Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Writing Prompt/Spirited Dialogue with Jo Ramsey

Halloween week is upon us, and in celebration, I am pleased to bring you this eerily perfect prompt by Young Adult Novelist Jo Ramsey.  Book Two of her YA urban fantasy series Reality Shift, entitled Filtration System, is just released. Check it out!

Voices in Your (Character’s) Head
By Jo Ramsey
In my Reality Shift series of YA urban fantasy novels, the main characters, Jonah and Shanna, each have “guides,” disembodied beings who help them reason things through and offer advice. Since the guides are disembodied, they don’t speak with voices; instead, they speak directly into the minds of Jonah and Shanna. This led to some interesting attempts at formatting, since I needed to keep those conversations separate from Jonah’s and Shanna’s inner thoughts but also didn’t want to present them exactly like spoken dialogue. I ended up using italics, which seems fairly standard among some publishers to represent inner thoughts as well as telepathic communication.
According to Jonah in the books, every human has guides to help them through their lives, though not all humans are aware of or communicate with their guides. That means, if you believe Jonah, that you have them too. And so do your characters.
Write a dialogue between either yourself and one of your guides (perhaps your writing guide, a/k/a muse?) or between one of your characters and one of their guides.
Jo’s Bio
Jo Ramsey is a former special education teacher who has been writing since age five, when someone finally showed her how to move a pencil to make those little squiggles called letters. Before that, she told stories to her stuffed animals. Jo has always had a fascination with stories that show a “normal” child or teenager encountering magic, fighting evil, and so forth, and so that’s primarily what she writes.
Her YA urban fantasy series Reality Shift launched from Jupiter Gardens Press, www.jupitergardens.com, in January 2010. The first book, Connection, was made required reading in summer 2010 for all high school students in Jo’s hometown in eastern MA, in part because of a strong anti-bullying theme which runs throughout the series. Book 2 in the series, Filtration System, is just out, with books 3 and 4 slated for March and July 2011, respectively and six additional books planned. Reality Shift is about Shanna Bailey and Jonah Leighton, two high school students who use skills such as energy healing and channeling to banish demons, send malevolent dead spirits to “the Between,” and prevent our universe from being vaporized. Bridge, Book 1 in a new YA urban fantasy series called The Dark Lines, will be released in May 2011, also from Jupiter Gardens.
Jo lives in Massachusetts with her two daughters, her husband, and two cats, one of whom occasionally tries to help her write. You can learn more about her and her books on her website, http://www.joramsey.com/.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Article/Saving An Endangered Species with Rob Sanders

How to Save the Newest Endangered Species—Picture Books
By Rob Sanders
Picture books are said to be on the endangered species list. As a child of the 60s I grew up hearing about endangered species. In fact, the Endangered Species Act was passed in 1967. The efforts of endangered species activists have saved many species and some species have even been removed from the endangered list. Yes, of course, some species have been lost, but far fewer than would have been lost without action.
But picture books endangered? Say it isn’t so. Evidently the economy coupled with children moving into chapter books at earlier and earlier ages are to blame. Of course, lack of sales of picture books is the bottom line threatening the species most.
Some of the same actions taken to protect endangered animal species could also be used to protect the endangered picture book.
1.     Nurture them.
Talk about picture books. Use picture books in lessons, lectures, and sermons. Cherish and value them. Laugh with them. Cry with them. Be amazed at them. Tell others about them.
2.     Protect their habitat
Picture books live with families and in schools, classrooms, and libraries.
You can help protect these habitats by:
·        Giving picture books as gifts.
·        Donating picture books to a school media center or public library.
·        Sharing book lists (such as Caldecott or Golden Kite award-winning books) with parents, teachers, school media specialists, and public librarians.
·        Become a volunteer in a media center and volunteer to read picture books to children.
·        Develop lesson plans based on or using picture books. Share the lesson plans on a database, web site, or in other ways.
Another habitat for picture books is book stores—independent and the big-chain ones. Often the children’s buyer or the manager of a store would be open to a volunteer coming in to read picture books to children, setting up seasonal picture book displays, and conducting author visits and signings.
3.     Remember—only the strongest and fittest will survive
Not every picture book can be saved. Just as in the wild, only the strong will survive. For picture books that means the best crafted and most unique books and the ones that resonant with the audience. By strongest and fittest I don’t mean rhyme over non-rhyme or fiction over non-fiction. I do mean quality over quantity.

4.     Intervene to help newborns
Become the champion of new, talented picture book authors. Mentor those authors and refer them to others who can help launch and grow their careers. When you find a picture book that is exceptional, extraordinary, and a cut above the rest, spread the news. Write a column for your local newspaper, tell teachers and librarians, blog about them, feature them on your website, and visit your local book stores to encourage them to stock the books.

