The POP of a champagne cork is one of my favorite sounds. There really is no time when that thoop isn’t signaling a special occasion. And last month, I got to pop open a bottle I’d been holding onto for … Continue reading
When thirteen-year-old Sam Barrette’s baseball coach tells her that her attitude’s holding her back, she wants to hit him in the head with a line drive. Why shouldn’t she have an attitude? As the only girl playing in the 13U league, she’s had to listen to boys and people in the stands screaming things like “Go play softball,” all season, just because she’s a girl. Her coach barely lets her play, even though she’s one of the best hitters on the team.
All stakes now rest on Sam’s performance at baseball training camp. But the moment she arrives, miscommunication sets the week up for potential disaster. Placed at the bottom with the weaker players, she will have to work her way up to A league, not just to show Coach that she can be the best team player possible, but to prove to herself that she can hold a bat with the All-Star boys.
Home Run: THE SWEET SPOT ebook is available for pre-order on Kindle at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B01D8VYWK6 and in iBooks
Welcome today to author Jane Sutcliffe, who, as luck would have it, graciously agreed to answer some questions about writing for children. Jane has written over two dozen non-fiction books for young readers, and is an experienced presenter. Her school visit … Continue reading
I don’t run. But I am fascinated by people who do, especially marathoners and other long distance runners. It took me a while to figure out what all those “26.2” bumper stickers meant. Honestly, I briefly thought it was something political (26.2 more days of so-and-so in office?). Then a friend started training to run a marathon and…Oh! That’s what that means.
Of course runners do not start with marathons. Consistent training sessions with gradually increasing miles, over a long period of time, are what lead to success on race day.
And so many worthwhile things in life are like that. Sometimes a far away goal looms so large, and seems so unattainable, that we stop trying before we begin. That will never happen is a refrain that keeps us in place. But what if you do start trying?
What if you did one thing every day that got you closer to your goal? One cookie left on the plate. One closet organized. One chapter of a book written. Over time, the little steps start to add up. It’s like seeing someone else’s child after all long time: we are amazed at how much they’ve grown! But to the parents, and to the child themselves, it was incremental. Tiny, everyday changes that go unnoticed in the moment can add up to something huge.
Today I am celebrating a “my how you’ve grown” moment: finishing the first draft of my second novel. As I was working on it, I sometimes felt like a chicken looking for grain – peck, peck, peck. And then one day I realized I was past the half-way mark. Then I wrote the climactic scene. Then I was working on the last chapter. Step by step. Page by page. Line by line.
What will you choose to take one step towards today? It may not be a marathon. Or a novel. But whatever it is, you have the power to get there. Go for it!
The Writing Retreat
A tricky plot, I’ve lost my thought
I need to clear my head
My characters stink and I can’t think
My muse needs watered and fed
So I’m off, down the road, take a right at the lane
To a fireside ‘cross the bay
Gonna clear my noggin, and quick my sloggin’
Gonna breath, and write all day
Good friends, good food, and a bottle or four
Close the door, shut it tight, lock and latch it
The first draft needs words, and a problem to solve
The revision just might need a hatchet.
I’ll wrangle and tangle my story until
A thin ray of hope starts to rise
And that night I’ll drink deep from the well of content
My eyes will be back on the prize
Far from a cry of defeat, the word retreat actually can mean a purposeful movement towards sanity.
Making a conscious effort to give your goals a solid chunk of attention is a very powerful way to tell yourself, and others, what is important to you right now.
For the next four days, I’m off to the Fireside Retreat – a writing getaway of my own design. I’ll be surrounded by peace and quiet and the occasional laugh from the talented friends who are joining me. We’ll also be meeting with Newbery Award winning author Cynthia Voigt who has graciously offered to share her time and insights with us. And all of this is because I had an idea, and asked for some favors and some help.
Maybe it’s time for you to plan a girl’s or guy’s weekend so you can focus on treasured friendships. Or, perhaps you crave a prefab or self-designed retreat for writers, crafters, fitness junkies, spiritual seekers, or whatever is your current passion.
Make the time, make the arrangements, make you a priority! Retreat!
Have you ever read a story and wished you could ask the author questions about it? That is what happened to me while reading A TIME TO DANCE by Padma Venkatraman. And guess what? My wish came true! A hearty welcome today to Ms. Venkatraman, who graciously agreed to give us a behind the scenes peek at how this beautiful book came to be.
First, a bit about the story itself. Here is an overview, from Goodreads:
“Padma Venkatraman’s inspiring story of a young girl’s struggle to regain her passion and find a new peace is told lyrically through verse that captures the beauty and mystery of India and the ancient bharatanatyam dance form. This is a stunning novel about spiritual awakening, the power of art, and above all, the courage and resilience of the human spirit.
Veda, a classical dance prodigy in India, lives and breathes dance—so when an accident leaves her a below-knee amputee, her dreams are shattered. For a girl who’s grown used to receiving applause for her dance prowess and flexibility, adjusting to a prosthetic leg is painful and humbling. But Veda refuses to let her disability rob her of her dreams, and she starts all over again, taking beginner classes with the youngest dancers. Then Veda meets Govinda, a young man who approaches dance as a spiritual pursuit. As their relationship deepens, Veda reconnects with the world around her, and begins to discover who she is and what dance truly means to her.”
