Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Happy Dance!

I did it! I really did it!
34 Picture Book ideas in 30 days!!

Some of them are more fleshed out than others, but I have 2 that are especially begging to be written NOW, NOW, NOW!!! I keep telling them to shush, I have a thesis to finish.

But there's good news. I finished that first FULL DRAFT of the thesis tonight too!!! Woo Hoo! Double happy dance.

Now, the real work begins with my thesis: revision, revision, revision.

What am I going to do with the picture book ideas?

1) I'm going to write those two that I can't get out of my head.
2) I'm going to sock the other 32 away and let them simmer. You see I plan to do the Picture Book Marathon in February 2011. I need to write 26 drafts during that month. So, my ideas are simmering now. My fingers should be flying in February.
3) I also have 5 more nonfiction picture book ideas that are going to require some research. These weren't even figured into my 34 fiction picture book ideas for this month. I am going to start researching these as well.

Many thanks to Tara Lazar for hosting and providing inspiration all month.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Packing an Emotional Punch

I have been reading like a writer lately. In my current W.I.P., I am nearing the end. I know something horrible is coming. I know what it is. I have been dreading writing it. It will be very emotional for me. I know I need to write this part of the book, yet it's difficult. 

One of the questions I've been thinking about is how much tragedy can a teen reader take? An agent wanted me to consider the fact that I have tragedy at the beginning and the end of my book. My first response is--tragedy happens in real life. I want to show a character who rises up from unspeakable tragedies. This agent wasn't telling me NOT to write this book, but merely wanted me to consider was I writing two stories or one? It was a valid point. 

Unfortunately, multiple tragedies can happen in real life to real teens. It's horrible, but it happens. I don't want to skirt around tragedy  or give my protagonist an unrealistic situation. 

Over the weekend, I read a YA novel with incredible emotional punch. In Gayle Forman's If I Stay, Mia's family is in a car accident. She is close to death. She has to decide if she should hang on and try to live or if she should slip quietly from this earth. I don't want to give away all of the reasons she gives to stay or to die. Those heart-wrenching reasons are the very fabric of this story. 

It made me think of why we read in the first place. We read because we want to feel something. We may want to laugh, cry, escape, or be touched. But in all cases, we want to be moved. 

Forman's novel is gut-wrenching and emotional. It will make you cry. But I didn't feel teased or as though she'd played with my emotions. Mia goes through a life or death decision. She lives through something I pray I never do. 

When I read this book like a writer, it gave me a better understanding of how deeply I can cut to an emotional core. I don't want to taunt my readers' emotions, but I want them to feel, even if it's a tragedy. But more than anything I want them to have hope. 

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Haiku in My Sleep

I have been participating in PiBoIdMo. I have been faithfully coming up with a picture book idea every day. I keep thinking I'll be warmed up and ready to go when the Picture Book Marathon starts in February.

The good news is that I have had lots of ideas flowing. The bad news is, I didn't sleep last night. You know, when those crazy words run through your head and you can't get them out? That's the kind of night I had.

Here's how it happened:

I was composing haiku last night. I'm teaching haiku to my fourth graders right now. At night, I've been writing haiku and brainstorming ideas for my own haiku book. I was so tired, but I composed a haiku about earthworms when I was half-asleep. I tapped out the syllables with my eyelids. It was great. I was too lazy to roll over and write it down in the dark.

So I memorized it.

But you know how that goes.... You sometimes forget when the morning rolls around. Then sometimes, when the morning does roll around, what you wrote doesn't seem very good anyway.

That darn haiku kept me up all night. I woke up four times reciting it to myself. The cool thing? I remembered it this morning. I wrote it down as soon as I woke up.

Even better news? It seemed just as magical this morning as it did last night when I wrote it when my syllabic eyelids wouldn't leave me alone.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

PiBoIdMo 2010

Some of you may be participating in NaNoWriMo. Well, I can't even get a novel written in a year (but I'm trying).

But I was really excited when I heard about the PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) hosted by Tara Lazar. The challenge? To come up with an idea for a picture book every day for a month. Then you have 30 ideas to get you through until the next time PiBoIdMo rolls around.

Last February I participated in the Picture Book Marathon, a challenge to be sure. I had to write 26 picture books in 28 days. It was tough. However, some of them are crap. But about half of them have been decent enough to revise and really work on. Worth a month's of work? You bet!

The hard part of that last year was that I had to come up with ideas. I started coming up with ideas about a week in advance, but when the middle of February came, I was tired of my ideas and really needed some more. And some of those ideas needed a little bit of research. I didn't have time to do too much of that.

So, as I see it, the PiBoIdMo challenge will give me time to generate the ideas. Then I have December and January to do any research needed. Then I can really write in February.

Did I say I have a novel to finish? Yeah, I want that done by December 31.

I've always liked a good challenge.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

My Cup Runneth Over A.K.A. “How I Spent My Summer Vacation”

When I attended an SCBWI event with Deborah Brodie, she talked about how writers needed to take a sabbatical from writing. She and Sarah Davies both emphasized the importance of living life to help feed your writing.
So I took their advice.

