Thursday, November 24, 2011

I am thankful for John Green

First, I have to say that I bought Paper Towns when it came out in 2008 and liked it.

And that was the extent of my experience with and appreciate for John Green.

AACCKK!! How foolish am I??? All these years I have missed out on the wit, the hilarity, the now-accumulated 904 video blogs that John and his brother have posted to one another! It's a travesty, and I can't allow it to happen to you, my friends; so I am spreading the good word of John Green and the Nerdfighters.

Second, I have to say that I found John Green's vlogs while Googling M. T. Anderson. Which brings me to my subpoint--M. T. Anderson is also a rock star, and I just thought he was an adorable bespectacled hipster. Nope. He's actually sort of everywhere, loved and lusted by everyone: many awesome ladies and gentlemen wish for him for Christmas and/or list him on their hot list, or get to interview him for SCBWI. Shannon Hale herself posts a hilarious interview with him, and so does Sean Beadoin. And Cynthia Leitich Smith. He's on the board of directors of the National Children's Book and Literacy Alliance and particpated in the NCBLA's recent publication, The Exquisite Corpse Adventure. He keynoted this week's Assembly on Literature for Adolescents conference. So--woops! I'm just six years late to the M. T. party, and no, sub-sub-point, I am not obsessed.

So Tobin and John Green met years ago at a conference and broke into abandoned buildings together. John recorded their adventure for one of his vlogs. You can find it and the other 900 videos on youtube or on the Green brothers' site,

What are Nerdfighters? The Nerdfighters are nerds who fight--folks who use their inner awesome to decrease world suck. And we are legion! John just announced he has 1.1 million followers on Twitter. Isn't that incredible? A YA author with 1.1 million followers? Again: rock star.

John Green won the Printz award in 2006 for his first book, Looking for Alaska. His second book, An Abundance of Katherines, was a 2007 Printz honor book. Last year, he co-wrote a book called Will Grayson, Will Grayson with David Levithan; and in January, his latest book, The Fault in Our Stars, will be released! And he will be touring for it!! (Please come to Wisconsin! And bring Tobin with you!)

John and his brother Hank are hysterical and brilliant. Among their hundreds of videos, you can watch clips on John's top 5 zombie apocolypses, 31 great nerd jokes, the amazingness of Norbert Wiener, how tired John is of signing his first 150,000 copies of The Fault in Our Stars, and how it costs us 70 million dollars a year to subsidize the making of pennies. They talk about great literature, current events, Helen Hunt--just really relevant, beautiful stuff. I've logged in many, many non-NaNo hours this holiday week watching and laughing. Please join me!

Have you already fallen in love with the John? Do you have a favorite video of his to share? What literary rock stars do you follow?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Rockin' Jan Brett Rolls to Green Bay!

Jan Brett is touring from Boston to Walla Walla, driving across the country in an enormous, illustrated bus! Clara and I passed the bus as we drove to Green Bay on Sunday, November 13. I cheered and clapped and waved, so happy to see it on Highway 172! Clara kept asking, "What's wrong, Mom? What's wrong?" I tried to explain that a beautiful artist and storyteller was near, and that brought Mom so much joy. :)

Jan Brett spoke to a crowded room at the Brown County Central Library last night at 5:00 p.m. She shared with us the inspiration for her newest book, Home for Christmas. She also told us about the tour that she and her husband took of Sweden, doing research for the illustrations in the book. Since a moose is a key character in the story, she took the time to actually draw the head of a moose for us.

All the while, she was sharing charming anecdotes, like how she met a friendly herd of moose, and how she got to kiss one on its big, blubbery nose.

She filled her half-hour presentation with encouragement for all the young writers and artists in the auditorium. She reminded everyone that just as our fingerprints are our own, so our stories are our own. We have unique vision and creativity, she said. It is important not to lose our vision as we grow so we can make both ourselves and others happy with our art.

I was in line for over two hours to meet Jan. She is, without question, a rock star. Her website states that she has over 37 million books in print. Her stories are rich, warm, and deep. I grew up with "The Mitten," and Clara is daily enchanted by "The Owl and the Pussycat." Which of her books did you grow up with? What are you reading to the children in your life?

