A new recipe is always an adventure. I’ve recently experimented with low carbohydrate, low sugar recipes. Starting a new writing project is just as much an experiment. Each book requires a different look at research, and I build on what I’ve learned with other projects.
Long ago, on windy, wintry nights, I’d look out the window by my bed as trees shifted for a glimpse of a light deep in the woods. The yellow light—on and off as the wind tossed—kept me up late, wondering. We had no neighbors on the other side of our woods.
When we published our first issue of Bookology back in April of 2015, Karen Cushman was our first featured author. With the publication of her 10th book, War and Millie McGonigle, we knew it was time to check in, curious about the way Karen organizes and writes her novels.
When I was doing lots and lots of author visits, many schools were focusing professional development — and writing instruction — on Six Traits: Voice, Ideas, Presentation, Conventions, Organization, Word Choice, and Sentence Fluency. I liked to show ways that I, a professional writer, also dance and wrestle with those traits. In particular, I liked to focus on ideas and details.
When fairy tale characters step into the woods, they are beset by tests, yet are stronger by the time they find their way out. At the beginning of 2021, I wandered in a deep, dark woods because, as Bruno Bettelheim warns in The Uses of Enchantment, it’s where you go after losing the framework which gives structure to your life.
I hadn’t written in months. Yet each morning, during that misty period between sleep and wakefulness, ideas popped into my mind. In the cold winter light, though, those ideas were revealed as withered and drab. Covid stole more than concentration and motivation. It robbed me of wonder.
This year, Hal Borland’s Book of Days migrates upstairs with me to read during my afternoon rest and before bed. It’s a daily journal beginning January 1, written from his farm in rural Connecticut, meant to help him answer the questions: Who am I? Where am I? What time is it? At 68, I ask those questions, too. Borland’s entries mix mid-70s science with New England lore, his natural observations of the seasons with his own quiet musings.
January 6: Frost flowers fascinate me. They are related to frost ferns, those intricate patterns that formed on windowpanes before we slept in heated bedrooms. Frost ferns were indoor plants, created by the humidity in the room. Frost flowers are wildlings, outdoor grows created by humidity in the starlight.
When I was ten, I wanted to be a detective-veterinarian-artist-writer-ballet dancer. Never mind I couldn’t stay up late, stand the sight of blood, or ever had a single dance lesson. Ten-year-olds view the world as limitless. When I was a teenager, my dreams shifted to more specific: a writer of children’s books and an animator for Walt Disney Studios.
On my “final” draft of Bones in the White House: Thomas Jefferson’s Mammoth, I drew a line of little mastodons trooping across the bottom of the manuscript pages. Each animal bore a date that matched a sidebar fact or referenced the main text. I thought this was a clever way to remind readers of the march of time.
The first little mastodon (or “mammoth,” as the creature was called in Jefferson’s day) was labeled “700 million years ago,” the second “13,000 years ago,” the third “11,000 years ago,” inching along like an Ice Age glacier to the time period of the story. … more
Researching in nonfiction isn’t much different. You run into many dead ends. But the key may be in knowing when to find a different route and when to change up your purpose. Is the story important and viable? Then I believe there are ways to work around those dead ends and get the car moving again.
This is the sound of walking into retirement for me and so many teachers this spring. Although friends are already emailing to congratulate us on this new journey, we’re all alone while packing up our offices and classrooms for the last time. There will be no big parties, no formal farewells, no cozy get-togethers where everyone dredges up the good, sad, and funny days of our teaching careers.… more
The stack of student papers lurks on the corner of your desk, just waiting to be marked and graded. Yes, the rubrics and grading standards will be applied conscientiously, paper after paper. Your students wait, some in dread, some in hopeful anticipation, for your final judgments on their papers. But wait — there’s another way to evaluate student writing — one that I read many years ago in the English Journal.… more
Back when my kids were little, I started work on a nonfiction SEL (Social and Emotional Learning) series called the “Best Behavior” series. More than a decade later, these board books and paperbacks are still going strong, I’m happy to say. Titles in the series include Teeth Are Not for Biting, Voices Are Not for Yelling, and Worries Are Not Forever.… more
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