We went on vacation for 9 days. I unplugged for those 9 days. I took a cell phone, but used it rarely. I checked no e-mails, read no blogs, and only wrote because a character’s voice in my head wouldn’t leave me alone. When she’d kept me up for 2 nights, I finally gave in, wrote everything about her I knew so I could remember. I can’t write her story now, but I have some nuggets saved for after my current book is done.

We did a plethora of things. My husband likened it to a scavenger hunt. You know, the kind where you reach a destination, hop out, get what you needed, then hop back in the car and on to the next destination. I found it relaxing and it fed my writer’s mind. Here’s a few trip highlights and how they fed the writer within.

1. Thomas Edison’s Laboratory, West Orange, NJ: This man was amazing. He had a huge laboratory and was a pioneer in so many ways. This is a picture of a fraction of his library that reminded me a bit of the one in the UVA Rotunda. I was in awe of the amount of trials and failures it took for him to invent and improve so many technologies.

2. Statue of Liberty, New York Harbor: This was my second trip to see Lady Liberty, but I took away new things this time. The first time I saw her, I was on my honeymoon. This time I was introducing her to my daughter. Bartholdi, Liberty’s designer, wanted to have her ready in time for the 100th anniversary of our country, but he was 10 years late. It didn’t stop him. He kept pursuing the dream. And then there were the thousands of people who laid eyes on Lady Liberty before coming to Ellis Island. Each one of them has their own story.

3. Plymouth, Massachusetts: Since my daughter learned about the Pilgrims and the Mayflower in kindergarten this year, we thought we’d take her to the historic site. I learned so many things and dispelled many misconceptions I had. There are always many sides to every story. It made me want to make sure I consider all angles before telling my story.

4. Whale Watching and People Watching Cape Cod, MA: Whales are beautiful creatures. I got see a dozen or so in all of their glory. These pictures just don't do them justice. I was also on a boat for four hours which gave ample opportunity to watch people. People are sometimes as fascinating as animals.

5. The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art Amherst, MA: This place is a children’s book lover’s dream come true. I only wished I could have stayed longer. My kids were done in far too short of a time. Next time I will go alone. Plan to spend several hundred dollars in their bookstore—also a children’s book lover and scholar’s dream. Truly. If only I were an artist too...

6. Dr. Seuss Sculpture Garden Springfield, MA: To have your characters immortalized into sculptures? Well, that in and of itself is inspiring. They also had some fabulous museums around these garden. I sat on the mosaic bench and took it all in.

6. Norman Rockwell Museum Stockbridge, MA: (No Pictures except for one with all of my family in it. We were rushed because we got there 40 min. before it closed). Wow! An unplanned stop, but well worth it. The paintings are even more beautiful in person. And a bonus William Steig exhibit was there too. Jeanne Steig did some whimsical sculptures when she was having writer’s block because she had to keep her hands busy doing something. They were also on display. We also got to see Rockwell’s studio.

7. Baseball Hall of Fame, Cooperstown, NY: Another unplanned stop, but truly amazing. I love baseball (the only sport I watch). So many players with big dreams, who reached their goals. It was also inspiring to learn more about the players who faced much discrimination just to pursue their passion.

What did I do on my summer vacation? I left the "work" at home, and filled up my writer's cup.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Of Jellyfish and Happiness

I went to a workshop all day today about teaching kids writing. As much as I love to write and as much as I love to teach kids how to write, I never get tired of adding another tool to my toolbox. Amanda Donnelly, of IRN, was there. We broke down the three domains (Composing, Written Expression, Usage and Mechanics) that Virginia’s students have to be able to master in their writing. We did a practice writing prompt, and I realized I haven’t mastered those domains either.

Something I learned in the Writing Project many years ago: we really don’t know how much we expect of kids in their writing until we try it ourselves. Writing teachers need to write themselves. We tried a writing prompt today. It was about the happiest memory. I make a list of possible happy memories to write about. I picked my favorite, then brainstormed some more about one particular trip. All things were going well….

THEN…I began to write my rough draft. Two pages into it, I realized something dreadful. I didn’t write to the prompt at all!!! I wrote about spearing jellyfish. Yes, a morbid, graphic, fictionalized tale. It was interesting. It had roots in reality, but it was fiction. It had some figurative language. It had some vivid verbs. It even had a central idea. It just wasn’t the central idea I was supposed to write about.

Author’s Share time came along. We were supposed to volunteer to share our writing. Now, we had been working on it for a whole 15 minutes. I am not a big fan of sharing writing immediately after it is written. It’s like eating bread dough before you’ve given it a chance to rise and bake. It just isn’t for eating. I was NOT getting up to share my OFF-TOPIC two page story beginning. First of all, it wasn’t a whole piece. It wasn’t on topic. And it certainly wasn’t happy. I shared among my small group, made up of people I know. They were so nice to me. They thought it was terrific. But it was off-topic.

As I thought about my dilemma, I realized how common this is for kids. How dreadful to realize you really like the story you are telling, but it isn’t the one you are SUPPOSE to be telling. A lesson learned for me.

