Author Experiences

I’m visiting classes this week in Creswell and Oakridge, talking with students about informative writing, the kind of writing you do to share information. Note: This type of writing does not have to be dull and bland, like an encyclopedia or Wikipedia. It can contain interesting words and devices like metaphors, alliterations, and more. Remember to keep your audience in mind; they want to be engaged in your text. So, engage them!

Click the Comment tab above to make a comment or ask a question.

How are you going to engage these people in your writing?

 

Moving Targets II?

Prior to my most recent author visit, several  classes read my Moving Targets  novel about a kid who moves to a small town and gets involved with a small group led by a bully. This is a book about growing up, about facing difficulties, solving problems, and the way animals are treated.

Several students I met with wondered when I’ll be writing the sequel to this story. The truth is, I hadn’t really thought about it. However, it’s possible I may want to write it at some point. But, what would it be about? I’d want to keep the setting the same as well as include the characters that I developed and feel that I know.

Would Paul be in juvenile detention because of what he tried to do at the end of the book? Would he be changed, or would he want revenge? What about the other characters? Would they still be hanging out together? Or would they find new friends, and who might those friends be?

What about David’s father, who we heard about but never really met? Would he come back into David’s life? And what would David’s mother do?

There’s so many options, so many possibilities. That’s what makes writing fiction exciting: you get to create your own world and decide what happens. Powerful stuff!

So, if anyone who knows the story would like to offer ideas and suggestions, I’ll be glad to take a look and give them serious consideration. The best way to share your thoughts would be to make a comment on the tab above.

Looking forward to your great ideas!

 

 

Anatomy of an Author Visit

I have been doing author visits to schools for nearly thirty years now. All have been interesting and enjoyable. Some have been memorable. My latest visit: Santiam Elementary School in Mill City, Oregon was one of them. Here’s why:

SET-UP

Great open space for large group (80) sessions. Lights were able to be dimmed when viewing images on the screen. Chairs for all. A microphone was an essential tool.

Small group sessions were used for follow-ups as well as for kindergarten and Life Skills classes.

PREPARATION

Teachers made sure students were familiar with the work I have done. Some prepared with activities.

An art project: draw the author

Ahh…gum art!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PARTICIPATION

Students were enthusiastic participants in asking questions, sharing insights, and accepting the “Chicken Challenge” (create a better name for non-fiction).

Lots of great questions!

“Lighting the ball” with cooperation. Writers help each other.

6th grader Jillian wins the “Chicken Challenge.” Winning entry: Fic-fac. Much better than non-fiction!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Many thanks to the students and staff at Santiam Elementary. Special kudos to Cindy McMahan, who coordinated the visit. Hope it was worth the effort!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Author Visit Note

Note to Schools: Author visits can be powerful activities that can help support curriculum as well as inspire students’ curiosities and interest in writing. But, it takes some planning and effort. Before visiting with sixth grade classes at Briggs Middle School in Springfield this week, I met with teachers and we talked about how I might support their instruction during my presentations. We also communicated by e-mail prior to my visit. This was very helpful so that I could narrow my focus and make the limited time count.

Teachers made sure the kids had all read one of my books, and they invited and encouraged questions about the book as well as writing in general. The questions were great and demonstrated thinking and curiosity (Briggs kids: If I didn’t get to yours, include it as a Comment below).

I want to thank the staff at Briggs: the admin. for arranging and supporting my visits as well as the teachers and support staff for your preparation and active participation. And, of course, the students for your active engagement. Keep asking questions, and keep writing!

 

When it comes to writing, think BIG, then work small.

 

p.s. And we’re not done, either! I’ll be back next month to meet with you in library classes.

Walk Out…Then Write!

     When the students at Briggs Middle School in Springfield, Oregon walked out of class at ten o’clock this morning, I walked with them. I was at the school to do an author visit and speak to students about writing. It was near the end of my presentation when the walkout took place, and I was happy to participate. Some things are more important than writing.

     The Briggs students joined students from all cross the country in leaving their classrooms for seventeen minutes to honor and pay respect to the latest school shooting victims. I was impressed with how the walkout was handled—making an announcement that the students could choose to participate in the walkout or remain in their classrooms. Some chose to stay. Others left. Outside, some formed circles and held hands. Others stood in small groups. Most were silent. All showed reverence.

     The last time I walked out of a class was in the spring of 1970, when I was a freshman at the University of Missouri. When President Richard Nixon announced he was going to send troops into Cambodia, deepening the Vietnam War, protests were waged across the country. At my school, we walked out of classes in protest. When it looked like the protests might become violent, the school closed and we all went home. We were lucky; protesters at other schools, like Kent State and Jackson State, got shot by National Guard and police. Some died.

     What’s the point of walking out, some people wonder. As I drove home today, I listened to a talk show host belittling the students who took that action. “What a waste of time,” he said. “What are they learning by doing that?”

     They’re learning a lot. They’re learning how to organize. That’s how this country got started: organized protests. They’re learning how to make their voices heard, even in silence. And, most importantly, they’re learning to take action, to take a stand.

     We, as adults, have done little to address gun violence in this country. After each new massacre, we talk and pray and wish things were different. That’s not enough. Nothing will change until we change it. I believe more voices will help.

     I applaud the students at Briggs and at every school who took action today, and there were thousands who did. But now I invite every student to take the next step, and this involves writing. Write down your thoughts, your fears, your ideas, and include them in letters to people who make decisions about school safety and about the way guns are regulated in our country today. Send letters to your principal, your school board, your local representatives, state representatives, your Senators and Congressman.

    Your words matter. Change can happen. You can make a difference. Write on!