I know we are all trying to be true to our visions; but on the drive home, I thought about all of our unique stories. Not the ones we make up, but the ones we are living. And I wondered, what artist would you choose to illustrate the story of your life?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Author Linda Godfrey brings DOGMAN to Neenah!

This is Godfrey's first sketch of Wisconsin's Beast of Bray Road.
You thought I was kidding, didn't you? :)

On Monday, November 7, five Academy students and I, along with our high school English teacher, visited the Neenah Public Library to hear Linda S. Godfrey speak about her newest book, Monsters of Wisconsin. Godfrey has published 12 other titles, including Weird Wisconsin, Haunted Wisconsin, The Michigan Dogman, and Mythical Creatures.

Here is another one of Godfrey's illustrations based on a witness's testimony.

Godfrey was a UW-Oshkosh grad working as a newspaper reporter 20 years ago when she first learned about a local legend of a 'werewolf' prowling around Elkhorn, WI. After learning that the area county patrol officer actually had a file labeled 'werewolf' in his desk to hold the many complaints and sightings he received, Godfrey decided to write the story. The story ran in her local paper, The Week, on December 31, 1991; it went national two weeks later!

And literally, she's been hunting monsters ever sincee.

Godfrey's hour-long presentation on Monday was packed with pictures, sketches, and statistics of the many beasts she has received reports on: Dogman, Pigmen, Bigfoots, and Dragons.

I had asked my students to go into the presentation looking for something they could use for their NaNos. Motivated by M. T. Anderson's passion for place, I was hoping we would hear about wonderfully creepy locations to emulate in our own settings, lending our stories color and personality.

And in a way, we did. What we learned was that many sightings were in normal places, like wide roads, bridges, and well-lit neighborhoods. For example, open Bray Road is a popular place for
Dogman sightings. The road is a most un-spookified stretch, surrounded by cornfields. Godfrey explained how cornfields themselves are the spooky places--they are, in fact, Creature Highways: snack-filled swaths of land that creatures can trek unseen.

Bray Road. How scary is that, right?

So we learned often the scariest things lurk in the shadows near the most normal-looking places.

When Godfrey learned that we were looking for stories to propel our own, she readily acknowledged that many other writers, particularly science fiction writers, read her books for the same reason. She explained that what especially attracts writers is that the creatures she learns about act so very, very differently from how our "normal" concept of creature acts. For example, in the hundreds of reports she has received from the United States and Canada about Dogmen, she has recieved ONE report of an injury caused by one. How interesting is that? A ferocious looking, man-hunting beast that snarls and lunges, that lurks and prowls, but that doesn't actually attack? That's peculiar, and it goes against our preconceived notions of werewolf.

Pretty fun stuff, but I'll be honest. (But I'll say it parentheses: I had to sleep with my light on the first night after the presentation. They were everywhere, I swear. The Dogmen were coming for me, and I couldn't do anything about it!)


Other sort of wonderfully obvious bits I picked up from Godfrey's excellent presentation were a) follow your passions, b) do your research, c) trust people, and d) be open to believing in the unbelievable.

Thanks so much to Melissa of NPL's Adult Programming to let us join the three dozen others for this event. And so much thanks to Linda S. Godfrey for coming and speaking. We had a wonderful time, and we have picked up great spooky stories to weave into our own tales.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

NaNoWriMo Check-in 1

Seven days of writing have passed. How’d I do?

Total word count: 7355

Total I should have if shooting for 1667 a day: 11669


I present to you four frank reasons I’m not stressing about being behind:


Kate DiCamillo!

My copy of The Chronicles of Harris Burdick came in, and I have a NEW literary crush to add to my list of crushes. Kate DiCamillo’s contribution to this collection is knock-you-in-the-teeth poignant and hilarious. Love, love, love the Kate! How can one be gloomy when Kate’s “The Third-Floor Bedroom” exists?


I found Elzabeth Fama’s blog last night (and commented on it ;)). She, a published author, speaks candidly of the pros and cons (and many more cons) of our yearly NaNo competition. I love her honesty. Her reminder that our goals this month are sort of ridiculous helps me laughingly accept that I may not make my goals—but the best goal is to write every day.