I can’t change the state’s prompt. I can’t even change the fact that they will have to write to a prompt, but I CAN teach them what to do when this thing happens to them. I plan to tell them my experience, show them my writing, and brainstorm ideas with them on how to solve this problem.

By the way, I don’t plan to write anymore about the happy memory because frankly happiness and perfectness make very boring stories. I am planning to keep going with this story about the jellyfish maimer and find out what he plans to do next. He’s an interesting fellow.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Title Trouble

I've been working feverishly on my thesis for my MFA all summer. I don't have a title for it yet. It hasn't been a problem so far. One of the online critique groups I belong to consists of other Hollins MFA students trying to finish their theses as well. I have just been calling my thesis by my main character's first name, Isla. Actually, I've called it "Isla Untitled". No big deal. It's a work in progress.

However, I'm filling out the paperwork to actually register my thesis. I have to give it a title!

I'm one of those people who typically develops titles last. I have to write my story in order to pull out a good line for the title. I once worked with a fellow teacher who told all of her students that when they started writing their rough draft they had to give their paper a title and write their name. I freaked out when I heard this! I told her, "Don't you know that real writers don't always do this?" For most kids (and writers like me), this would just force me to put a label instead of a title. You know like "My Summer Vacation" is really a label, not a title.

To me, a title is one of those essential tools of pulling the reader in. Just like a cover, it can determine whether someone even picks up your book and opens up to the first page.

There are some really interesting titles out there in the world. They make me want to pick up the book because I think the title is brilliant. Here are just a few I've noticed recently:

The Word Snoop
So Few of Me
After Ever After
The Secret Life of Ms. Finkleman
Draw the Dark

I haven't read any of these books, yet I'm drawn to their titles. I particularly love a title that you don't really "get it" until you've gotten pretty far into the book.

So what am I going to do about this paperwork conundrum? Well, I am going to keep writing and see what kind of title I can come up with. I'm hoping it can be a "working title" that can always be changed.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Kindness of Strangers--Fairies or Angels?

I have been wanting to go to Fairy Stone State Park for a couple of years. I knew my daughter would love hunting for Fairy Stones, so I just had to pick a day to do it. Today was the day. When I know that I'm going to be gone all day, sometimes I worry if I'll get behind on my writing. For most people, summer is a time when they can slow down a bit. For me, summer time is the time I get most of my writing done. Sometimes it's during these times that my writing really is enriched. Or my life is enriched, which affects my writing. On days that I don't venture out, sometimes I find myself sitting down to the computer and wasting time because I don't know what to write. On days like today, I come back with my head so full of stories that I can't wait to get them down.

The legend goes that the woods were enchanted with fairies. When an elfin told the fairies that Christ had died, they cried. Their tears crystallized and became the fairy stones. There is another Cherokee version of the story as well. I am going to look that one up.

The woods and hunting for fairy stones? There is a story in there somewhere. I thought about it all the way home. I took the road less traveled by (you know, the one with no lines on it) and I thought about my story, while enjoying the beautiful mountains. And it was totally quiet because the trip to the park wore both of my kids out and they were snoozing in the back.

I took both of my kids by myself for two reasons 1) the hubby had to work and 2) it's less crowded on a weekday. I packed a cooler full of water, fruit, muffins, and other snacks. I had the jogging stroller (which by the way, was made for camping). And we had a handful of picture books on CD. I listened, my daughter followed along with the text, and we had a fabulous time.

Usually my husband and I tag-team. We are able to handle two kids and all of their paraphernalia without too much trouble. On my own, I have to streamline it a bit, but I was feeling very comfortable with the whole trip. I was amazed by the kindness of total strangers. An elderly man who must live locally, came in to the visitor's center when we did (he didn't work there). He told us all about the fairy stones and explained some of the hands-on skulls and displays set up. He patiently and kindly answered all of my little naturalist's questions.

Then there was the retired principal who led us out to the fairy stone trail, who spent extra time with us helping us to identify which were fairy stones and which were not (and there were about 20 of us that went--we weren't the only ones).

On the way down to the trail, there was the lady who was fairy stone hunting with her grown siblings. She waited for me to get out of the car and asked if I needed help getting my stroller down the rough, steep terrain.

At lunch a young boy, about ten, saw me pushing a stroller and dragging a cooler. He offered to come over and help me.

Perhaps we had been sprinkled with fairy dust. Or maybe sometimes you entertain angels unaware. For whatever reason, I am indebted to the kindness of strangers who made my trip to Fairy Stone that much more enjoyable. As soon as possible, I will pay it forward.

Now, off to write my story.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

A few links for your viewing pleasure...

Several interesting links have come my way lately. I thought I'd share the most meaningful ones.

1) Check out an upcoming book entitled Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys. You must, must, must watch the book trailer on her book's site. This book is about the Lithuanians that were killed during Stalin's reign. It's one of the riveting stories that has been mostly untold so far. The book trailer is very moving. I haven't read the book, but the story she shares is so compelling, I will be reading it when it comes out.

