Ten writers for children. All with something to say.


Academy Awards of Literature

Today I had a wonderful time at Watertown-Mayer Middle School in Watertown, Minnesota. I was invited to present writing workshops to groups of sixth, seventh, and eighth graders and these students were engaged and excited as they put words on paper. The school in Watertown is beautiful and after lunch we shifted to the auditorium, which is a stunning space. I gave a presentation to all the middle school students about the process of creating books and the importance of reading.

After that, the real fun began. A number of students competed in the Academy Awards of Literature, movie categories for books.  
Best Cinematographer-Illustrator
Best Screenplay-Scene in a Book
Best Director-Author
Best Actress-Female Character
Best Actor-Male Character
Best Picture-All Around Book
Students had chosen their favorite books, picked one of these categories, and made displays that stood on shelves in the library. These were creative and interesting and reflected the interests of the students. I walked around the room studying them and taking pictures.

Many of the students and teachers dressed formally for the awards ceremony, and when the winners and runner ups were announced for best displays in the various categories, the students came onto the stage and were presented with their prizes.

The event was so cool that I was surprised I'd never heard about it. Have any of you taken part in a similar program? What a creative way to get students talking about books and looking at them in new ways. And how sharp the students looked in their formal wear. Huge thanks and congratulations to Naomi Stelzer, Karen Veches, Jon Anderson, and all the teachers and students at Watertown-Mayer Middle School for such a fun time.

So even though I have a deadline of the end of the month on revisions on my next book, I was thrilled and energized to spend time with these students today. The variety of my days is one of the aspects of this life I value most, and being invited to come to interesting schools is a great reward.


Balance: The inside writing life and the outside writing life

Balance: The inside writing life and the outside writing life.

I am teaching too much. It has unbalanced the scales of my writing work. I am a teacher of writing and this job has morphed from writer-in-residence into newspaper moderator and alumni magazine editor. I work to adjust and sometimes grieve for my writing life. My adjustments include getting up before dawn (way before) to think and be still and begin to write or continue to write.
This semester it strikes me how important the continuance of my writing is to the thread of story. Story is continuance. I have tried to protect my Saturdays like a warrior, my writing day. One good day is good, but I have had to invent ways through the week to tat and embroider the threads of story. Sometimes I am amazed at the creative ways my psyche ties the threads and creates the patterns. Sometimes I need a good nap.


I am in the middle of illustrating a book. The finished illustrations are gathering on my wall like a huge storyboard, informing me of what comes next. Mine is a process of one step forward, two steps back. I have pink post-its on all of the "finished" paintings telling me of changes to make. The book itself feels like a huge sculpture slowly clarifying its true shape as I chip away at each detail, hoping it will work as a whole. This is the part of the process that both exhilarates and torments. A looming deadline plays dictator while the paint itself flirts and entices me to play and experiment. 

It takes me a year to two years to complete a book. During this time all of my books uncannily begin to mirror my life in some way, which brings a deeper emotional connection to the story for me. In the book I am currently working on the main characters are two sisters. They are wrapped up in their imagined world of a being Princess and her Panther on a summer night. When growing up my older sister was always the princess and I always a role akin to the panther. I have photos from my childhood, but not many; mostly I pull from my memories. Since beginning this book, every book I read has two sisters as main characters. (This is completely accidental!) When I met the author at PLA last spring, we agreed that we must have been sisters in a past life by the end of our dinner together. And then tragically, three months ago, my sister was diagnosed with a rare auto-immune disease that is crippling her. Our lives are interweaving closer and closer again as I take on the duties of caregiver. When I look at the photos of my sister and me playing pretend all those years ago I want to cry for all that has been lost over those many years. And I am compelled to capture in the studio that young, yearning relationship of two sisters pretending in the night. 


Riding Out The Storm

What am I doing today? I am trying to generate a subplot for my current MG novel. I have reams of notes, a 30,000-word draft, and no clue how to put it all together!

It’s been a couple weeks now—or has it been a month? Whenever I am stuck like this, doubt starts building in my mind like storm clouds. I despair of ever finding a solution, which then leads to questioning why I am doing all this in the first place . . .

Luckily, I have been down this road before and I know that eventually I will find the solution. Meanwhile, to counteract my funk I shake up my routine by riding my mountain bike, driving to the ocean, playing with my wife and son, reading (stories and books about craft), listening to Tom Petty, or sailing (if it’s not 40 degrees outside, as it is today). These activities don’t always work, but, hey, it gives me a break, “recharges” my psyche, and allows me to return to my writing shack refreshed and ready to try again.

As a visual representation of my quandary, I have attached a picture from a sailing trip in the Canadian Gulf Islands. I was heading for Montague Harbor, trying to outrun a thunderstorm, and losing the race. By the time I turned into Trincomali Channel, two miles from my destination, I was smack dab in the middle of the storm. Lightning flashed, thunder boomed, and there was nowhere to hide. I had no choice but to grit my teeth and ride it out. Kind of like being stuck on my story.

The good news? Like riding out that storm, when the answers for my story finally come (as I know they will), I can drop anchor, breathe a sigh of relief, and begin plotting the next leg of my journey.


A Good Day

Hola papas calientes,
I spent last Friday in Mission Viejo with the students of Viejo School (where my sister works). Besides the large cup of Starbucks that my sister bought me on the way to school, I also enjoyed the energy of the students during the assemblies (did they have coffee too?). I liked how they commented on the way my character, Emily, did everything wrong until the very end of the story. I liked how brave they looked when they said "Hi Diane," (which I gave them permission to do) instead of "Hi Mrs. Adams." I liked the boy who guessed that I'd taken a bath that morning because I smelled so good (a toxic combination of hair spray, deoderant, and perfume). And the one who asked me my age and believed me completely when I said I was 28 (only 20 years off of my true age). I enjoyed the free sandwich in the lunch room and the gratitude of the teachers for telling their students to write more than one draft of their assignment before they turn it in. And I liked being a special part of the students' and teachers' lives. Everyone deserves a day like that - followed by a good long nap.