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Children's literature: reading it, writing it, and loving it!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

How to Enliven Your Writing

I'm a big fan of character-driven stories, so when I read Peggy Archer's article on how to enliven your writing through developing your characters, I immediately asked her if I could share it on my blog. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!
I attended a program offered by the CatholicWriters of St. Louis called “Enliven Your Writing with an Understanding of Clinical & Spiritual Psychology.” The purpose of the program was to show how a character’s personality makes him act the way he does. The speaker was psychologist, Dr. Richard Johnson. This is my ‘take-away’ from the program on creating characters:
Dr. Johnson began by talking about the structure of personality – what is at the core of the individual character, or what makes him unique. He listed six things that make up that structure.
Believing: What we believe makes us act the way we do. This includes our values, attitudes and prejudices.
Perceiving: What we perceive is intuitive, and includes receptive sites, which are physical, mental, and emotional.
Thinking: What we think is always either an evaluation or an assessment. You connect data with your belief.
Feeling: Thoughts create feelings. The purpose of feelings is to make you move to the next thing—it pushes us, or moves us, to act.

Deciding: What we feel makes us decide, or make choices, about what to do. We make plans.

Acting: And last, we act, or carry out what we’ve decided to do.
In a handout, we received a list of five spiritual strengths, disturbing compulsions, and instructive shadows for each part of the personality structure. ‘Spiritual strengths’ give us power. ‘Disturbing compulsions’ describe when our strength becomes compulsive. And ‘instructive shadows’ describe a lack of that strength. For example, hope is a spiritual strength, or virtue. Lack of hope leads to despair, and when it becomes a compulsion it leads to presumption.
There are different levels that lead us from one direction to another, and most of the time we are someplace in between those levels. Our strength, or virtue, motivates our behavior. Character development is describing personality. The way a character acts, or reacts and responds to a situation, comes from his personality. We should use vivid, accurate words when creating characters. And keep in mind what our characters’ spiritual strengths are to help us develop his personality along the lines of those strengths.

About Peggy Archer:
Peggy's most recent picture book, Name That Dog! (Dial), is on the accelerated Reader list, and is listed with Scholastic Book Club. Her picture book, Turkey Surprise, was a NY Times bestseller. Originally from northwest Indiana, Peggy and her husband now live in O'Fallon, MO.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Kidlit Picks: Where the Red Fern Grows

Growing up, I had this idea that books about dogs and horses were boys' books, off-limits to girls unless you were a tomboy, which I most definitely was not. I loved dogs and thought horses were pretty cool too, but I refused to read books about them - with the exception of Beautiful Joe.

I loved the story, but I had only read it as a last resort. I'd devoured all of my library books and was unable to get to the library to replace them, so I roamed my siblings' rooms in a desperate search and found Beautiful Joe on my sister's bookshelf (yes, my sister had a boy's book on her shelf! Gasp!). I read it in the absence of a proper girl's book such as Nancy Drew...desperate times calling for desperate measures and all that.

Sadly, even my love of Beautiful Joe didn't change my mind about other dog stories. I didn't even read the classic animal stories to my kids. Perhaps if I had, my son would have become a reader sooner. Recently, my YA (Young Adult) book club read Where the Red Ferns Grow, and I now see the error of my ways. This is a beautiful, heart-wrenching story about a boy and his dogs. It's a story about hard work, determination, delayed gratification, faith, family, and love. It's a book to treasure and to read and re-read with your children and grandchildren or simply for the pure pleasure of it.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

KidLit Picks - Maggie Mae: Detective Extraordinairre


When Grandma's fresh baked cookies are stolen, Maggie Mae is on the case. She gathers clues and interrogates suspects. She attempts to catch the thief in the act but is foiled by her own sneeze. Still she perseveres and saves the day (or cookies as the case may be), and like all my favorite detective stories, I couldn't foresee the ending.

Maggie Mae teaches children logical thinking and deductive reasoning while thoroughly entertaining them.

A very enjoyable read!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Kid Lit Writng Contest

I know I've been as silent as a slithering slug when it comes to blog posts the past couple of months. It's summer. Life is a bit crazy. Too crazy. I miss writing. My husband misses me writing. I get a little crazy when I don't write. That said, this post is of little help as it's not really a post, and what little I'm writing here doesn't actually count as writing - at least not the kind that relieves my crazies.