Thanks to Angie Smibert, fellow critique group member, for the link. Angie and Ruta are both Elevensies with books coming out in 2011.

2) I am a haiku nut, as you may have seen on this blog. I have been following the blog Cobalt Crow Productions. They have a new haiku journal appropriate for anyone but especially geared for students. I will be using this journal with my kids. It's called Berry Blue Haiku. Check out their first issue. It's free. Even if you aren't a teacher, if you like haiku, you will like this online magazine.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Reading Like a Writer

One of the joys of summer is that I can finally start reading in that stack of "to-be-read" books that keeps getting taller and taller. My thesis-in-progress is about a young girl who is dealing with grief and lots of change in her life.

Two of the books I read this week are about characters that also are dealing with grief and lots of personal change in their lives. I didn't realize this when I picked these books out of the pile.

Bird Lake Moon by Kevin Henkes
Mitch's parents are getting a divorce and he is mad at the world. He and his Mom go to live with his grandparents on Bird Lake. He spends most of his time being angry and wanting his life to be normal again. Then Spencer and his family arrive at Bird Lake. Spencer's family is returning to Bird Lake after many years because this is where Spencer's older brother drowned. It has taken a long time for his parents to feel like they can try to return. Both of these boys are dealing with their own issues, but they become friends.

As I writer, I loved to see how Henkes developed the psyche of these two boys and showed so many details. His use of setting and emotions really helped me to see how a writer can portray grief and emotions through the physical place and objects around them.

Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine
This book is by a Virginia author. I had heard so many good things about it. I knew it was about a girl with Asperger's syndrome, but I didn't realize that it also was about this girl dealing with the loss of her brother who was killed in a school shooting. Like Erskine, I was touched by the Virginia Tech shootings. It was 30 minutes from where I live and I was terrified that something so horrible could happen so close to home. Erskine shows how Caitlin, the main character, deals with the loss of her brother and helps her dad also deal with his grief. Erskine portrays the grief honestly and uniquely as seen through the eyes of a child with Asperger's. There are no quick answers, but Caitlin and her dad began to heal.

As a writer, I was deeply touched by the emotions of this book. I loved how Erskine developed the relationship between Caitlin and her brother. We get to know Devon, the brother, after his death, through Caitlin's memories. Erskin weaves this in piece by piece in little details each time. Once again, like Henkes novel, we see how physical objects also hold great emotional weight.

Both of these novels I intended to read for pure pleasure. I had no idea they would help me see how different writers can approach the same subject. And they gave me momentum for pushing on with my own novel with a character in grief.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Running Race #2

Last month (has it really been a month?) I reported that I was trying to finish up school. I was coming to the end of the race, only to start a new one.

I've been out of school since last Thursday. I've been running a writing race since then.

I love summer. I can make my own schedule. Work out in the mornings, write when my son takes a nap, go to the pool in the in between times, and stay up past my bedtime. The only problem with an unscheduled day is that sometimes things on the to-do list never get done. Before school got out, I made myself get organized in my writing life. I found these cool little to-do list templates on Microscoft's website. I personalized it for my writing. My categories are:
* Writing
* Research
* Correspondence/Send out
* Revisions
* Miscellaneous Tasks

Each week I make a new to-do list. When I found myself floundering, or stuck on one part of my writing or the other, I switch gears and do something different. I have gotten a tremendous amount accomplished and I feel very focused.

Things I've done so far:
1) Wrote a new story and sent it to a bedtime story contest. Here's the link to mine.
2) Revised an picture book I've been working on and submitted it to Cheerios Spoonfuls of Stories Contest.
3) Revised another picture book I've been working on and submitted it to the Hunger Mountain Katherine Paterson Prize for Young Adult and Children's Writing.
4) Written and revised over 30 pages on my novel-in-progress (my thesis for my Hollins MFA).

I love deadlines and I thrive off of them. Having these contests to submit to gave me a deadline for revising (or writing) my work. I have to turn in a picture book to my picture book marathon group every month. I turn in pages of my work-in-progress to my SCBWI crit group every month. I also have to submit new pages of my thesis to my Hollins Thesis e-mail crit group every week. These deadlines have been really good for me.

Here's to Race #2. I've been training for this one all year. I hope I finish strong. I will cross the finish line the end of August when I return to my other job.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Finish Line

I really can see the finish line. You know the big ribbon marked "Summer is Here." You see, many people think summer begins with the Memorial Day weekend. Not me. I think summer begins when I officially get out of school. This year, I will burst through the ribbon on June 17. I can see it waving in the distance. By the time I get there, I hope to still be running instead of walking, out of breath.

This week I finished testing with my kids. That last day I sat out on my sweltering deck and ate a gigantic cupcake with my colleagues. I broke my diet, and loved it. That day I felt like I had a big cheering section saying, "You did it! You are almost there! Keep going!"

Even though the teaching finish line is so close I can see it, I can also see the next race I need to run. For many teachers I know the summer is spent relaxing by the pool, soaking up some good rays and devouring chicklit. Most of my last 10 years haven't been that way. I have spent time on and off since 2001 going to grad school and racking up almost 2 Master's Degrees and having two kids. I have my thesis left to go on the second degree.