Bharatamatyam is a classical dance form of South India. Here’s an example:
As I read A TIME TO DANCE I was especially carried away by the description of the dancing itself. So, the first question I asked was:
Nancy: What is your experience with Bharatanatyam dance? As I was reading, I was guessing you must have personal experience. Am I right?
I call that answer glib, because, for me, hearing the voice and being possessed by a character is incredibly important. It’s everything. BUT, editing is also everything – and that begins with self-editing.
I fought against writing A TIME TO DANCE in the verse form because although I love and read poetry, I’ve never studied it. Luckily for me, Richard Blanco (who later read at President Obama’s inauguration) let me sit in on a poetry workshop he was doing at the University of Rhode Island’s Ocean State Summer Writing Conference, and his friendship and faith in my ability helped me overcome my fear of experimenting with this form. Many other modern award-winning poets who are also academics, helped and encouraged me: Scott Hightower, Peter Covino, and Peter Johnson also encouraged me.
My editor, Nancy Paulsen, is a self-confessed “fan” of the verse novel, I believe. So she was a stalwart supporter and stood by me through numerous revisions. She was very excited about this work and encouraged me strongly to experiment with this form.
Finally, as I was revising my work, I realized that this form is particularly well suited to two of the three main themes in this story: Veda’s love of dance and her spiritual awakening. A character’s spiritual growth is incredibly hard to write in verse. It’s virtually impossible to capture in straight out prose – or was, for me, for Veda. Spiritual growth – and the power of art – especially of dance – two key themes in A TIME TO DANCE – go beautifully with verse.
Nancy: I was very interested in all the religous elements of the story. You don’t always see a lot of spirituality in books for this age level. Did you get any push-back against including these details from your agent/editor/others?
My agent, Rob Weisbach, is an incredible ally. He admitted he was scared when he saw the word “God” on the first page, because few writers dare to approach this topic. He said it was damnably hard to write spirituality without coming off as religiously bigoted or proselytizing – and he’s right. But he said, even in the draft phase, that I had pulled it off – and he had nothing but praise for this aspect of the book. He never once suggested that I should tone down this core aspect – and he pointed out something that’s very important.
While Veda’s spiritual awakening is grounded in the religion to which she’s been exposed, the book is not religious; it’s spiritual. Her awakening is universal, not limited to one particular context. The novel is, in no way, trying to push a particular religion – in fact, if anything, Veda’s philosophy is based on acceptance. The title is a Biblical quote (Ecclesiastes) – a quote that has significant meaning to Veda.
An editor whom I deeply trust, Stephen Roxburgh, also read a draft, and his belief that I should and, moreover, could, pull off the spiritual aspect of Veda’s story, was vital. He called A TIME TO DANCE the “La Vita Nuova” of Bharatanatyam. La Vita Nuova is a text by Dante Allegheri, and in it, the main character progresses through different stages of love/understanding, as Veda does, maturing from Eros to Charis to Agape.
Stephen’s note was something I looked at every time I felt scared. Writing a story that touches on spiritual grown is one of the hardest things to do – for any age group. For the younger audience, it’s even harder, I think. Especially if the spiritual growth occurs in a character whose religion isn’t part of the mainstream. But Stephen’s encouragement kept me going, looking ahead, listening to Veda, seeing AT TIME TO DANCE play out in my mind’s eye, allowing her and the other characters to possess me.
It took years to write this novel right. And my own editor, Nancy Paulsen, as I’ve said earlier, was immensely patient. Her patience is truly unparalleled and it is amazing to have someone like her to help me polish my work and make it shine.
But after it was done, I was, frankly, terrified. It was really a tremendous relief that A TIME TO DANCE was released to starred reviews in 5 journals: Kirkus and Booklist and VOYA and SLJ and BCCB. And I am thrilled that so many newspapers carried glowing reviews. I’m also delighted to share the recent great news that it’s a Booklist Top 10 art book for youth!
Nancy: Even though Veda has experienced a horrific life-changing event, I love how you wrote so many typical problems into her world via her crushes on two different guys, including Jim who fits her prosthesis (and is basically her physical therapist). Was the program Jim was working through to help people in India be fitted for limbs based on a real group you know about?
Padma: I spoke to several disabled people, physical therapists, doctors, and physiatrists when I wrote the novel. I went “method” the way actors sometimes do – and spent a lot of time doing experiments to simulate the tactile illusion of a phantom limb, using crutches, etc. In my late teens, I narrowly escaped the loss of a leg, so I guess in some ways Veda’s experience was nearer to my heart that I realized, until I wrote the book. All this to say, Jim’s character is inspired by several Americans whom I met, who volunteer to travel to other countries to help with the making of prostheses. And, when I visited India, I did come across many programs to aid socio-economically deprived people who were, among other things, disabled. But I saw several groups of people in India and elsewhere, who inspired me. I can’t point to just one person or one group. Then again, Robert C. James and his son Josh James, who create artificial limbs in my home (Rhode Island), gave me more time than probably anyone else did – so, in part to honor them, I named my character Jim.
