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writing in the cracks…

13 Jan

OK, OK, OK…I know it’s been FAR too long! But I’m here now…so here goes.

I just got back from an evening spent at the OneBookTwoBook Festival in Iowa City with my dear friend Sara. We listened to twenty 4th through 6th graders read their poems and stories aloud, which was truly inspiring. As we grow older (at least in my case) it becomes increasingly difficult to stand in front of a crowd and read your own work.

Then we got to hear from author and National Book Award winner (for her book Mockingbird) Katheryn Erskine. She said many wonderful things about why we tell stories and how important it is to make sure kids of all ages and abilities feel understood and appreciated.

But the one little nugget that I know I’ll remember for quite some time came when someone asked Erskine what her writing process is. She not only said she isn’t the type of writer that sits down every day to write but she also said she is often “writing in the cracks.” It’s a phrase I’ve heard before that totally hits home for me. And I don’t think you have to have a husband, two young kids, a dog, two part time jobs and a freelance writing career to (not to mention the rest of life) to understand what it means.

The cracks may be all I’ve got at this point in my life, but I walked out of the room where Katheryn Erskine was standing and thought “you can win the National Book Award just writing in the cracks.”

Call me an eternal optimist…I’ll see you when I find the next crack.

inspired by others…

19 Aug

Tonight I ate my dinner quickly and raced on over to my local Barnes and Noble for some truly powerful writing inspiration: talks/readings by authors Anne Ylvisaker and Katherine Hannigan.

Anne went first and talked about her latest book “The Luck of the Buttons” (which I’ve blogged about before.) It is magical to listen to her story of how her story came to be…and what you might discover, or mistakenly remember, while wandering around the Iowa prairies.

Katherine spoke second and talked about her books, including the latest “True…(sort of)”, which I finished reading just last week. It is the type of book filled with characters who pull at your heart-strings and start to influence the way you talk to and think about the world around you.

Please do yourself a favor and read both “The Luck of the Buttons” and “True…(sort of)” in the very near future! (I’ve got both now if you’d like to borrow them ;))

Hearing these gifted writers speak tonight was as inspiring as I hoped it would be. When you sit and listen, their natural storytelling powers make it seem that every word they offer should be written down…that it could all go into a book. And I sit, listen and smile…take it all in…dream about the stories floating around in my head…and secretly hope that some of their magic might rub off on me.

And then I add more books signed by authors to my collection.

15 Apr

Tonight I just finished reading The Boxcar Children. (How many times do I have to tell you? I only read kids books!)

This classic series of mystery stories for kids was a favorite of mine when I was younger. I can’t recall which particular story was my favorite or how many of the series (there are more than 100 of them and they are now making them into graphic novels as well as issuing a prequel to the series!) I actually owned or checked out from the library. But I think of the Alden children fondly.

The interesting thing is, after I flipped to the last page of the first book tonight with a smile on my face, I realized I hardly remembered anything from the storyline. I had forgotten all about grandfather and about their dog Watch. I didn’t remember that Henry worked for Dr. Moore or that Violet got sick. And I’ll just be honest… I didn’t even remember their names! It made me wonder what I loved so much about these books that made me want to pick them back up as a 30-year-old.

Sadly I can’t channel my thoughts as a ten-year-old (wouldn’t that be an insightful blog post?) But as I think about it now, I have a feeling that a story about four siblings (including a very responsible and tidy older sister) probably had some appeal. Plus, who wouldn’t want to live in a cool old train car with no adult supervision!?

So now I am eager to read more of the books I remember reading and loving as a child. Number the Stars (perhaps my most favorite of all), The Phantom Tollbooth, and Bridge to Terabithia are all patiently waiting on my bookshelf.

It will be an interesting journey to see what it was from each story that made me hold on to the sentimental memory of that book.

What about you? Any childhood favorites you should consider revisiting?

I’d be happy to reintroduce you to the children’s section of the library or your local bookstore.

katie = ideas – time

8 Apr

You may have noticed that I’ve been slacking on the regular weekly blog post (it’s not St. Patrick’s Day anymore!)

But I’ll have you  know that doesn’t mean I haven’t been writing….or working…or raising kids for that matter!