How haunting is Elizabeth's cover?


I’m writing. This, all by itself, is just lovely. This *poofs* stressful thoughts of more and now and hurry away.

My idea that I’m fleshing out this November I had in February, but I didn’t get to it. I had too many shows to watch. :) Then in April, I heard editor Julie Scheina--one of two editors who brought us Beautiful Creatures--speak at an SCBWI luncheon. She enthusiastically shared one of her new books coming:

Jane, by April Lindner, is a modern retelling of Jane Eyre.

My story idea is a modern retelling, too! So I should have been writing in April! Retells are wanted by editors, she said! But I didn’t go for it. I had too many naps to take. I dipped into it a teensey bit, enough to say I was working on it, but that’s about it.

Our NaNo has me deep in my story each night. I’m loving the characters. I’m loving the places they take me. I’m loving the cashmere sweaters or silver nail polish I find them wearing. I’m writing, and it’s fun.


I am, let's repeat, doing a retelling. This makes my life easier, yes? I'd argue yes, absolutely, it does. In addition to my six pages of notes, I have the hundreds of pages of story to follow. So when Elizabeth Fama points out that October should be novel-planning month and we should create pages of detailed outline with dialogue notes—I mean, I do, right? I have the whole book in front of me. I read it again in October and wrote out character notes and plot points to emphasize, but . . . Come on. I think having an already-written-masterpiece in my hands takes some of stress away. :)

So that's my reports, my friends! How are you doing? Week 2, here we come! :)

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Harris Burdick Lives!

Joy, Joy, so much Joy!

So, for Chris Van Allsburg fans, the nearly unthinkable has happened. New stories have been written for the collection of enigmatic illustrations in his 1984 book, The Mysteries of Harris Burdick.

Just released October 25th is AN AMAZING COLLECTION of 14 stories inspired by the original artwork. The list of contributing authors is stunning. Inside we will find works by

Sherman Alexie
Kate DiCamillo
Cory Doctorow
Stephen King
Lois Lowry
Gregory Maguire
Walter Dean Myers
M. T. Anderson
and more!

Check out this hilarious clip that shows some of the authors and the pictures they chose to write about.

Can you stand it? Are you running to the bookstore now? Wait! While you're there, check to see if Chris Van Allsburg is coming to talk about this new release. Because I discovered he and beautiful M. T. will be in Chicago on November 17. Check it out!

And cross your fingers that my lovely, giving, self-sacrificing, wonderful, gorgeous sister will help me drive down there to see them. (Talented, hilarious, kind, creative, generous sister. . . )

So my friends, whose story are you looking forward to reading the most? Which picture from the original are you the most curious about?

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Author Steven Polansky Speaks at the Academy

I teach at an international academy in Northeast Wisconsin. Parents pop in often; we have moms who visit classes, dads who eat lunch with their daughters . . . imagine my surprise and delight learning that the attentive dad who joins his girl so very often in the cafeteria is Steven Polansky, author of Dating Miss Universe


The Bradbury Report

(Aw, man, trouble getting the cover to post . . . )

The first book is a collection of short stories that shows the failings of humanity with humor and grace. The second book is a novel that explores what it means to be human in 2071 when cloning is legal and "Copies" are used only for the aid of the "Original." Totally fascinating! And Steven totally needed to speak to our students! How is it possible we had not plundered all of his knowledge already? What riches to mine! :)

He graciously agreed to join us for an hour this week, kicking off our NaNo WriMo with an honest, in-depth discussion of the business of writing.

My hand flew as he spoke because quite literally every sentence he shared was either poignant or hilarious or ridiculously insightful or tremendously useful to us as writers. Ten pages of scrawl have been typed into four pages of notes. Here, I'd like to reproduce the gems I think will help us as we continue living our dreams as writers.

1. The world of publishing will be so changed in three years that in 2015, our students will know more about it than he. The institutions he knows--agents, editors, and printing companies--are being replaced, rendering all his years' experience in publishing obselete. (How fascinating and sobering is that?)

