats? Mystery writing cats? This is a gold mine of feline fantasy. Go for it.

On the news front, I found that Bull Rider is included in the preliminart list for the 2011/2012 Truman Award for middle school books from the Missouri Association of School Librarians. I think that means kids will be reading it (along with books from a list of 25)this fall and voting on their favorites which will then become the Nominees (list of 12). It's a long process but there will be readers involved all along the way.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Odds and Ends

I'm revising this morning and will put on some music to go with my mood and the manuscript. Some writers swear by this. Some make playlists for their manuscripts. I'm not that dedicated yet. But I do know what I want to listen to to set a certain mood. So imagine me listening and writing - soon. Also, watch the blog for tips from other writers. I'll be posting them about once a week starting toward the end of August. And if you know teachers, writers, or students who are looking for tips and ideas send them this way. It's nice to know people are reading the blog. Happy weekend.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Writerly Stuff

Short note today. I'm off to revise an opening. Very jazzed about it. It's so wonderful when you love your own work. That's good and important. If you don't stand by your writing, your story, who will? Coming up - tips from some great YA and MG authors. See the list on the right. More later - me

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Mining Family Stories

I just got home from the Society of Children's Book Writer's and illustrator's conferene in Los Angeles. It's always a feast of information, tips, opportunities, and new and old friends. And of course books. I bought one new book to read (the bookstore must have sold out of many titles early) and I loved it. The Red Umbrella by Cristina Diaz Gonzalez. I really enjoyed reading it and I learned a lot too. The book is based on her family's experience in 1961 and 1962 when thousands of Cuban children were sent to the United States alone to escape the new Castro regime. Most of them were reunited with their families later.

So the tip - your family has stories too. Sometimes they happened last week and sometimes they are stories from decades or even a century ago. What has happened to you that would make a funny story? What adventures have you had with your family? Have your grandparents told you stories of when they were kids? Ask them. You may get an idea for a great story. And remember, you don't have to tell it exactly as it happened. You can start with an idea, and if your story is fiction, you can change things to make the story more interesting, longer, scarier - whatever you need. Good luck.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Reading and Writing Yourself

I'm at the SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) conference in Los Angeles. Not only is it a great chance to learn and reconnect with friends, there is a room downstairs full of books. I can't wait to have some time to go down and buy five or six - my reading for the rest of the summer. Some will be written by friends and some will be totally new to me. I'm excited. Some of the best advice I have for writers is to read. Read what you love and read what you'd like to write. Are they different? Is there a reason for that? Reading is the receptive language of writing. If you read, you will learn the rhythm of the language. You'll learn the structure of dialogue. Read enough and the sequences of dialogue, action, description, scene will begin to seem natural. It's a great place to start. Go to your library. Head to a bookstore. What are you reading? Seriously, post it here!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Allowing Your Gifts and Dreams

OK, so this may take some time to swing around to the writing, but our writing really does reflect our own unique stories. We have to be willing to know ourselves and decide how much of that we will share. I generally stay away from religion and politics on my blog and Facebook although I have strong convictions about both. But today, to understand what I'm going to say, you have to come with me on my morning walk. This is something I love to do, once I get in the swing of it (I am now) and my big old black lab, Ralph, loves it too.

But this morning I was grumpy. I wasn't enjoying the birds or the horses or the sunrise. I was complaining to myself and reviewing the stuff I was annoyed with in my life. So I stopped and took a drink of water (thanks to a speaker's gift from Western Washington SCBWI - thanks for the water bottle guys), and wondered how to cut off all the negativity that was washing over me. I turned to the Lord's Prayer which I memorized when I was four. Then I did something new. Instead of reciting it, maybe over and over, I meditated on each line until it felt right. That exercise engulfed me and Ralph and we covered a lot of ground.What an amazing set of words.

So where's the writing, you ask? Coming, hold on. The line that took about 1/2 mile to get through was Thy kingdom come. I'm pretty familiar with the fact that God's will is not mine and that I need to be forgiven and that it would certainly be fine of me if I would forgive others. But, Thy kingdom come? That means I would like to live with peace and happiness. I would like to relax in a wonderful idyllic space. I would accept gifts beyond my imagination. I'm not sure exactly how to handle that. I'm a worker and a fighter. I'm an honest observer and a seeker of justice. Asking to experience God's kingdom? Hmmm.

Ralph and I kept walking. And then I realized that much of it is already here. In the gifts around me that others offer every day. In my own abilities. In the lack of pain in this moment. In my dreams. I knew I needed to let go of the complaints and the "debts" and accept new possibilities. This is part of God's kingdom that I can understand. So, writers, let's dream, let's be thankful for what we have and might do. Let's explore the possibility of the shared word.

