Monday, April 29, 2013

Kindergarteners ask questions about writing

This week I got a letter from a kindergarten class full of questions about writing. I'd love to be able to read the answers that other writers gave them.  Here are my answers:

 How do you get all your ideas for your stories?

Ideas are everywhere.  
Especially if you start asking yourself -- What If....

When you write fiction, you might think about these things:
What if people could do magic, if they were partners with special magic animals? (my current book)
What if you tried to think of everything you could do with your toes?  ( Busy Toes by C.W. Bowie -- I'm the W part of that pen name)
(This book was written by three writer friends: The C is for Claudine Wirths, the W is me, and we shortened Mary Bowman-Kruhm's last name to Bowie. C.W. Bowie!  We had fun writing this and the companion book, Busy Fingers.)

When you write nonfiction, you might be asking yourself -- what do I want to know more about?
I used to live in Maryland, with is near the homes of a good many of our first presidents.  I visited the places they lived and worked and wrote biographies of them.  
(George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe)
I love to fly -- so I found out all about the Wright brothers who discovered the scientific rules of flying, and wrote two books about them.
(The Wright Brothers   and    To Fly, the Story of the Wright Brothers.)

           How did you learn to be an author?

Do you like to read -- or have books read to you?
Do you like to learn about things and explore?
Are you already telling stories?
Then you might become an author.
You learn by reading/ reading/ reading/ writing/ writing/ writing, and reading some more.

 How do you publish them out to the world?
There are many books on this subject to help new writers plus there are writer's groups that will help you.
It's a long process.  You write the best book you can, then you send copies of it out to publishers who publish that type of book.
While you are waiting, you write more books.
You wait a long time and keep sending copies out.
When a publisher likes what you wrote, they then ask you to revise the story.  This is just like the teacher saying -- make it better/ correct this/ add that.  You revise many times.
Finally it is published and there it is -- a real book!

How many days did it take you to really think about the characters and to write the book? 

This is different for each book.  It can take a day or several years to write a book.  But that's just the beginning.  Then you have to revise and make it better before you send it out.

 How do you know when to make another chapter?

I like to end a chapter at an exciting spot so that the reader has to turn the page and can't wait to read the next chapter.

 How do you make books interesting?

If it's not interesting to me, how can I write about it?  I don't want to be bored.  I like to find Fascinating Facts -- things that interest me that I know will also interest my readers.  Did you know that Francis Scott Key got wounded in the war of 1812 -- by a slab of flying bacon that someone had thrown!  
The thing the Wright brothers wanted most when they returned from the Outer Banks after having flown the first heavier than air flying machine -- was a glass of milk!  See if you can figure out why.

 How do you make up the characters?  How do you know what to do in the story, when you just begin?

Sometimes characters come to you and begin to tell you your story.  Yes, authors have people in their heads talking to them.  My friend gets mad at her characters because they keep on talking to her even when she wants to go to the bathroom.
I don't hear characters -- I see them.  And I have a general idea what happens in the story.
My magic animal story came to me as a picture book.  When I presented it at a writer's workshop, I realized it wasn't a picture book -- it was the outline of a story -- and I've been writing it ever since.  No, it's not published yet, but I have hopes it will be in a couple of years.

Some authors can't follow a plan with their story, because the characters take over and decide to do something different.  Patricia Wrede was writing a story where she planned that something would happen in a small village, then the four characters would take off through the countryside trying to reach another village.  It didn't happen. Every time she got the characters headed toward the village gates, they would decide to go hide in someone's empty shed or something.  Although they never left that village, the story was still an exciting chase and the mystery was solved.

I find it easier to have a goal that my characters are heading for -- all I have to figure out is how they get there.  (and to accept it when the characters change things.  In my magic animal story, a new character suddenly appeared in Chapter 5.  I certainly didn't expect a Pixie to appear and it takes until almost the end of the book for the main character to find out what he is and how they found each other.)

 How do you know how to finish a story?
That's hard.  
The best answer is -- the end Must reflect the beginning.  If you read my book, To Fly, the Story of the Wright Brothers, and take a look at the first few paragraphs and then look at the last paragraphs, you will see that they are reflections of each other.  This happens in fiction as well.
The end also must be satisfying.  You don't have to tie up all the threads in the story -- just the main ones -- leaving the reader to believe that these characters keep on living and maybe have other adventures after the story's end.
Did you ever hear a story that you wanted to keep on going after it stopped?  

The ending can be a surprise.  It can be happy.  Books you will read when you are older can end with sadness.
But everything in the middle -- the conflict and suspense --  should logically lead to this ending.