It's a novel. I have been piddling with it for a year. But I joined a Hollins crit. group online and I have to turn work in every week. So even though I'll be gardening, swimming, camping, and enjoying the time off with my kids, I'll also be writing my butt off. I want that thesis done by the end of the summer!!!

So, just as one race ends, I will have a quick moment to catch my breath and run the thesis race.

I'm ready.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Critiquing Picture Books

I'm in a new online critique group that came out of the Picture Book Marathon in February. We were having an e-mail exchange about what types of things we'd like to see in a picture book critique. I started making a list. I want it to be collaborative. I want my group members to add to it. And if you have any experience writing or critiquing picture books, I'd like you to chime in. What is missing from the list? I hope it will be a helpful list when self-critiquing or critiquing other's picture books. Here's what I came up with so far:

1) Does the story allow for illustration? You don’t want to be so specific that it leaves no room for the illustrator to interpret.

2) Word count: Must be less than 1500. Under 1000? Even better. Under 500? Awesome! However, these word counts will fluctuate with the type of content and age level.

3) Words must earn their place. Point out places the writer can cut unnecessary words. Every word counts in a picture book.

4) Read-aloud-ability. Does this book make a good read-aloud? Read it out loud and try it out. Mark the places that you stumble. Most picture books are meant to be read out loud to kids.

5) Language. Picture books are often very lyrical. Does the language have a rhythm, unique language, voice? Where does the language work? Where does it not work?

6) Unique premise. Does this story make something ordinary fresh? Unique? Funny? Aha moment? Will it stand out in the marketplace?

7) Does this story really work as a picture book? Sometimes it’s really a short story, or a novel, but just told in a few words. If it really isn’t meant to be a picture book, then it’s helpful for someone to point that out. Don’t be offended. If you agree with them, use it as a springboard for another project.

8) Story structure. Map out the story. What happens? A good way to plot your book or find the arc of the story is to do a storyboard. I recommend the one on Kim Norman’s site. There is also one in Anastasia Suen’s book Picture Writing.

Important: It’s ultimately your book. You decide whether the comments are something you want to incorporate. If one person mentions it, it may just be that person’s opinion. But if several people notice the same thing, then it’s probably something worth considering changing.

Disclaimer: I am no picture book expert. I have written a few, had some good comments from editors and agents, but nothing has been purchased to date. So, I’m still learning and obviously I need to work on my picture books a lot. Please don’t take the above ideas as gospel. These are just some things I’ve learned from other groups and workshop classes.

Your turn: What else do you want to add? I will add more to the list. I think it will help me keep my critiques more focused with some ideas to jump on. Obviously, we won’t hit each point with each picture book, but this might help if you aren’t sure what to comment on.

I'll compile a list including suggestions from others and post it.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Spreading the Awesome: 10 Stars for The Strange Case of Origami Yoda

Amulet Books, 2010

I've been blogging about this great new book by local author Tom Angleberger.

I went to one of his book signings and blogged about it here.

He recently was on WDBJ7 for an interview. I linked to that here.

There was a great article about this book in The Roanoke Times.

But, I hadn't blogged about the book itself. Until today. My writing group friend, Angie Smibert, told me about blogging about a book that you think is awesome. It's called "Spread the Awesome" and we are supposed to blog about a book that deserves 10 stars. It's promoted by Elana Johnson. The big day is May 3, so I held out on my lovefest of this book until today.

Gist of the book: Dwight is a nerd and everyone knows it, but Dwight has this Yoda--an origami Yoda. Yoda gives advice and talks in that strange sentence structure that Yoda speaks in. The book is told from different character's points of view each giving their story about their encounter with origami Yoda and whether he really has powers. It's like a case file collection of Yoda and his advice and whether it worked or not. The whole book is filled with hilarious stories of what Yoda has done for each character and the healthy doubt that comes from believing a talking folded piece of paper.

Top Five Reasons I Love this Book:

1. It is hilarious. What is funnier than a nerdy kid carrying around an origami Yoda and giving advice to his friends? It's LOL funny.

2. Boys will love this book. I'm a teacher and I bought a "school copy" of this book from Scholastic Book Clubs. I do book talks about different books. I showed the video of Angleberger talking about this book, and showed them them the Roanoke Times article about it. The book literally flew out of my hands. I am taking my signed copy to school tomorrow (which I normally don't do) because so many kids want to read it. I also will be placing another Scholastic order for some more copies. And by the way, girls will love this book too.

3. The design of this book is kid-enticing. The cover jumps right out at you. The pages inside look crinkly--like some kid wrote his story, then crumpled it up and threw it in the trash can because he was so embarrassed. There are cool drawings and doodles throughout the book that make it fun and kid-like.

4. Angleberger is a master of characters. He makes these characters real and really nails the voice for each one. It would be difficult to write a distinctive voice for each kid that tells his story about Yoda, but he does it and does it well.

5. He's a local author. He writes for our local paper. I love seeing local authors become really successful. Need I say more??