I've decided to enter the first 200 pages of my middle-grade novel in a contest, and part of entering the contest is mentioning it twice on some form of social media or blog. So if you're a writer of middle-grade fiction and have an unpublished novel, check out this contest: http://tinyurl.com/pwbds3q

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

So You Want to Write for Children?

Since I've come out of the closet - that is, since I began to actually tell people that I write - countless folks have told me that writing has always been a dream of theirs, but they didn't know where to begin. Check out this excellent blog post by Laura Backus of Children's Book Insider on how to begin. She focuses on children's writers, but it's applicable to all genres.

Start Here: Writing for Children, Step One (via http://writeforkids.org)

by Laura Backes, Publisher, Children’s Book Insider     If you’re reading this article, you probably want to try your hand at writing a children’s book. And if you clicked on this post because of the title, you most likely have no idea what…

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Social Responsibility or Write What Sells?

Part of writing is reading. "Read what you write," is the saying among authors. I've heard it and read it hundreds of times. This is okay with me, since I thoroughly enjoy kid lit.

My first, as yet unpublished novel, is a middle grade fantasy adventure for girls, so I read a lot of middle grade fantasies. The book I am now working on is quite different. It's for older teens, and it's not a fantasy. It's a story about grief, pain, and relationships. Over the past year, I've followed the writers' rule. I've been reading teen fiction that covers the same theme.

I've learned a few things from the books I've read, but I've also been disappointed. Sickened may actually be a better choice of words to accurately describe it. What I didn't know, and what I'm pretty sure most parents don't know, is that some of these seemingly innocent books have graphically detailed sex scenes in them.

It's made me think about my responsibility as a writer. Do I even have a responsibility or should I simply write what will sell? That's a question each writer has to ask his/herself, but personally, I've come to the conclusion that I'm okay if I don't hit the bestseller list. I have a social conscience. I care about the kids for whom I'm writing. I'm not writing just to sell. I'm writing to encourage another generation. I'm writing to give them hope. I'm writing to tell them that they are stronger than they think, braver than they know. They can stand up against the tide and be who they were created to be.

I may not ever hit the New York Times' Bestseller list, and that's okay with me as long as my words bring hope, encouragement, and strength to someone in the next generation.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

So You Want to be a Writer? WRRBJ!

I had no idea what I was getting into when I applied for an on-line writing course several years ago. I thought the road to publication was fairly simple: write, send it to a publisher or two or three, one of them accepts my brilliant piece and voila! I'm published. End of story.

If only it was that simple. If only it was that easy. If only I knew then what I know now, I'd do it all over again.

I can't count how many would-be writers have talked to me over the past few years. They're full of enthusiasm and the same blind optimism that saturated me way back when. They've never read a book on writing, taken a class, listened to a lecture, or attended a conference and neither had I at that point. They want to glean from me, from my vast experience. The problem is that I don't have vast experience. I'm still a novice. These eyes that look up to me like baby birds waiting to be fed feels a tad overwhelming.

So, here is my basic advice to those who have the desire to write but don't know how to take the first step - WRRBJ:
* WRITE! This is the first and most important thing I can encourage you to do. Pick up your pen, your notebook, your tablet, your PC, your scraps of paper and write!
* RESEARCH the writing craft. There is SO much to learn, and there are blogs, websites, and books galore that address every aspect of writing, publishing, and marketing. A few books that I've found very helpful and encouraging are: Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott; A Writer's Book of Days by Judy Reeves; Create Your Writer's Life by Cynthia Morris; and Write Away by Elizabeth George.
*READ like a writer. Read books in the genre in which you want to write. Read with a critical eye. What works? What doesn't work? Why? What made this a bestseller? Why isn't this a bestseller?
* BUILD a public presence before you submit your book to a publisher or agent. Use Twitter, Facebook, and a blog to build a fan base. Editors and publishers will check our your website/blog. If they like what they've read, they'll want to know more about you before offering you a deal (or so I've been told).
*JOIN a writers' group. This is essential to maintain your stamina in this highly competitive field!

Anyone can write, but to build a writers' life, to be published, and to actually sell your work takes determination and tenacity. It takes humility to listen to others as they criticize your work and not become defensive but be willing to make changes. It takes a willingness to learn and to grow. It takes time, and it most definitely takes patience.