5.     Join with others of like mind and let your voice be heard
Endangered species were rescued by the actions of many. The same could be true for picture books. When those of us who know the value of these colorful, carefully-crafted wonders unite to talk about them and when we encourage others to read and value them, we may be ensuring that this endangered species never becomes extinct.

Rob Sanders is a writer who teachers and a teacher who writes. He has just snagged a deal with Golden Books-Random House to publish Cowboy Christmas (available fall 2012). Visit him at his website at: http://www.robsanderswrites.com/

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Writing Advice/Scene Shots with Novelist Selene Castrovilla

It is with the utmost pleasure that I welcome today's Guest Blogger, young adult novelist and author Selene Castrovilla. She is not only one of my oldest and best writing friends, but a conference circuit chum with whom I have enjoyed adventures reaching as far as Madrid, Spain!

I think we could fill several novels with our escapades alone (including Revolutionary War research in Tappan, journeys to Chautauqua, SCBWI Spain and so much more). Perhaps we'll save one of those stories for a future blog!

To this day, Selene remains one of my favorite friends to sit and chat about writing with. I'm glad to be able to share some of her thoughts and inspiration with you here.

SCENE SHOTS with Selene Castrovilla
When I was in the MFA program at The New School, my biggest concern was that the scenes weren’t coming out perfectly. I was good at raw emotion, but setting the “behind the scenes” and filling in the sensory details seemed beyond daunting! Luckily, one of my teachers was the fantastic novelist Jacqueline Woodson. It is a great thing to be able to sit with an author and quiz them on the making of their book. This is what I go to do with If You Come Softly. Straight to the point, I said: “Wow, your sensory details are so beautiful in this book. Did they just come flowing out of you?” She answered: “Naw. I added them later.” This was so freeing, to know that I didn’t have to get the whole scene right in one shot. I loosened up, and before I knew it – I was a novelist!

Here are some things that I’ve done/still do to help keep rolling:

  1. If you’re stuck: Take two of your characters who share some sort of tension and put them on an elevator together. Make the elevator break down. What happens next? (You can adjust this for any reader level – ie: two kids on the school elevator or assigned to detention. Any place where they’re confined.)
 2.  For general inspiration: Take a passage from your favorite book. What makes you love it? What did the author do to make you care? Did he or she use strong sensory details? Pick them out. Would the story affect you differently if the author used another character’s point of view? How so? Is the story in first or third person? What would it be like the other way? Now take out a passage of your own work and examine it. Does it move you? Why or why not? What can you do to make it stronger? The idea is to look at your own work critically rather than emotionally.

  1. During the revision process: Do a “sensory detail” check on each scene. Did you incorporate as many sensory details into the scene as possible? Make a checklist for smells, sounds, etc. What would/could be going on in the background of your setting? Fill it up for a satisfying read!
4. Keep writing!!! Read Bird By Bird By Anne Lamott. I keep it by my bed. Do a little bit each day – but do it each day! Consistency is your best friend!!!
Selene Castrovilla is an award-winning teen and children’s author. Her teen novels are Saved By the Music and The Girl Next Door. Her children’s books – both about little known events in the American Revolution – are By The Sword and Upon Secrecy. Selene holds an MFA in creative writing from New School University and a BA in English from New York University. She lives on Long Island with her two sons. Visit her website www.SeleneCastrovilla.com.

About The Girl Next Door (WestSide Books, 2010):
Samantha and Jesse have been best friends since they were toddlers. When Jesse gets a devastating diagnosis, their friendship becomes tighter – and then  evolves into something more. This heartbreaking love story asks the question we all face: How do you cope in a world which at any moment may come crashing down?
Join Selene's Facebook pages:
Saved By the Music by Selene Castrovilla
&  The Girl Next Door.
Friend Selene on Facebook: Selene Bayrack-Castrovilla.
Watch the Book Trailer for The Girl Next Door:

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Writing Prompt/Mosquito Bites with Connie Goldsmith

A Day With Mosquitoes 
Buzzzz. Whine. Buzz. Slap! Bzzz, bzzz, ouch! Splat!

Have mosquitoes ever ruined your day? Do mosquitoes have any value to human society? Bees give us honey and pollinate our crops. Ladybugs eat aphids on our roses. Worms compost our soil. Dung beetles . . .  well, you get the picture.

Mosquitoes are an important source of food for some animals. Bats eat 600 mosquitoes an hour. Birds, frogs, and fish get their fair share as well. But do mosquitoes do anything for people?

Today’s writing prompt has two paths. Pick one or both.

First, think about a day when mosquitoes drove you crazy. What were you doing? Who were you with? How would the day have been different if it had been mosquito-free? Write a paragraph about your memories of that day, maybe in a different setting or with a different person. It’s your day. Change it any way you want to.