Take a minute and write down two or three things you really dream of. They can be writing related, places you want to visit, changes in your life. Go ahead, write down your dreams. Now watch this video. I promise to make it all make sense.

So what do you think those miners dreamed? What would their idea of a divine space be? How would their dreams be different from yours? What if you could sit down with one of those miners, with one of their kids and talk about what you both want? What would you say? What would the miner's child say? What happens when we are too tired or hurt to dream? Does anyone believe in your dreams? Take a minute and sit quietly with your thoughts. Now write. Write about anything you think of. Don't be afraid to write what you are really feeling. Create a new character. Write about yourself. Just write. That is a gift. Accept it.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Losing My Mind, or Maybe Just My Thoughts

Yesterday I was walking my dog and I had the very best idea ever for this blog. And then I got inspired by the sun and the mountains, and the bachelors buttons and cotton tails and, well gee, I totally forgot it before I got home. I told myself I would remember it soon and then I could share my great idea with all of you. But I spent today doing all kinds of officy catch up things for a writers' group I belong to and the idea did not reappear. This is not what I planned. So, I have no stellar thoughts.

Ideas come from photos too. Take lots of them. Don't lose them. This is in the Sculpture Garden in Minneapolis. What does it make you think of? Any good ideas?

Here's the lesson - be sure to write down your ideas when they come to you. They can seem stupid later in the day or tomorrow. That's fine. You can always crumple up the paper and throw it away. But if you forget your ideas, they are gone. Some people like to keep a journal. Some blog their ideas. I know writers who have old fashioned file card boxes stuffed with notes for characters, settings, story ideas. Any one of these can be just what you need when you are developing a new story or stuck on an old one. So my suggestion today is that you start keeping your ideas. Get a notebook, or a card file, or a drawer, or a Word Document. Don't be shy. Write them down. Then they'll be there when you need them.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Cow Tipping and Other Story Starters

So a friend just wrote me an e-mail that said "writing tips" reminded her of cow tipping and that reminded me of a T-shirt I got for my 3 year old grandson from a trip to the Oklahoma Library Associations' Encyclomedia that said "Junior Cow Tipper, Oklahoma" or something like that. He totally loves it. I just had to get it for him. In fact, I try to get a little something for him when I travel. From Arkansas, he's getting a pig nose. Best I could do with my time and budget in the airport store and they didn't have a razorback T-shirt that would fit him. Don't tell, the nose is still in my closet.

So this brings me to a story idea. A kid with a collection of crazy stuff his grandma brings him. How old is he? Maybe ten or twelve. Old enough to have memories and maybe not to use the junk so often any more. What does he do with the stuff? What is his conflict? Has grandma died? Is mom demanding he junk this stuff? Does it have magical powers? I have no idea, but this is how I might start a story or develop a character. What can you do with this collection of information and questions? Oh, and that's the photo of the cows from my hotel room in Wisconsin - go back a few entries if you missed that story. Happy writing.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

That Crazy Bear Loves Fruit Loops

So about two years ago I was able to watch a black bear, who had been hanging around some houses, be trapped and tagged. It was an amazing experience and I used a lot of that information in my work in progress (WIP), Face Off. What I didn't do was touch the bear. The people who were tagging him were working and I felt lucky just to be there to observe. I wasn't going to ask if I could pet the tranquilized, 200 pound bear.

Then, last week, when we were in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, we found a brochure for the Oswald Bear Ranch. They rescue bear cubs from all over the country and currently are the permanent home for about 42 bears. In order to support that (and maybe themselves) they charge a small admission, sell souveneirs, and for $5 you can have your picture taken with one of the youngest cubs. I couldn't resist. Off to Oswald's we went. You can watch me and some of my family in this video. That's my son feeding the bear Fruit Loops. Now the nature lover part of me says this is exploitation of the bears and definitely not the healthiest of treats. But the practical part of me says that if the cub eats fruit loops for three months (until he's too big to pet) that will go a long way toward paying for his future keep. The older bears eat apples.

And, aaah, and the writer part - now I know how a brown bear feels. THAT will be in a book. And the little guy was so cute.

Try this: Write down three adjectives you think describe the bear. Now write five words about what you think he was feeling, tasting, smelling etc. Next, write a paragraph - five or six sentences - about this scene from the bear's point of view. If he could talk, what would he say? What would he like more than anything? Re-read your paragraph. Does it give you an idea for a story? Your idea doesn't have to be from the bear's point of view, although it can be. It might be totally different. Sometimes one experience (like watching a crazy bear video) triggers an entirely different idea. Our minds are wonderful things. Honor your ideas. Now go write!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Computer Cat

I'll be uploading photos and videos and some writing challenges from the Midwest trip soon. There are a couple I'm really anxious to share. But today is catch up day. I've worked on the mentor program that Nevada SCBWI runs and on our new e-list system to communicate with our members. I've cut flowers and assessed our weeds (pulled only a very few, I'm afraid.) My cat is stretched out behind my computer key board. He's very happy. I am too. I'm completely in catch up mode.