Friday, April 30, 2010

NaPoWriMo Day #30

One year ago today at 7:27 p.m. I gave birth to Ian. Today's prompt was a freebie, so I write about him.

Birth Day

One year ago
I gave birth to you,
both of us feverish
after a long day
of getting you here.
We met face to face
for the first time
hot cheek to hot cheek.
I unbundled you
to rub those kicking feet
that kept me up at night.
I counted fingers
and toes,
rubbed red, curly hair,
kissed a little nose
happy birthday.

by Marcie Flinchum Atkins
April 30, 2010

Thursday, April 29, 2010

NaPoWriMo Day #29

Today's prompt was to write about something in the news, or to use it in a prompt, or to write the poem in the style of a particular type of article.

Picture reading this in the classified ads:

One restful night's sleep
Eight hours per night
No cries,
No over-caffeinated wakefulness,
No three a.m. unaccomplished tasks list-making.
Will pay premium rates.
Call today before 8 p.m.

by Marcie Flinchum Atkins
April 29, 2010

NaPoWriMo Day #28

We're getting there...the month is almost over. And I'm behind again. I've had something going on every night this week, plus 2 birthdays (hubby turns 44 and baby boy turns 1). It's busy, busy, busy.

Yesterday's prompt was about intuition or an aha moment. Believe it or not, I had one of those just last night.

8:30 p.m.

Wednesday night

Brick-oven pizza,
lingering conversation,
on the patio
full of people.

I look about,
patio spinning—
is this real?
Do people really do this
on weeknights?
Am I the only one
who pajamas-up
by eight-thirty,
too exhausted
on a
normal night?

by Marcie Flinchum Atkins
April 29, 2010

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

NaPoWriMo Day #27

This last week has been the busiest (and will continue to be the busiest) of the month. When I get home late I wonder if I'll even have any energy to write to a prompt. Thank goodness today's prompt was to write an acrostic. I chose to write about junk mail.

Junk Mail

Jumbled piles of mail spill
Newspapers from last week
Kept receipts never recorded
Magazines and catalogs never ordered
Aghast at the mound of paper
I accumulated in a week
Losing my mind amidst paper.

by Marcie Flinchum Atkins
April 27, 2010

Monday, April 26, 2010

NaPoWriMo Day #26

Today's prompt was to find a scrap of paper or receipt with a poem or part of a poem scrawled on it. Use a part of it to make a new poem.

The phrase I found to use was "robed in leaves".

Here's what I did with it:


I found her
robed in leaves,
shaking like a leaf.
Her mew
quieter than the piles' rustle.
She cowered
when the wind
created a tornado of leaves.
I carried her home
before she could leave.

by Marcie Flinchum Atkins
April 26, 2010

NaPoWriMo Day #25

I'm late! I'm late! For a very important date!

Yes, I'm a day late for Day #25, but yesterday I was in the bed with a fever and a swollen throat. I won't go into more detail, but as much as I wanted to post last night, I wasn't able to.

Yesterday's prompt was to take a phrase or a word just heard and use it in a poem. The first phrase I heard was "life has begun". It was actually in the song, "From This Moment" by Shania Twain.

Here's my poem.


Life has begun

on the peach baubles
reading to plump up with juice,
inside the next,
filled with quiet noise,
under the soil
where a seed sends down roots,
around the protective sepal
holding on to a peony
about to burst,
in the blown bubble
carried by the warm breeze.

Life has begun

by Marcie Flinchum Atkins
April 26, 2010

Saturday, April 24, 2010

NaPoWriMo Day #24

Today's prompt encouraged us to use a phrase, be it an idiom, cliche, saying. I used the Phrase Finder the prompt suggested and came up with a poem with multiple phrases in it. Growing up in Thailand, and being around people who didn't speak a lot of English, it becomes glaringly obvious how many idioms and sayings we really use in the English language.

Peas in a Pod

Kris and I

were two peas in a pod.

Most days
we were as good as gold,
but in the dog days of summer,
we ran around
like chickens with our heads cut off.

We’d trudge home
our mommas would say,
“Were you raised in a barn?”
For the rest of the day,
we’d toe the line,
lie low,
watching trash on TV.

The next day,
the wild goose chase
began again.
“Pipe down!”
our mommas would say,
“The babies are napping!”

We’d sneak off,
traipsing through the woods,
studying bugs,

wading in the creek,
skipping back for dinner,
making it in time,
by the skin of our teeth.

It wasn’t long
til we had to face the music
with long faces
begin school.

by Marcie Flinchum Atkins
April 24, 2010

Friday, April 23, 2010

NaPoWriMo Day #23

Today's prompt was to pair two unlikely things--a speaker and an event.

The pollen is killing me, so I wrote a limerick about a bee who is allergic to pollen.

The Bee Who Hated Pollen

There once was a pollen-hating bee
Every flower he touched made him sneeze,
Pollen stuck to him like glue,
So, what's a bee to do,
When he's allergic to the trees?

by Marcie Flinchum Atkins
April 23, 2010

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Origami Yoda on the Local News

Yesterday, I spent 13 hours with my fourth graders going on a field trip to Charlottesville. Most of the time on the bus was spent making trash-runs up and down the aisles, but I did sneak in a few chapters of The Strange Case of the Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger, local author.