The second path is to imagine what mosquitoes might do for people that would be beneficial. In a zoology class I once took, the teacher asked us to make up an entirely new creature. We had to imagine how it looked, what it ate, and how it reproduced. It was harder than it sounded. Try to think of three things mosquitoes might do for us – let your imagination run wild. Rebuild the insect if you want to so that it can do something useful!

Mosquitoes are more than just pests. They carry malaria, dengue fever, and yellow fever. They even crossed the Atlantic to bring West Nile virus to our shores a few years back. My new book, “Battling Malaria: on the Front Lines Against a Global Killer,” may teach you a few things about mosquitoes and how they carry malaria to millions of people each year. You might look at mosquitoes in a whole new way.

Connie Goldsmith
My new books from Lerner:

Battling Malaria: On the Front Lines Against a Global Killer
USA Today Health Reports: Hepatitis
USA Today Health Reports: Influenza
USA Today Health Reports: Skin Cancer

Check out Connie's Previous Writing Prompt Here:

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

RANT: Up with Picture Books! by Lynne Marie

I am a positive person with passion, dedication and determination. When I finally began submitting my picture book manuscripts (after many years of college-level classes, SCBWI conferences, ICL classes, critique groups, etc.), my rejections were positive and personal. And finally, after approximately twelve years (with a five-year hiatus during which I gave birth to my daughter, enjoyed her toddler years and got her off to kindergarten), I am having my first picture book HEDGEHOG GOES TO KINDERGARTEN published with Scholastic, with other picture books under consideration.

I am not going to let anyone rain on my parade.

Although I have heard the recent negative buzz about picture books and can gather the gist, I haven't read any of the articles, nor do I intend to.

I am not going to be one of those people who circulates depressing news about the decline of the picture books. Not only because I write them, but because I read them and LOVE them. Because my daughter reads them and LOVES them. Because I see them read in the class room. Because I see them read in the library. Because people love looking at beautiful pictures.  Because picture books are absolutely wonderful, marvelous things that take on a life of their own!

Tthe NY Times has been wrong before. They CAN be wrong now.
And they WILL be wrong again.

is buy MORE picture books. Give them as gifts to teachers. Give them as gifts to friends. Birthday presents, holiday presents, just because presents! Give them as contest offerings on my blog.

Here's a quote for you: A Picture Book a day keeps DECLINE away!


Up with Picture Books! Rather than waste time and energy reading an article that will depress you, go out and buy a picture book today. That'll show 'em!

Here's the picture book I'm going to get today: Quackenstein Hatches a Family by my dear friend Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen.

Click Here to Enter This Month's Contest for a Fun Book from the
Scholastic Book Club <3

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Fall Contest/Scholastic Book Club Memories

Since school is back in session, my daughter and I have had great fun thumbing through the Scholastic FIREFLY (PreK-1), SEE SAW (K-1) and LUCKY (2-3) book club flyers and ordering new books and old favorites as well as book club originals.

This month, I even ordered some Christmas presents, as the Click! catalog allows you to order Nintendo DS games.

So I couldn't help myself but to order an extra copy of this Fall favorite to have for a give-away!

Both Kayla and I just LOVE any spin on the I KNOW AN OLD LADY WHO SWALLOWED A FLY story. Who doesn't?

(For those who know me, did you notice that the little black dog looks like our beloved little Belgian Schipperke, Dante, may he rest in peace.)

And, for those who don't appreciate the "There was an Old Lady"stories, I have added NEVER TAKE A SHARK TO THE DENTIST by Judi Barrett (Author of CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS) as an alternate choice!

There are many ways to enter this contest (deadline October 31st):

1. Follow this blog:
2. Follow On the Bus with Spike:
3. Comment on any post after October 1, 2010
4. Comment here on your favorite Scholastic Book Club book!

So to sum up the rules, you must follow this blog or Spike's Blog, and leave a comment with your contact e-mail to be a winner. Kayla will randomly select the winner on October 31st and I will contact you to get your mailing information.

You get an extra entry for following both blogs, and for commenting on your favorite Scholastic Book Club book!

BTW, if you order your Scholastic Book Club books online (http://www.scholastic.com/) your teacher will earn a free book for the classroom. Ask your child's teacher for his/her code.

BTW, I am sorry that I can only mail to the United States at this time due to postage costs.

Thanks so much and Good Luck!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Writing Advice from Bethanie Murguia/Listen to a Kid!