And I'm so ready to get working on one of my current projects. What's in the pipeline? China's Daughters, a non-fiction book of short biographies of 17 (I think) Chinese women and how their lives illuminate their particular historic time will be published, probably in early 2011 - that's a guess - by Pacific View Press in San Francisco. It's done. YAY! Sierra Blue, the story of a teen aged girl who saves a race horse and couple of her friends along the way, is out on submission. Face Off, set in the Arctic is about a boy who, abandoned by his birth father, works through his anger on the ice hockey rink and on the sea ice when he faces a rogue polar bear. That one is in the process. I'm holding myself back from starting another project - too many voices to keep in my head - but am anxious to get to writing regularly again soon.

Here's a tip from my process - and every writer's process is different. When I have an idea for a book - a setting and some sense of the plot - then I spend quite a while exploring my characters. I may write 20 pages about my main character, maybe 50 pages, before I start my first chapter. I want to know that person very well. I want to think like he or she does and know how she sounds.

Try this exercise: Choose two people who talk differently - say your best friend and your grandfather. Maybe those two people grew up in different places, or maybe you have a friend who is always trying out the latest cool words and phrases. Imagine a scene - make it dramatic - maybe an auto accident of the last minute of a football game and the home team fumbles the ball. Write it out twice - the way each of your people would describe it. Their words should be different, maybe their reactions are different, even though they are talking about the exact same thing. This is the basis of voice and point of view. If you don't get how this works the first time, try again. Writing well takes practice and it's ok if your first pages aren't very good. Professional writers almost always start with lousy paragraphs and make them better. That's the key.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Snippets for Stories

So at my presentation I spoke of how we authors (or at least this author) piece together bits of reality, both physical and emotional, to create our fiction. We finished the talk and tornado sirens went off. The whole group tromped down several flights of stairs to the Loft basement where I signed books and the organizers served the cake that they had carried downstairs with them. I thought of the old brick building above us and hoped that if a tornado hit it would be strong enough to lift the bricks up and away and not just dump them in on top of us. After a prudent wait, we all went back upstairs where the signing continued as though nothing had happened. Welcome to the midwest, Dorothy.

Signing books during the tornado warning!

Afterwards a few of us donned garbage bag ponchos (no kidding guys - that mountain training is useful) and ran half a block through the rain to a little club to visit. Wonderful talk and soaked pants and shoes, dry from the waist up, thanks to the silly plastic bags. I've never seen that much rain fall from the sky. All of this, will one day, end up in a book. You can look for it. Cheers for now from Minneapolis.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Writer's Life

In Minneapolis today. Meeting a friend for lunch. He helped me greatly in writing my book The Ojibwe (Heinemann 2003) and has remained a friend. It is one of the great perks of being a writer. Then dinner with the people from the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis and author Gary Schmidt (Wednesday Wars, Trouble etc.) Hopefully I'll make new friends. Then a presentation with Gary at the Loft Center. I've been looking forward to this for a while. And I'll get to see a little of Minneapolis. I have to say though, that I'm really looking forward to my days at home. . .

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A Sense of Place

So my father told me stories about growing up in far northern Wisconsin and I wrote that novel from his descriptions. When I got here, there was little that I didn't already know. The only thing I added to the novel was the look of the eastern white pine trees. Nothing prepares you for those spreading arms if you are from the West. Two thoughts here: Listen when people tell you stories. You not only learn about them, but you will know things beyond your own experience. These pieces of truth you can tuck into your own stories like calico into a quilt. Second, pay attention to details. The small things about a place make a story sing. If I have someone walking on Grant Avenue in San Francisco, I should know the view they will see, or the smells they will smell, or the difference between Grant and Stockton Street. At least if I want to impress a San Franciscan - and if I write about their town I should. For a great YA read that takes place in San Francisco read Cory Doctorow's Little Brother.