Several of my boy students saw the book I was carrying and started asking lots of questions. They were intrigued. I told them about Mr. Angleberger and how they should go see him at Barnes and Noble this weekend. He'll be at Barnes and Noble, Tanglewood, Roanoke on April 24, 2:00pm.

The Strange Case of the Origami Yoda is also featured in a recent Scholastic Book Club order, so I ordered a copy for my classroom library. After I finished reading it, I quickly wished I'd ordered multiple copies because just like Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, I won't be able to keep this book on my shelves.

This morning, I was getting ready for school and Tom and his book were being featured on WDBJ7. You can read the newsstory and the watch the video clip here.

NaPoWriMo Day #22

Today's prompt was brought to us by a wordle. It was suggested we use the words in the wordle (or some of them) to create a poem. If you've never played around with wordle, it's fabulous fun.

Dust Storm

from the east
brought dizzying wind,
peppering dust
across my face
making me flinch,
blushing my cheeks saffron.

Is this how a dust storm
rippling across the sand,
upon a vast
corroding everything?

by Marcie Flinchum Atkins
April 22, 2010

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

NaPoWriMo Day #21

I just spent the last 13 hours on a bus with a bunch of ten-year-olds on a field trip. I'm a bit worn out, so I hope this poem makes sense.

Today's prompt was to write about imperfections.

Vision of Imperfection

Sprawled out on the dentist's chair
every imperfection
in fluorescent--
snow-capped zits,
bottle-cap glasses.

The dentist finished off the ugly painting
by adding
a mouthful of silver.

at my ugliest.

Two dental hygenists
with smooth brown skin
free of flaws
rubbed my arms
claiming I was
an American beauty.

by Marcie Flinchum Atkins
April 21, 2010

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

NaPoWriMo Day #20

Today's poem was about heroes. I give you an ode to my parents (heroes for many more reasons than just this one):

Ode to Book-Loving Parents

O, Mom and Dad,
you filled our house
with books,
encouraged the giggling
when Fudge finally turned Ben
into a story-lover,
stuffed mailbags
full of books,
paid exorbitant postage
so our new Thai home
would hold our favorite stories,
took extra time shopping
so I could speed-read
the latest Sweet Valley High
curled up in the store corner,
brought me every book you could find
when I was sick for a month--
forbidden to move
except to turn the page
of a book.
For all of these stories,
you are heroes.

by Marcie Flinchum Atkins
April 20, 2010

Monday, April 19, 2010

NaPoWriMo Day #19

Today's prompt was to write about a lightbulb moment--good or bad. I wrote about a chinchoke, a type of lizard that lives in houses in Thailands.

Here's my attempt:


He scurried,
scaling walls,
dipping behind curtains,
wrangling mosquitoes.

I wanted to catch him.

I jumped high,
smacking walls,
flittering curtains,
poking sticks.

Then once
his lizard instincts
experienced a delay.
I held him in place,
finger on his tail.

He escaped--

leaving me,
with his tail
and guilt.

by Marcie Flinchum Atkins
April 19, 2010

Sunday, April 18, 2010

NaPoWriMo Day #18

Today's challenge was to write about cats--cute and cuddly or ferocious.

Here's my kitty haiku:

sandpaper kisses
content motorized purring
you're the cat's meow

by Marcie Flinchum Atkins
April 17, 2010

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Reflections of a Poet's April Challenge

I love to write poetry. I am not particularly skilled at it, but I like to write it. I have been writing poetry since middle school. Seventh grade to be exact. I had to write a poem, so I wrote one about a cat and Mrs. Griep gave me an A+, and she even wrote positive comments on it. The last day of school, she gave me a thesaurus and wrote a note on the inside. She said something along the lines of: I can't wait to get a signed copy of your first book.

Wow! What a vote of confidence. I have never forgotten that little bit of encouragement. I don't have a published book yet, but I am working very hard toward that goal.

The poetry? Well, it's just fun. I don't have formal poetry training. But I love writing it anyway.

In February, I did the picture book marathon. I rose to the challenge and completed the marathon. But I didn't have to post my writings online. Thank goodness. Some of them are not fit for anyone's eyes. I have been working my way through some of the manuscripts with potential, one-by-one, to get them into better shape.

For this NaPoWriMo challenge, however, I have been posting my poetry online daily. I have about an hour to write. Not much time to eek out a good poem. I have been posting them though because I can't stand not  meeting a goal I set for myself. I have been drafting and posting. Each poem goes through 2-3 passes, at best. It feels sort of like letting someone read your diary. Some of the poems I've posted need LOTS of work. I may rewrite them many, many more times before they would every see a real published page. I was feeling sort of strange about the whole thing--sending out my poem "drafts" for the whole world to see.

Then I read this article about poetry by Janet Wong in Hunger Mountain. She is truly one of my favorite poets of all time. I relate so well to her poetry because she has written about living between cultures so honestly. I have written a lot of my poetry about being an American kid living overseas and feeling like I was also between cultures.