2. Consider the length of your novel. Length is gift we can offer our readers. He compared a small piece of writing to the passing glance of a beautiful face in mass-transit. One can fall in love in a moment like that, but the love doesn't linger. Contrast that passing glance with a deep, devoted marriage, and one will better comprehend the sense of knowing we experience reading a long novel. He said, leaving a world long lived in (he mentioned Harry Potter as a popular example), "The feeling is you are now transported back into your universe, and it is utterly transformed."

3. The life of a writer can be "the best of lives and the worst of lives." He confessed every morning starts the same. He faces his blank screen, and his inner critic tells him, 'Everything you've done before makes no difference. You have no idea how to do this next scene. You can't do it.' And it's awful. But then writes one sentence, and then two, then four, and he eventually forgets he can't do it

4. He gets his ideas for stories by keeping open. He watches and listens. He refuses to play the market research game, sniffing out what sells. Also, he refuses to keep a notebook to jot ideas into because 1) he'd never look at it, and 2) he'd forget what his notes meant if he did look at it. Instead, he just pays attention to those ideas that don't go away. If an idea stays in his head for three or four weeks, then he knows it's worth taking seriously. (Where do you get your ideas from?)

5. It takes him three years to write a novel. He wished those of us trying to do it in a month the best of luck. :) Rather than blasting through a zero draft as most of us have (or are), he methodically focuses on each chapter, perfecting it and then completely leaving it. He sites Dickens as a model for this style of writing: when a chapter of Dickens' Great Expectations was printed in the paper, thousands of readers made the events in that chapter indelible. Dickens couldn't go back and change things. Steven showed us some eighty pages of notes for one chapter of his current novel. (Again, how fascinating is this? I have six pages of notes! For the whole thing!)

6. He left us with two final thoughts:

If you truly want to be a writer, you should write. And there is no substitute for writing.

If you truly want to be a writer, you should read. And there is no substitue for reading.

My heartfelt thanks to Steven Polansky for sharing his wit and wisdom with us. I very much hope he will join us again soon!

So my friends, what do you think of his writing process? In the dawn of NaNos, is it worth reconsidering our methods?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

I Dreamed of My NaNo Last Night

So a student came into class declaring, today. “Did you dream of your story, or did you dream of you writing the story?” I asked her.

“Of me writing,” she said.

What happiness! A small sprawl of seventh graders swarmed my classroom floor and wrote this morning. Today we NaNo WriMo-ers are living our dream of writing. What propels us from our ‘such stuffs’ into reality? Or, a stiffer metaphor, what shots of inspiration are you knocking back? Here are a few of mine:

1) A practical, hilarious list of NaNo preps on Lola Sharp’s fantastic blog. Do read it; you’ll be so glad to learn that others stock freezers, warn spouses of hygienic neglect, and of course, avoid all hosting responsibilities.

2) Laini Taylor’s recent post on Creating Your Life. It’s pasted beside my kitchen sink, so I can remind myself not to shrink my dreams while I’m cleaning Clara’s breakfast dishes.

3) My kitchen. This is where the magic will happen. One of Laini's Ladies smiles down amidst a flourish of mirrored butterflies. The script on the side of the purple-winged fairy quotes Rumi: "I am so happy, I cannot be contained by the world. I have blossomed so much, I am the envy of gardens." So mote it be. :)

4) M.T. Anderson’s talk at the National Book Festival last year. Quite a bit of his talk here is the same I heard last month; the Dogtown anecdote is missing because it was new and therefore had, as he said, the vigor of the unrehearsed. Watching this clip, you will be inspired by his glorious romance with geography. Also, you will learn he is hypoglycemic. Terribly, terribly important resource material.

4 1/2) M. T. Anderson's talk on Place from 2007. As mentioned in my earlier post, it’s by my mirror so I can memorize it while coiffing. I’m up to, “I would like to speak of Stow, Massachusetts.”

Okay, now I'm off! I have seven pages to write before my girl gets up in an hour. :) Wish me the best of luck; I'm sending all my best loves and laughs to you. Happiest of writing, Dreamers.