In the past few weeks I’ve taken on several new and exciting freelance writing projects that will be keeping me busy for a while. I always say freelancing is feast or famine and I’ve bellied right up to the buffet for the time being.

Perhaps the most exciting thing to write about here is the time I spent last weekend at the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI for short but not much easier to say) Iowa conference. It was an amazingly inspirational weekend…I heard many presentations from experts in the children’s literature field…the likes of Candace Fleming, Eric Rohmann, Gary D. Schmidt, Diane Muldrow (editoral director for Little Golden Books!), and many more.

I also sat down with a real life editor (from one of those big publishing houses in NYC!) and had her critique a picture book manuscript I have been working on. Of course she didn’t offer me a contract on the spot, but she pointed out what she liked about my story and gave me some very insightful suggestions for revision.

I met new friends, had authors sign books for me (one of my most favorite things in the world), and left with new hope that one day I might include “children’s book author” on my list of life’s successes.

So between now and last weekend I haven’t had much time to sit down and just let the creativity flow. But ideas are definitely brewing!

Now if only my super hero power of making more hours in the day (and night…a girl needs her beauty rest) would kick in so I can stir them all up!

just keep running, er, writing

10 Feb

So I am ten days into my Picture Book Marathon and things are going better than I imagined. I have written eight different stories so far. Yes, that does in fact mean that I’ve skipped a few days…and I probably will again before February 28th rolls around. But I am proud that I am sticking to this..even when it means I have to stay up late because I’ve left “write a picture book draft” as the last thing on my to do list for the day.

And of course I am certainly not in love with anything I’ve written so far. But it is fun to sit down every day and just start writing about all the kids book ideas that bump around in my head.

Here’s a little bit of one that I wrote:

Charlie was the kind of kid who liked to pretend.

Not just pretending he didn’t like broccoli (because he didn’t!) or that he and the dog were ferocious lions.

He was serious about pretending (uniforms were often involved.)

Charlie pretended from sun up to sun down.

First thing in the morning, Charlie pretended his bed was an island and he’d have to jump from rock to rock (avoiding the crocs!) to get from pajamas, to clothes, to the hallway.  

During breakfast he devoured his pancakes as quick as he could because he heard the whistle blow out at his construction site.  Charlie pretended to build a skyscraper right in the middle of the backyard (the dog was excited about the new spot of shade.)

By mid-morning that construction zone morphed into a castle and Charlie pretended to fend off fire-breathing dragons (though he wasn’t too interested in rescuing any princesses)…

I didn’t sign up to do this so I’d get a little gold medal at the end of February. But maybe given this new inspiration to actually write and my desire to keep working on it (I have a conference I’m going to in April where I can actually have my work critiqued!)  I’ll get a little golden book out of the deal 😉

So I’ll just keep writing!

And thanks for reading!

a picture book a day…

28 Jan

Have I mentioned here that I love picture books?

Lucky for me I have two little kiddos who love to read them with me every day. Reading a picture book a day sounds like a totally doable task.

Writing a picture book a day…I’m not so sure.

But for some inspired reason I’ve decided to sign up for the Picture Book Marathon.

illustration by Nathan Hale (

The Picture Book Marathon is a challenge designed to get writers working on a new draft of a picture book for 26 days in February (thank goodness they give us two days of rest!) They will of course be VERY rough drafts, but I thought this was the perfect motivation I needed to get some of my ideas rolling out of my head and onto paper.  I’ve got at least a handful rounded up so far that will get the month off to a great start. After that I’ll have to be extra creative (or take suggestions from you!)

You see I’m not really the marathon running type. I’m just not that into running itself, what with the chaffing and all when you run that far for that long. 

However, I have walked a marathon…in Des Moines, Iowa back in 2009. It was long and brutal and there were a few points in the last six miles when I didn’t want to take another step. And then I realized I had walked so far already and I wasn’t going to give up with just a few more miles to go. Sure I could barely move the next day, but I am really proud to say I finished all 26.2 miles.

I am hoping I have that same mental strength come February 20th. Sure I’ll be working with words (kind of my specialty) but a marathon is a marathon.

I’m just glad this one marks miles with picture books.