Something that has always stuck with me from pioneer tales is the images of the keepsakes and other non-mandatory items pioneer families often had to discard on the trail as the trip became harder and the oxen grew weary of pulling the overloaded wagons.
This is just one of the reasons on the very long list of why I would have made the world’s worst pioneer — I can’t pack for a weekend without schlepping along half my household goods.… more
Once, in one of my (not uncommon) moments of thinking that I could no longer handle the ﬁnancial uncertainty of the children’s book writing life, I read a book that purported to match creative people to potential career pursuits. I read the advice, ﬁlled out the quizzes, and ﬁnally received my assigned “type.” With great anticipation I turned to the section at the back of the book where possible career paths were listed by type.… more
Recently, I’ve been thinking back on a time when my focus was riveted on helping to care for a family member who was dealing with serious medical issues. It’s been stressful to have this large “life moment” disrupt my normal routine, but it also brings with it a certain kind of clarity. It’s kind of like driving at night on a country road, when the only thing you see clearly is what is illuminated by your headlight beams; you’re aware of the shadowy shapes of other objects ﬂashing by along the roadside, but the illuminated area in front of you is what gets your primary attention.… more
A few years back, I had one frightening week. I had my head down, working hard, when I heard a commotion outside. I got up to look out my front window and saw the SWAT team marching towards my house, carrying guns and wearing bullet-proof vests. Once the sound of the news helicopters alerted me to turn on the TV, I found out what was going on: there had been a workplace shooting in my normally quiet neighborhood, and at first law enforcement thought the gunman might be on the loose.… more
When I was a kid growing up in the north woods of Minnesota, a group of my neighborhood friends had a “Chipmunk Fort.” It was constructed out of a pile of old fencing materials in my friend Paul’s backyard; each kid had their own “house” in the fort. We spent some time collecting pretty rocks and oddly shaped sticks and soft clumps of moss to decorate our houses.… more
Ask your young writers to imagine a social media proﬁle for their main character. What games do they play? Do they win? Do they cheat? What would their online proﬁle say? Do they lie when they’re online, and if so, what about?
To be able to learn how to get somewhere, I have to drive the route myself. Riding shotgun doesn’t work if I’m trying to memorize the route; somehow the feeling of the necessary twists and turns has to seep up through the steering wheel and into the pores of my hands for me to be able to reliably retain it.… more
I try to deliver regular advice you can use to aid and inspire your young writers, but this week I’m leaning on the wisdom of others.
This is advice I’ve found helpful those times it feels like my writing wheels are stuck in deep mud and spinning wildly and I’ll never gain traction again. Here, from a variety of astute advisors, are the best tactics for when you’re stuck as a writer:
“BIC” —children’s writer extraordinaire Jane Yolen
Explanation: Short for “Butt‚ In Chair,” which means put your back end on a seating device, in front of the keyboard, or notebook and pencil, and write — whether you think you can do it today or not.… more
When I was a young teenager my family made a road trip from Minnesota to Texas to visit my father’s parents. The long trip south mostly featured one kind of civil war: the endless bickering of my two brothers and the male cousin who’d come along for the ride. For the trip back north, I staked out a hidey-hole in the far back of the station wagon and crammed myself in amongst the luggage, still-wet-from-the-hotel-pool swimsuits, and snack foods.… more
As a kid I was the one who instigated a lot of the fun. It might be playing pirates in the tree house, or cops and robbers in my mom’s parked station wagon, or spies who wrote secret code in lemon juice (later revealing the message by holding it over the toaster). Often our make believe reﬂected whatever section of the library I happened to be working my way through at the time.… more
When I was a little girl and my Minnesota grandparents came to visit, we shared them around for sleeping purposes. One night I would share my double bed with Grandma, and the next night my brother and I would switch places, and I’d sleep on his top bunk while Grandpa settled into the bottom bunk.
Grandma was a bit of a night owl like I am, so it was never hard to keep her talking.… more
All freshmen at my college had to wear beanies at the start of school. Besides the obvious fashion quandary, the problem was that students from the town’s rival college gloried in stealing beanies.
And I knew if any of my upper classmates caught me sans beanie, they had the power to make me stand on a table in the cafeteria and sing my high school fight song.… more
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