In the picture book, Where the Wild Things Are, Max is sent to his room without supper. He imagines  that he escapes to the place the Wild Things live, but when he returns from his adventure --  he finds his supper -- and it was still hot.   This ending satisfies.

Wishing you the best of luck writing YOUR story.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Writing a Biography

This week a student wrote a letter to me asking great questions about my writing process. I wanted to save my answers, in case someone else would like the information too, so I thought I'd post it in my blog.

Dear Xxxxxxx,

How nice of you to write to me.  Thomas Jefferson was one of my favorite people, too. I'm glad you enjoyed the book.

You asked:

Why did you write the book Thomas Jefferson? 
In the 1990s I wrote biographies for Xxxxx Publisher.  I had sent a sample chapter to them about another person, but they didn't send me a contract for that book.  However they liked my writing style and asked me to write about another person -- Marian Wright Edelman.  
Was that my first published book?  Not exactly.  That book came out the same year as a picture book that was bought and published by another publisher.
After Marian Wright Edelman, I asked if I could write about a dead person, so they asked me to write about George Washington.  And then I wrote about two other presidents, two musicians, and a pair of inventors -- the Wright brothers.
 How long did it take to write the book?
You have to keep in mind that, during the 1990s and the 2000s I worked full-time as a children's librarian in a Maryland public library system.  Therefore I had to use my allotted vacation time to do my research and writing. (Have fun on your vacation, my co-workers would say.  And I'd reply that actually I was off to work on my second job.)

To answer your question, each book took about 9 months to turn in the first draft of the book to the publisher.

--Several months to do the research -- which almost always included reading lots of books about the subject and taking notes.  (I used note cards, but nowadays I use some note cards and also save internet files with my manuscript so I can quickly access the info.  The fun part was taking field trips to sites where the person I was writing about lived and worked. Since I had to supply the photographs for those 1990 books, I took a lot myself and then had to buy photographs from various sources.
-- Then several months where I simply spent hours and hours sitting at my computer, typing.
(During the 80s I hand wrote my first drafts and then typed them on a typewriter.  By 1989, I was writing my stories on paper and typing them into computer files.  Then, suddenly I skipped the hand writing part and put all drafts into computer files.  )
-- As I was writing, I would find spots in the biographies where I needed more information.  I would simply put a marker there, and email myself to look for that information at my workplace -- the library.  My mind was divided into work and writing. (and home/kids/husband/house/etc)  Which meant that, once I was at work that's all my mind concentrated on.  Therefore email was my communication between my work mind and my home mind.  If I thought I would simply remember; I didn't.  Once I found the info I needed, I'd email it to myself, open the email at home and copy the info and insert it into the place in the manuscript.
--Sometimes I'd have to take a quick field trip if I didn't understand something.  I must have visited the Air And Space Museum at the Smithsonian in DC three or four times before I understood the basics of flight well enough to boil it down into understandable phrases for my readers.  (If I didn't understand it, I couldn't write about it.)
-- Once when I was revising the George Washington manuscript, the editor insisted that I explain what caused the War for Independence -- in just a few paragraphs.  I took a quick trip to Williamsburg, Virginia and spent the weekend there touring and listening to the presentations offered there.  Yes, I did find the information.  (I also used the time to take lots of photographs which were used in the book.)

9 months was just the first step.  Once the book was completely written, I had to go over every word of the manuscript to make sure that all the necessary information was there, in its proper place, spelled correctly, good grammar, etc.  Was it told in an interesting way?  I made changes at this point.  Once I thought it was good enough for a first draft, I sent it off.

After I shipped it off to the editor, I had a few months where I could write other things.
Then the manuscript came back -- with notes, suggestions, and commands to move or remove parts of the manuscript.  It's just like your teacher handing your paper back with suggestions how to write it better.  This part isn't clear.  That part drags on too long-- cut it out.
-- This part is called revision. 
With Enslow, there were several revisions.  
First for the editor.  
Secondly the comments from the professor who vetted the series. 
Thirdly for the copyeditor, who checked the facts.  (I'm sure you noticed that the book has lots of Endnotes.)  The copyeditor checked each one of my sources to make sure that I got the quotes from the book I said it came from.  S/he also checked that things are consistent within the book. (Is this man his uncle or his cousin -- you tell it both ways in different chapters.  OOPS.)  The copyeditor also checks punctuation.  When you are typing quickly, sometimes you hit the wrong punctuation mark.  Easy to correct, but great that s/he points that out so that we can correct it.
-- I have two choices.  I take the editor's advice and rewrite the section.  Or I must write a defense of why it really should stay the way I had written it.  Most times it's best to take the editor's advice. Every so often you can say that what you did was right -- and why it's right.