Now, think about how you would get that kind of detail if you haven't been to a place. There are ways to do it. And for an exercize, try this. Think of a spot you know well - your backyard or the block your school is on, maybe a favorite camping place or your grandmother's kitchen. Write down everything you remember about it. Are they mostly things you see? What do you hear? Smell? Touch? Now pick a sound or smell from that place and write about how it makes you feel. This is the beginning of giving your story a sense of place. It may even give you an idea for your writing.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

It's Tuesday and I'm on the south shore of Lake Superior where my father grew up. I saw my grandmother's grave and I didn't have any particular feeling after all that looking - the nice lady in Wisconsin had sent a picture so that surprise was over. I left flowers, and it started to drip rain. Just then I thought of the scene in the novel that I had written, with John Wesley Morgan (my character) watching his mother be buried. It was a very different place that I'd imaginined than the one I was standing in. But suddenly I felt my father, six years old, in the same real place that I was, watching his real mother be buried. I thought of my six year old father and that loss and I cried. Stories connect us to our past and to what our future can be. They are so very powerful. You have your own stories.

I've uploaded a video of me at Grandma Jensen/Morgan's grave. I'm not a movie star. This will be the first of I hope many videos to help you think about stories. And teachers, I thought about starting this in the fall, but so many of you teach year round I'm just picking up now, where I am. I hope the rest of you will read the blog from the beginning and find some prompts and questions that will help you.

So, after watching the video, think about the grave stone. Why do people make gravestones? What kinds of things do people write on them? Imagine a story with a character who has lost someone. It can be a dog, a relative, an enemy. What would they write on the gravestone? What does this say about them? About the person or pet who has died? Now make a list of what the person/pet was like when it was alive. Try writing a scene between your character and the one who died. What happens, what do they say? Does this give you an idea for a story? If you try this, let me know - post a comment. Til next time. . .

Sunday, July 11, 2010

There's a Cow in My Bedroom and Other Changes

I'm in a motel in Wisconsin on my way to what is my first, almost vacation only travel in a few years. After being in the room for a couple of hours last night I looked up and there is a huge photo of two cows hanging above the desk. How did I miss that for two whole hours? They are very cute.

So that's the way I sometimes feel about ideas and stories. The most obvious things can be right in front of you and you never notice.Forty eight hours ago I was in Arkansas and a very savvy reading professor, Ken Stamatis, asked about my blog. I told him I had one but that lately (or mostly) I'm a very bad blogger. Bad blogger (slaps hand). I hadn't blogged for months. He pretty much made me promise to start up again, and here's where the cows come in, promise. He directed me toward a new audience - student readers and writers. Cows in my bedroom. No, I'm not saying students or teachers are cows, but that as a former teacher and professional writer, I hadn't thought of blogging for you. Now I am. So to my friends and professional writer friends, come along. Comment all you want. We are going to share tips, and daily insight (or not - ahem) and just what I'm doing to work on books and career with readers and writers. We are going to start a discussion on our own unique experiences and the stories they produce.

So today, my husband and I are driving to the Upper Penninsula of Michigan. My sister is excited because that's where Ernest Hemmingway spent many summers. I'm excited to meet up with our son. And today, after years of searching for it, we are going to visit my grandmother's grave. She died when my father was six and he had few memories of her. Only her name really. My grandfather, her husband suffered from dementia by the time I was old enough to remember him. I got no information from him. So after years of looking in old records and crawling around a few cemetaries in Wisconsin five years ago, last Tuesday I got an e-mail from a lovely woman in Oneida County with the location of the grave. Today, I'm taking flowers. I'm pretty sure no one has visited in at least thirty years - maybe in almost a hundred. What does this have to do with readers and writers?

The Point: My story ideas come from lots and lots of places, but the best ones are ideas that won't leave me alone - like finding some piece of this grandmother's life to hold onto. I've never seen a photo - they all burned in a fire a couple years after she died. With only her name, and this desire to know about her, I wrote a whole novel that started with the day she was buried (I didn't know where then) and I made the rest of it up. That novel isn't published but I hope someday a version of it will be. It's a story I love. It isn't true but it started with a little truth and an idea that I couldn't let go.

INVITATION: Teachers - if you are working on writing this year, why not have your class follow and comment on this blog? I'll try to include tips and ideas and a peek into the writers life and I'd love to hear from you and your class. Let the discussion begin!!

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Win a Copy of Bull Rider

So - has it really been five months since I posted here? It's five months that I've been in Lake Dallas, Texas, Oklahoma City, Elko and Battle Mountain, Nevada, Charlottesville, Virginia, Eugene, Oregon, San Diego, California. I've been neglecting the blog.

So today you can win a copy of Bull Rider by visiting the TeensReadToo blog and making a comment. Be sure to leave your e-mail address. I wrote this for Memorial Day and it is featured along with an essay by Rosanne Parry and one by Sara Lewis Holmes. Together, I think they are powerful. I'll post the text of all three on this blog on June 1. Good luck!