Monthly Archives: February 2015

Words Make a Difference

I’ve been thinking about the power of words, spoken and written. Spoken words can uplift and tear down, they can burrow deeply inside to flourish or fester. I’m so thankful for parents who encouraged me to be me — even when the world disagreed. Daddy gave me song, laughter, and a wild imagination. Mother gave me music in written word — which evoked colors and smells and images and emotions that stretched and shaped me.

Every time I smell the cheerful brightness of a freshly peeled orange, I picture myself as a 3rd grader sick in bed with something horrible. Mother brought me orange slices, sat by my bed, and read the adventures of Hitty and the girls who loved her for a hundred years.

"Hitty Her First Hundred Years" by Rachel Fields, Adapted by Rosemary Wells and Illustrated by Susan Jeffers.

“Hitty: Her First Hundred Years” by Rachel Fields, adapted by Rosemary Wells, illustrated by Susan Jeffers

I have some of the books from my childhood, though not my original Hitty. I picked up this adapted and updated version at a SCBWI conference a few years back. After attending the SCBWI winter conference, I dug up some of the books that influenced my childhood. I have a few to share with you.

Pretty Penny — I loved this book for it’s vibrant colors. I have a guest bedroom this color. Funny to trace the roots of my love for color back to books from childhood.

Pretty Penny the Pig: Story and Illustrations by Beverly Morgan

Pretty Penny the Pig: Story and Illustrations by Beverly Morgan

Here’s a book called Books. The illustrations are wacky and colorful — opening the possibilities of what words can create.

"Books" by Murry McCain & Illustrated by John Alcorn

“Books” by Murry McCain & Illustrated by John Alcorn

Hailstones and Halibut Bones is a book in rhyme inspired by color. Each page has a color theme. Each room in my house is painted a different color: my living room is yellow, my office is lime green, my bedroom is blue, the guest room is pink, my bathroom is green/yellow/pink/blue to match the Mackensie-Childs sink and tiles.

"Hailstones and Halibut Bones: Adventures in Color" by Mary O'Neill and Illustrated by Leonard Weisgard

“Hailstones and Halibut Bones: Adventures in Color” by Mary O’Neill and Illustrated by Leonard Weisgard

I loved poetry, as a kid. I have many dog-eared pages from the Treasure Chest of Poetry. So many dreams of mine, sketched out in rhyme. 😉

"A Treasure Chest of Poetry"

“A Treasure Chest of Poetry”

“Little Things” by Ebenezer Cobham Brewer

LIttle drops of water,

Little grains of sand, 

Make the mighty ocean

and the pleasant land.

Thus the little minutes,

Humble though they be,

Make the mighty ages

Of eternity.

Lona is one of my favorite books from Mother. I still love Lona. I trace back my fascination with pinhole photography to this book by photographer Dare Wright. I still have the original with my sister’s drawings on the pages. We’re twelve years apart. She and I fought over this book a few years back. I won.

"Lona: A Fairy Tale" by Dare Wright

“Lona: A Fairy Tale” by Dare Wright

When Sara Smiled is about a girl with violet eyes who is too shy to talk to boys, but feels totally comfortable talking to horses. She spoke to me when I was younger. I SO wanted her violet eyes to go with my blond hair. I also wanted the horse and the boy in the book…. I don’t know how many times I read this book and dreamed of violet-eyed romance.

"When Sara Smiled" by Kathleen Robinson

“When Sara Smiled” by Kathleen Robinson

What’s missing in my collection? Little Women! I’m pretty sure I still have my original…tucked away somewhere. I just can’t put my hands on it. Beth dies [spoiler alert] which I hated, since we share the same name. But Jo was my hero. I composed my own newspapers and stories, like Jo. Also, Wuthering Heights. My Senior year in high school, I loved it. Re-reading it now, I’m horrified by the dysfunction. But at that time in my life, I was reeling from the loss of my best friend. I think the tale of dark, obsessive love appealed to what was broken in me. The Bible, my lifetime favorite book, healed the brokenness, so I’m back to the my happy world of butterflies, flowers, and rainbows.

Thank you Mother for sharing the written word with me. You always made me feel special. You awoke stories and colors in me. Or perhaps they were already there, and you helped me find them.

Handwritten Note inside "Books" by Murray McCain

Note inside “Books” by Murray McCain

What books influenced you growing up? Do you have them still?



Filed under writers

SCBWI 2015: Character-Building Experience

My blogposts are few and far between over the last few years. Ah, the life of a PhD candidate. Work and school have kept me hopping. Now that I’m on the final leg of the PhD marathon, the stories in my head are getting louder. After completing a crazy December with my qualifying exam, prelim exam, and oral defense, I decided to treat myself with the New York Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Winter Conference. It’s been awhile. My last SCBWI conference was Bologna 2010.