Recently, after a breach of first-grade Mom coolness on my part (I tried to walk my six-year old into the building at morning drop-off), Kayla came home that day and spent a great deal of time telling me "how it is" in the First Grade. Of course, as a children's picture book writer, I was hanging on every detail. It's a good thing, too, because BOY has the First Grade changed since I roamed the elementary school halls. I learned a great deal while hearing the world "The World According to Kayla" and it can only serve to make me a better, more informed writer (and a cool mom at morning drop off). So it is with open ears that I listen to Bethanie when she shares her great writing advice to...

Listen to a Kid! by Bethanie Muguia
Make a date with a child (or two). For a few hours, try to see the world through their eyes. First of all, it’s fun. And second, it will remind you that children live in their own realms. Focus on the way they speak, their logic (or lack thereof!) and their unique perspective on the world.
Some adults retain the ability to think like children. For the rest of us, we need reminders. During my twenties, I tried to write and illustrate stories for children. But my time with kids was limited and my stories were clearly created through an adult lens. Now I am a mom. I have ample opportunity to witness and absorb the experiences of my kids. My oldest daughter (she’s four) often says things that remind me just how different her perspective is. I keep a little notebook of the gems that come up during our days together. Sometimes it’s just a phrase that catches my ear. I’m an illustrator too so I sketch if a pose or situation strikes me as humorous or quintessentially “kid”.

These notes and sketches can be amazing seeds for stories. Or, at the very least, they may provide a sentence or phrase to add authenticity to a story.

Bethanie Murguia earned her MFA from the School of Visual Arts. While in New York, she worked as an art director for Hearst Magazines. These days she can be found in Sausalito, California where she lives with her husband, two daughters and a 50-pound lap dog. She has received numerous accolades from the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.

Her forthcoming picture book is Buglette, the Messy Sleeperfrom Tricycle Press/Random House Children's Books (May 2011). She working hard on new projects and doing her best not to spill the beans until she has "official clearance".

Please visit her website or blog to learn more:
Website: aquapup.com

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Writing Prompt/Making Sense of Scenes with Jody Feldman

Setting plays an important role in a story. Whichever setting you choose, your character then uses its senses to interact with it during the course of his/her tale.  Today's Guest Blogger will help us to "Make Sense" of a scene in which our story is set through a quick and easy exercise.

I am pleased to have Jody Feldman, author of the fun and challenging mid-grade novel The Gollywhopper Games (set in a toy and game company headquarters!)here today to share some tips on how to bring our own settings to life, as she has done in her own books. 

Making Sense of Scenes by Jody Feldman

I sometimes have confidence issues when it comes to setting, so I often look for unique places that can act as additional characters in my books. In The Gollywhopper Games, it’s the toy and game company headquarters. In The Seventh Level, it’s the assistant principal’s office, the school roof, and various other specific bits inside Lauer Middle School. For a book currently with my agent, it’s urban caves and for my WIP, it’s … well, it’s not time to talk about that yet.

I have one of those minds that needs to see the scenes – like a movie playing behind my eyes – before I can write effectively. So you would think that being able to visualize everything might make setting easy for me. The reality is, because I have this private viewing, I sometime forget my readers can’t see what I’m seeing. Often, I have to go back and layer it all in, from the big picture through sensory detail. Truly, that’s not a bad thing. When I concentrate on setting in isolation, I learn much more about my character when the world comes through his or her point of view. With that in mind, I offer this writing prompt.


            Your character’s science teacher has been talking about the senses in class. It’s a nice day and she’s aching to get outside, so she has everyone in the class pair up, walk anywhere around the school grounds for ten minutes then reassemble to write a couple paragraphs about the outdoors. What does your character write?

            Now, suppose the scene above happened with one difference. The reason the teacher paired up the class? One of each pair is wearing a blindfold, and your character’s the one. What does your character write now?

(from the book jacket)

Lauer Middle School has a super secret society. The Legend. No one knows who is in it. Or how they pull off the spectacular school-wide events.

Seventh grader Travis Raines may be about to find out.
A shiny blue envelope marked FOR YOUR EYES ONLY mysteriously appears in his locker. You have been chosen, the message says.  But if Travis is to become Legendary, he must first solve the mind-bending puzzles and complete each challenge. Then he needs to stay out of trouble. The assistant principal has her eye on him.

So do his parents.

And even if he does all that’s asked of him, Travis still has one question: Is the message really from the Legend?

Jody Feldman never knew she always wanted to become an author (something she now knows.) The Gollywhopper Games (HarperCollins/Greenwillow) was named the 2008 Midwest Bookseller Choice Awards Honor Book and is or has been on 12 state reading lists. Her second book, The Seventh Level (HarperCollins/Greenwillow) debuted four months ago on the Summer 2010 Indie Next List. When she’s not trying to dream up a plot for her next book, you can often find Jody watching football, working puzzles, cooking something new, and trying to find a way out of doing laundry. She lives in St. Louis, Missouri.


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