Then the final proof comes.  At this point only a few changes can be made, because the final proof is ready for the printer.  For one book, someone I mentioned in the book died before we got to the final proof.  I was allowed to insert this and write a paragraph about the person who replaced him. 
So -- how long did it take to write a biography?  From beginning to publication takes about a year and a half, or two  years.
Did anyone else help you write the book?
Although the editor and the copyeditor help with the production of the book, they are not considered the authors. They are just helping me make this book the best that I can do.  They push me to improve and make my writing easier for readers to understand and enjoy.
So - no, nobody "helped" me, if you are referring to a co-writer.

There are only two of my books that I wrote with other writers. The first was the picture book Busy Toes. The other was the companion book, Busy Fingers.  Three of us writers had fun playing around with words and produced these books.  So we mushed our names together into the pen name of C. W. Bowie.  (I'm the W. part)

Did you enjoy writing the book?
Yes, I do enjoy writing my books.  Especially the research and field trip parts.  I LOVE field trips.

Who was your favorite president?  This was one of my favorite books I’ve ever read.   
I think I'd agree with you.   Thomas Jefferson was probably my favorite, too.

I enjoyed the book because it has many interesting facts about Thomas Jefferson and American history. 
That's what I love to put in my books.  I search out all the Fascinating Facts that I can find and try to include as many as I can in every book.  The neat thing about the three president books I wrote is that, as I researched each president, I discovered more Fascinating Facts about the previous president and wished I had included THAT information in the previous book.  Washington, Jefferson, and James Monroe were all connected.  

Thank you for writing to me.  I hope I answered your questions with enough information.

Wendie C. Old

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Win a Free Scholarship to the SCBWI - LA conference this August!!!

This just in:
Scholarship available to the International Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrator's gathering in Los Angeles this August!
Open to all members of SCBWI
All you have to do
is write a little haiku.

(Hey, even I tried to do it -- and I can't write haiku)

FAiRy gOdSiStErS, iNk ::::: fAiRy gOdSiStErS iNk :::::

Our 6th Annual SCBWI Conference Scholarship!

wHo can apply:       YOU with your shiny SCBWI membership 

(Make haste to to join/renew if needed)

wHaT:      $1,000.00 toward conference tuition, manuscript or portfolio critique, and a bit of mad money during your LA stay.

wHeN:      Conference runs from August 2 -5, 2013

wHeRe:      The Hyatt Regency Century Plaza Hotel, Los Angeles CA

wHy:      We are five very fortunate authors for children and young adults who have been generously mentored, guided and supported by a host of talented individuals. We can't think of a better way to thank them than by easing the way for others. The National Conference is a game-changer.

hOw:      To enter, write at least one but no more than three haiku telling us why we should pick you for this year's conference. (A haiku is a three-line poem, featuring a total of 17 syllables: 5 in the first line, 7 in the second, and 5 again in the third.) Have some fun with this!

(the three haiku can be one connected poem)

Email your entry to 

by April 15th. 

Winners will be announced on May 1st. 
Questions, just ask!

Please feel free to share this info with your SCBWI buddies everywhere.

Best of luck to you all!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Nonfiction Monday is HERE today

And we have a great collection of wonderful nonfiction books for children for you to enjoy.

But before we get to those book links, I want to point out that today marks the second anniversary of my retirement from over 40 years as a Children's Librarian at a major east coast library system.
Yes, my official retirement date was April Fool's day.
(and I kept telling my staff that this meant that it was just possible that I wouldn't retire after all -- that it was just an April Fools joke.)

Are there any April Fools Day books in today's list?  Let's see:

First up is Jeff Barger at NC Teacher Stuff.  He says that Tito Puente, Mambo King by Monica Brown, illustrated by Rafael Lopez is amazing!  Lopez's artwork in this picture book biography is so vibrant that it brings Puente's music alive visually.   Published by Rayo, a division of HarperCollins, 2013.

Ms. Yingling Reads has two pet care guides written by Ellen Miles.  One is The Puppy Place: Guide to Puppies. The second one is The Kitty Corner: Guide to Kittens. I can tell you that children (and parents) always want a helpful pet car guide like these the minute they bring home a new pet.  Available TODAY (April 1st) from Scholastic.