Letters, Letters, Letters

I just returned from a wonderful visit to Arizona, where I got to go face to beak with hummingbirds, walk the paths of 16th century explorers, and enjoy the wonders of the desert. Is there a book in there somewhere, who knows, but there’s lots of ideas.

Before leaving, I was the proud recipient of a packet of letters from an interested and excited couple of classes of fourth graders at Santiam Elementary School, which I will be visiting soon. I enjoyed reading every letter and am looking forward to the day we meet.

I appreciate the kind words about my books and especially the questions asked. Some of the answers can be found on my website, some I’ll answer below, and some I’ll answer during my presentation.

Here’s a few answers:

I have an older sister (Sherry), one son (Tyler), and one dog (Toby)

Toby on a kindergarten class visit

 

Tyler and I at the Gergeti Trinity Church in northern Georgia (near the Russian border)

 

I didn’t know I wanted to be a writer until I was in my 30s. First, I got several stories and plays published in magazines. My first book, The Chewing Gum Book, was published in 1989. I was 38 years old. Since then, I’ve had 26 more books published.

I did not illustrate any of my books, but some of my photographs appeared in my books. The publisher chooses the illustrator. And yes, they get paid.

Gum has been a life-long love for me, since the days I had to sneak it into school to chew it. I still chew if everyday (sugarless only!), and even collect it. The back cover of the Chomp! book shows a small part of my chewed gum collection.

Salem middle school students showing her stuff

Tried making my own gum. Not so good…

 

Favorites

Color: Green

Food: Nectarines, Cheese, Kale

Sports: Baseball

Activities, Hiking, sailing, ping-pong, biking

Music: Rock, Classical

Number: 9

Month: September

Place to live: Oregon

Place to visit: Machu Picchu, Uganda

Rafting the Nile River in Uganda (me in yellow helmet on left)

 

I just finished writing three different books about wolves. My agent is trying to find them a home at a publishing company. Several ideas are bubbling in my head about what to do next. Hmmm…we’ll have to wait and see.

Next project – the moment of decision

 

 

 

An International Touch

A recent visit from my son, Tyler, and his new bride, Milena, provided a local school with an international experience. Milena is from Colombia, Tyler recently worked in Saudi Arabia. Are these places, a world apart, alike in any way? Kids in Todd Grassman’s fourth grade class developed questions about everyday life (What do they eat? What’s their school schedule? etc.) and posed them to the visitors. We tracked responses on a Venn diagram.

What did we discover? Although there are many differences (climate, animals, language…) there are also many similarities between the countries ( soccer, X-box, pizza…). And then, to top it off, we compared the U.S. and found out that there are lots of similarities with all three of our countries.

Imagine that!

 

 

 

 

Returning To The Roots

What a great experience I had during my recent trip to the east coast. I returned to the school district where I began teaching and did an Author Experience with each of the fourth grade classes at the Thomas Conley School. Thomas Conley was once principal of the elementary school and was the man who hired me in 1974. He was a great guy to work with, and I had a lot of respect for him as an educator and a person.

The fourth graders I met with were curious and enthusiastic, the best kind of students (and writers).  Happy writing!

 

PD Pleasant Hill Style

We all know the best type of professional development is ongoing, but how many school districts actually offer that to its teachers? Not many! There are just too many reasons (excuses) not to. That’s why I feel honored to be working with the staff of the Pleasant Hill (OR) school district, which has decided writing instruction needs to be a higher priority, and is willing to put time, energy, and resources into it.

Already, the staff has created a writing Vision Statement to guide them and has agreed to use Six Traits as a common language from K-12. This will provide teachers and students a way to communicate about writing and to build upon strengths. Teachers are introducing the traits to students and engaging them in activities to provide a solid foundation. One grade level is preparing to launch Writers’ Workshop, a great way to differentiate learning and create a community of writers.

With this wonderful start, the strides that can be made this school year seem endless!

 

 

Passage Passes On

Every book has a life, and I am sad to say that another of my books has joined the others that have “passed.” I wrote Passage: A dog’s journey west with Lewis and Clark to share the Corps of Discovery adventure with kids. I wanted to make the book interactive and engaging so I wrote it as an activity book in which readers were asked questions and invited to add to illustrations. Because it was not a “traditional” book, none of the “traditional” publishers I queried were interested.

All the rejections left me in a quandary. Should I try more publishers? Or, should I just let it go and move on to other things? That’s really hard to do when you are invested in a project, but I was at the end of my publisher list.

Fortunately, I explored another option: producing the book myself. Now this was 2002, before CreateSpace and other popular print-on-demand options that are available today. More importantly, it was also before self-publishing had gained the acceptance that it now has.

I had experience working with publishers, having had some 20 books already published. But I was out of my element in the self-publishing world. However, I went for it anyway and proceeded to find an illustrator, designer, and a printer. In order to keep the per-item cost down, I had to have 2,000 books printed, which was quite a blow to my savings account. And that was just the beginning. I then had to sell all the books in order to make my money back and, if possible, earn some money for my efforts.

Fortunately again, it was around the time the nation was commemorating the Lewis and Clark expedition, so there was a lot of interest in the topic. I sold the books to bookstores and museums and Lewis & Clark organizations. I sold class sets of them to teachers. When the Oregon National Guard became interested in the books for their outreach program, we did another press run of 2,000 books!

The books kept selling, and when the inventory of books became low, a small publisher wanted to produce more copies. Well, of course! When their inventory got low they decided not to print more. They gave me the remaining copies and I continued to sell them, the last sales going to Camp Wood in Illinois (where L&C started their journey) and Fort Clatsop in Oregon (the western end of their journey). Fitting, huh?

So now the books are gone (I kept one of each printing as mementos) but the experience of doing this project from idea to sales will remain with me for a long, long time.

The last books headed to Fort Clatsop