Her article discussed how she wrote after her child went to bed at night (ditto) and felt like she couldn't produce anything worthwhile (ditto), but she sat at that computer every night (ditto) and did the best she could to draft some poems.

She talks about how much she has written compared to how much was actually published, but the poems that weren't published were still valuable because they were PRACTICE. They made her better.

So cheers! To practice! Thank you Janet Wong.

NaPoWriMo Day #18

Today's prompt was to be elemental: Earth, Wind, Fire, or Water. I really wanted to write about water, but picked fire instead, since it was more of a challenge for me. I also have really been wanting to try a new form. I tried the Zeno, which is a new form of poetry that was featured on The Miss Rumphius Effect a few months ago. The Zeno is a 10 line poem with the syllable structure of 8, 4, 2, 1, 4, 2,1, 4, 2,1 and a rhyme scheme of a, b c, d, e, f, d, g, h, d.

Here's my attempt:


ignition fired, fueling passion
will to
where darkness reigned
now is
pathways paved to
run to

by Marcie Flinchum Atkins
April 17, 2010

Friday, April 16, 2010

NaPoWriMo Day #16

Today's prompt was to remember smells. I have always thought that smells really brought back memories, and Read Write Poem's prompt today talks about that. This was probably my favorite prompt yet. Probably because I have so many smell memories.

Here's my attempt:

Fried Rice

I remember the garlic air
drifting in every corner
and out the screened, barred windows
to me.
I biked toward the scent.
The scrape of the metal spoon
clanking against the wok
lured me back for dinner
with its music of stir-fry.

Ten years later,
eight thousand miles away,
the same garlic-layered symphony
woke me in an airport,
haunting me with its rice

for a wafting second
I smelled home.

by Marcie Flinchum Atkins
April 16, 2010

Thursday, April 15, 2010

NaPoWriMo Day #15

I'm not terribly musically inclined, so today's prompt was interesting. I had to pick out a stanza or a few lines from a poem that didn't work. Hum those lines. Find a tune. Sing them aloud, then write two or more stanzas that go with that same tune.

Here it goes:


I'm three words away
from famous
but I just don't know
which three.

I'm a bus ride away
from town
but I just don't know
which line.

I'm a brick wall away
from a real life
but I just don't know
how to climb.

I'm a poem away
from sanity
but I just can't find
the words.

by Marcie Flinchum Atkins
April 15, 2010

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

NaPoWriMo Day #14

Today's challenge required a little bit of reading and research, but it was well worth it. I am working out of town, so I didn't have as much time as I had hoped. The prompt was to write a cleave poem. It's a unique 3-in-1 poem. Read the bold-faced lines on the left as their own poem. Then read the regular print words as one poem. Then read the whole line as one poem. I find it fascinating. For more about cleave poems, check out this page.

I want to love this place, I hate it here
inhaling the smells I don't recognize
triggering fond memories the lure of place
listen to the language, babble I can't comprehend
understand with my soul why my mother loves
call this city home again

by Marcie Flinchum Atkins
April 14, 2010

Okay cleave, I'll be back again.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

NaPoWriMo Day # 13

Today's prompt was to borrow a first line of a poem by Norman Dubie and create your own poem from it.

The first line I picked was: "Worlds are being told like beads."

Here's my attempt:


Worlds are being told like beads,
each one
with its own story,
its distilled backstory.
She rubs each bead,
a comfortable smoothness
like a familiar memory.
She counts every bead,
over and over
trying to remember
which one is missing,
rediscovering the pain
ripping off
a scab.

by Marcie Flinchum Atkins
April 13, 2010

Monday, April 12, 2010

NaPoWriMo Day #12

Today's prompt: write in secret code. In other words, think of a message and give it to something unusual.

Here's my attempt:

Hope Floats

Clouds act out,
not movies,
or book titles,
but puffed up
with sage snippets,
corralling birds
into formation.
they paint
the sky
with hope.

by Marcie Flinchum Atkins
April 12, 2010

Sunday, April 11, 2010

NaPoWriMo Day #11

Today's prompt was to write about the thing you didn't chose and write directly to it.

Here's my attempt:

What Might've Been

Your winds

might have carried me off
whipping off Lake Michigan
chilling me
to my tropical
Old friends
might have warmed me
like a cup of lemon tea,
but the sour taste
of being far from
would linger
reminding me
that this big city
isn’t mine.
pushed to the sky
can’t substitute
for the mountains
that I would have missed
if I had made
a different choice.

by Marcie Flinchum Atkins
April 11, 2010

Spring Haiku Makes the Roanoke Times

Last month, I had a haiku published in So Salem. Today, one of my haikus was published in the Roanoke Times.

Here's the link. Scroll down (mine is sixth on the page with the animal haikus).

Saturday, April 10, 2010

NaPoWriMo #10

Today's prompt was to write about a celebration recently. I experimented with an ABeCedarian form because it seemed fitting for the subject matter.

Easter Egg Hunt

Zonked out.

by Marcie Flinchum Atkins
April 10, 2010