[Note: What a fun way to honor them – I love it!]
For more information on the novel, a free downloadable discussion guide, and lesson plans, please visit Padma’s author website: www.padmasbooks.com. Also, check out her other titles, including: ISLAND’S END and CLIMBING THE STAIRS.
Thank you for your time and for sharing your process with us, Padma! I encourage all readers to make time for A TIME TO DANCE. It’s gorgeous.
It’s time for Susanna Leonard Hill’s annual Halloweensie contest!
Rules: write a 100 word Halloween story appropriate for children (title not included in the 100 words), using the words pumpkin, broomstick, and creak in any form.
Here’s my entry:
SNIP, SNAP, CRACK
In a deep dark corner, an old lady sits.
She cackles, and snarls, and frantically knits.
Click clack go her needles.
Snip snap go her bones,
As she rocks and she creaks
and her kitty cat moans.
She conjures up spiders, and pumpkins, and ghosts
All spun from her yarn –
“I’m so wicked!” she boasts.
Don’t dare approach her,
She’s all trick and no treat.
What are you doing??
Come hither, my sweet.
Get away from that broomstick! Skedaddle! Shoo!
You’re tiptoeing closer??
Please visit Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog, because there will be tons of fun and scary weensie short stories for Halloween. Or play along and add your own!
Jane Yolen is a prolific writer of children’s books and poetry. On her website, she answers some FAQs, including this one: “Do you have a secret that makes you so productive? Want to know my secret? BIC. That’s right. BIC. … Continue reading
Welcome Anna Stanizewski, whose latest novel, THE PRANK LIST (Sourebooks) will be released July 1, 2014! Anna is the author of many books for children and young adults, including: THE UNFAIRY TALE LIFE SERIES THE DIRT DIARY SERIES ..and two upcoming picture books from … Continue reading
When life’s tough topics come into our homes, we search for answers in many places. How many worries have been Googled in the lonely hours of a long, dark night? We also turn to friends, family, acquaintances – anyone who may have had experience with this “thing,” this unwelcome guest that is spread out in the spare bedroom and looks to be staying awhile.
When we’re facing a life challenge, books can often be a particular comfort, especially for children. Books give us a chance to examine our problem through the safety of someone else’s eyes. How did they feel? How did they react? There is also such healing power in the message you are not alone.
Cynthia Lord is a Newbery Honor author who embraces big topics, and weaves them into charming stories for middle grade readers.
Her latest book, HALF A CHANCE (Scholastic Press, 2014), uses the idyllic premise of spending a summer on a lake in New Hampshire as a backdrop for exploring how dementia can affect a whole family.
“When Lucy’s family moves to an old house on a lake, Lucy tries to see her new home through her camera’s lens, as her father has taught her — he’s a famous photographer, away on a shoot. Will her photos ever meet his high standards? When she discovers that he’s judging a photo contest, Lucy decides to enter anonymously. She wants to find out if her eye for photography is really special — or only good enough.
As she seeks out subjects for her photos, Lucy gets to know Nate, the boy next door. But slowly the camera reveals what Nate doesn’t want to see: his grandmother’s memory is slipping away, and with it much of what he cherishes about his summers on the lake. This summer, Nate will learn about the power of art to show truth. And Lucy will learn how beauty can change lives . . . including her own”
HALF A CHANCE is a good resource for kids who are struggling to understand the confusing and sometimes scary topic of dementia. However, the story also celebrates the simple joys of summer lake living. I think this book will bring a lot of comfort to many families.
You may recognize Cynthia Lord’s name because of her 2007 Newbery Honor Book, RULES (Scholastic Press, 2006). If you missed this one, be sure to check it out.
“Twelve-year-old Catherine just wants a normal life. Which is near impossible when you have a brother with autism and a family that revolves around his disability. She’s spent years trying to teach David the rules-from “a peach is not a funny-looking apple” to “keep your pants on in public”-in order to stop his embarrassing behaviors. But the summer Catherine meets Jason, a paraplegic boy, and Kristi, the next-door friend she’s always wished for, it’s her own shocking behavior that turns everything upside down and forces her to ask: What is normal?”
The characters in RULES push through challenges on a daily basis. My favorite character is Jason, who communicates by pointing at word cards in a book he balances on the tray of his wheelchair. As Catherine gets to know Jason, she helps him expand what he is able to say by making word cards for him that go beyond stock phrases like “sad” to things like “stinks a big one!!”
Catherine helps her younger brother navigate the world, and helps Jason express himself. But of course she learns just as much, if not more, from them.
The real grace of the way Cynthia Lord writes is that she is able to take daunting, life changing challenges and remind readers that in every situation, there are things to celebrate and give thanks for. Put these two on your “to be read” pile!
I won my copy of HALF A CHANCE thanks to Debbi Michiko Florence at DEBtastic Reads. Thanks also to Cynthia Lord, who signed it over to the students at Hebron Avenue School, where it will have a permanent home.