There's a great picture book biography over at Shelf--employed today: A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin written by Jen Bryant and illustrated by the award-winning Melissa Sweet.  New York: Knopf, 2013.  She says, "No April Fools Day jokes here -- just a great book to share."

ACK!  If you are afraid of snakes, don't pick up this book.  Nic Bishop's photographs are always soooo realistic. (Don't get me started about his book on spiders -- a book I couldn't even pick up, it was so realistic.)   Perogies & Gyoza reviews Nick Bishop Snakes today. New York: Scholastic, 2012.  This Canadian reviewer says that her son loved it because it was so graphic.

Books for Children of the World: The Story of Jella Lepman by Sydelle Pearl, illustrated by Danlyn Lantorno, Pelican Publishing, 2007, is definitely for those of you who are interested in history.  It's about a brave lady who helped kids get books in post-World War II Germany and is featured today on Alex's blog, The Children's War.

A new picture book biography by Don Brown is reviewed on Supratentorial -- Henry and the Cannons, an Extraordinary True Story of the American Revolution, published by Roaring Brook Press, 2013.

Myra Garces-Bacsal reviews several books on her blog, Gathering Books.
 The Django (not to be confused with the movie Django Unchained), by Levi Pinfold, published by Templar in 2010, is about the life of "The Django" -- Legendary musician Jean "Django" Reinhardt who was born to a French-speaking Romany/ gypsy mother.
Her other book review highlights A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet, published by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2008.  Little known fact -- William Carlos Williams is a medical doctor who also happens to be a poet.

Jennifer at the Jean Little Library blog is featuring science today. She highlights a book from the FUNdamental Experiments series published by Bearport.  Which one?  Her pick is DIRT. A great, fun, and messy experiment book for younger readers.

Ah, here's another messy book.  Jeannie at True Tales & a Cherry on Top found a book where mud meets baseball!  Did you know that baseball players don't use fresh baseballs right out of the box?  No, baseballs have to be specially prepared before they can be used.  How?  The book, Miracle Mud, Lena Blackburne and the Secret Mud That Changed Baseball explains all. (written by David Kelly, illustrated by Oliver Dominguez, published by Millbrook Press, 2013)

Anastasia Suen is sharing Picture Yourself Writing Poetry: Using Photos to Inspire Writing by the award-winning Laura Purdie Salas, Capstone Press, 2012, over at her Booktalking blog.

Over at the Biblio-File blog is a lengthly review of Martin W. Sandler's The Impossible Rescue: The True Story of an Amazing Arctic Adventure.  Warning -- don't read this if you still have snow on the ground at your house -- wait until summertime when reading about freezing conditions will cool you off.  This chilly adventure for older readers was published by Candlewick in 2012.

Jane Yolen and her daughter Heidi E.Y. Stemple have put together a collection of biographies of notorious women in the book, Bad Girls: Sirens, Jezebels, Murderesses, Thieves, and other Female Villains, illustrated by Rebecca Guay and published by Charlesbridge, 2013. To see a review of this captivating book, click on over to Abby the Librarian.

Barbarians!  (now that's a title that fits perfectly on this list right after the above Bad Girls book) Were they bad boys, or what?  Steven Kroll explores their culture and religion and what makes them tick. Illustrated by Robert Byrd, published by Dutton, 2009. Reviewed on All About the Books with Janet Squires.

Tammy Flanders at Apples with Many Seeds explores how creative people think and work with the book by Shaun Tan, The Bird King; an Artist's Notebook.   Arthur A Levine Books, Scholastic, 2013.

Over at the InteractiveReader, Jackie Parker-Robinson has been weeding the 600s in the Teen section of her library and has created a list of missing books.  Her conclusion? It looks as if most of these are books her teens want to read, but don't want to be seen checking out of the library.  Hmmmm.

Someone IS talking about April Fools Day books today.
Join Mary Ann Scheuer over at Great Kids Books where she is having an April Fools celebration with palindromes, riddles, and fun with letters (CDB) and numbers (Wumbers).

Books 4 Learning reviews Martin de Porres: The Rose in the Desert by Gary D. Schmidt, illustrated by the award-winning David Diaz, published by Clarion Books, 2012.  The reviewer especially loves the poetic language here.

Sondra Eklund has a review of a picture book biography for your dinosaur fans at her Sonder Books blog.  T-Rex!  Talk about something kids can't get enough books about. A good book for reader's advisory and special displays.
Barnum's Bones by Tracey Fern, illustrated by Boris Kulikov, published by Farrar Straus Giroux in  2012.

Thanks for visiting.  I hope you enjoy all the books listed here.