SCBWI 2015 NYC Winter Conference: World Building Intensive

SCBWI 2015 NYC Winter Conference: World Building Intensive

The 16th annual Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Conference brought together over 1000 writers and illustrators from around the world. I attended the World Building workshop on Friday. Author Henry Neff shared his world building techniques, then applied what we learned to our own stories. We spent much of the morning and afternoon in small critiques sessions of seven or eight writers per table.

Literary agent Brooks Sherman of the Bent Agency headed up our critique table. We took turns sharing stories about cheating game board characters and talking pencils, Romeo and Juliet with a sea-witch twist, Afghani book guardians of the mouse-kind, and girl vs. the volcano in a National Park. Thanks Brooks for being so gracious and thoughtful in your critique. I truly enjoyed learning from others as we refined our plots and characters together. Side note: I happened to sit next to a fellow bureaucrat who works for the State Department and knows one of my NASA colleagues. What are the odds in a conference with over 1000 attendees?

We kicked off the afternoon with a dialogue between James Dashner, author of Maze Runner, and his editor Krista Marino, Executive Editor of Delacorte Press. They described the Maze Runner journey from manuscript to book to movie, as well as the process to develop his newest series, the Mortality Doctrine. They have a collaborative co-creation process, which is born of a deeply trusting relationship. Quite inspiring.

SCBWI 2015 NYC Winter Conference: James Dashner Interview

SCBWI 2015 NYC Winter Conference: James Dashner Interview

We wrapped up Friday with an Editor and Agent Panel: “The Past, Present, and Future of Fantasy and Science Fiction in Children’s Books” with Toni Markiet, Senior Executive Editor, HarperCollins Children’s Books; Brooks Sherman of Bent; Ari Lewin, Executive Editor, G.P. Putnam’s Sons/Penguin Young Readers Group; and Krista Marino, James Dashner’s editor.

SCBWI 2015 NYC Winter Conference: World Building Editor and Agent Panel

SCBWI 2015 NYC Winter Conference: World Building Editor and Agent Panel

The full conference kicked off on Saturday with keynote speaker Anthony Horowitz, author of the best selling teen spy series, Alex Rider, the writer and creator of BBC’s Foyle’s War and Midsomer Murders. The character of Sam in Foyle’s War is fashioned after his nanny who told him stories of the war growing up. I SO love Sam! He was commissioned by the Conan Doyle estate to write new Sherlock Holmes novels: House of Silk and Moriarty (which he autographed for me — image below). He’s in the process of writing a new official James Bond novel. Super cool.

SCBWI 2015 NYC Winter Conference

SCBWI 2015 NYC Winter Conference

I attended a workshop with Aimee Friedman, Executive Editor at Scholastic and author of middle grade and young adult fiction. She talked about her journey from editor to author, and shared her passion for books. She wrote her first book at age five and consumed all the Baby-Sitter’s Club books by Ann M. Martin. I was more into mystery as a kid. Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. Actually, my daughters and I STILL read Nancy Drew…out loud…usually in the back yard patio…with a glass or two of wine. We take turns reading the chapters — adding our own dialogue and dialects as we go. Silly, yes, but oh so much fun.

SCBWI 2015 NYC Winter Conference:  Aimee Friedman, Executive Editor, Scholastic Inc.

SCBWI 2015 NYC Winter Conference: Aimee Friedman, Executive Editor, Scholastic Inc.

Margaret Raymo, Senior Executive Editor of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers, led a workshop on how to work with an editor. She stressed the importance of good writing and good characters. A weak plot is fixable. Poor writing, not so much.

SCBWI 2015 NYC Winter Conference:  Margaret Raymo, Senior Executive Editor, Houghton Mifflin

SCBWI 2015 NYC Winter Conference: Margaret Raymo, Senior Executive Editor, Houghton Mifflin

The best part of the conference is meeting awesome writers and hearing their imaginative stories. Each of us brings fresh perspectives to the topics we care about. We build relationships over our common passion — writing. I ran into a writer buddy from the Bologna 2010 conference today as I stood in line for autographs: Angela Cerrito. She has another book coming out in September. Congrats Angela!!

I stayed for the autograph session, as you can see from the fruits of my labor. So cool to get a chance to chat for just a tiny bit with both James Dashner and Anthony Horowitz. 🙂

Anthony Horowitz autograph on his Moriarty book NY15SCBWIDashnerMazeRunnerautograph

On the drive home from New York, new stories and characters invaded my head. I documented their presence, but they’ll have to wait a little longer to come to life. Right now, I have a louder voice in my head — the one telling me to get cracking on my dissertation!

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