Had a great visit with the 4th grade writers at Maple Elementary in Springfield yesterday. It’s enjoyable to spend time with kids who are interested, engaged, and respectful of each other. Their questions were awesome, and you know I LOVE questions!
The classes have been working on opinion writing, an important foundation for argument (make-a-case) writing. I offered a challenge, to share an opinion that they feel strongly about and to include reasons. Here’s my contribution:
Maples are the best kind of trees! They can grow huge (up to 145 feet), live long (up to 300 years), and they give us so much. In the heat of the summer their leaves provide us a cool, shady place to sit. In the fall they transform into colorful works of art. I love making helicopters from their seeds, and watching them whirl to the ground. Our world is a better place because of maple trees.
I’m looking forward to reading other opinions. Just click on the Comment area and write on!
You never know when it comes to writing. Words appear in your mind, some stick, and no matter what you do, you can’t get rid of them. So, you write them down, hoping that will ease the burden these words have imposed.
I’ve had certain words and phrases hanging around for a couple years. When I finally started writing them down, it became clear their presence would not be in the form of a essay or article or short story or screenplay, but in the form of a poem. The more I worked on them, the more it seemed they could be lyrics for a song. Hmm.
The little I know about music is best summed up as: I really don’t know much about music. A few chords, a couple songs, a little bit of rhythm. But I like music, especially blues and rock. And I could picture the words I wrote being sung in one of these genres, most likely blues.
It was apparent that if I ever wanted to see these words put into music, I’d need help. I thought about who these words might fit, and could sing them. It didn’t take long to come up with the name of Eric Burdon, whose music I have enjoyed since the 1960s. I’ve watched him perform on many occasions and even had a chance to meet and interview him for an article I was writing. By looking at Eric’s CDs, I learned that he wrote some of his music and collaborated with others. So, unaware of the ways of the profession, I sent a query to him, describing my lyrics and asking him if he’d like to supply the music part. I wasn’t optimistic about getting a response, so I wasn’t disappointed that I didn’t hear from him after a year.
Still, I wasn’t giving up either. I thought my words had value and that someone else might agree. So, I looked on some of Eric’s later CDs and noted the other people who write with him. When I narrowed the field down to my favorite songs, there was a common denominator: Terry Wilson. I did some research on Terry and was very impressed at his background and experiences.
When I contacted Terry with my idea, I heard back within a couple weeks. “Sure,” he said, “send along what you have. It sounds interesting.” Now that in itself would have been good for me, but it got better. When I sent the lyrics to him, he told me he would like to collaborate on the music. He also said that he was really busy with other projects, but he’d get to it when he could. He encouraged me to stay in touch.
Hey, no problem. I could do that. So, for the next six months I sent him an e-mail checking-in. His responses were polite and encouraging. The spring passed, then the summer. When I wrote to him in November, he said he was actually working on the song. And then on Thanksgiving (of all days!), he sent his first run at the song, or whatever you call a rough draft in music. I was blown away!
There they were, my words, being sung by a talented and respected musician. And the music, it was awesome! And it’s only the start, the first draft. What happens next, and where does this go? I have no idea. I just know how fortunate I feel, and grateful too, that Terry has seen the value in my words and is willing to spend some of his hectic life in helping develop them. You just never know…
So, the way things operate in the world of publishing is that you work, work, work, on a book, then you research to determine which publishers would be the best fit for your finished treasure, and finally you send it off with high hopes of receiving a letter/e-mail of acceptance. The problem is, it takes time to hear back from publishers: weeks at the earliest, more likely months. Most of the time, to be honest, you never hear anything at all.
So, what do you do while you’re waiting? At first, you might glow in the aftermath of finishing a project you have worked on for a long time. I enjoy the relief of being done, but that doesn’t last too long. While I wait, I keep track of other manuscripts (there are several) I’ve sent out and figure out where I’ll be sending them next. If I don’t hear back from a publisher within a year, I assume they’re not interested so I send the manuscript elsewhere. And yes, I’ll send it to more than one place at a time.
What do I do then, while I’m waiting? I wash the car and weed the garden. I walk the dog and ride my bike. I read. A lot. I paint the handrail on my porch. I visit my ninety-six year old mother and reminisce about times long ago. I talk to friends, old and new. I travel.
This summer I visited Ireland, a country I’ve never been to, and one I’d like to revisit. It’s beautiful countryside, rich history, and friendly people have made it one of my favorite places. Travel brings new experiences and can often lead to book ideas.
Trim Castle, completed in the 13th century, and used in the filming of “Braveheart.”
And, of course, while I’m waiting I’m writing. Not necessarily my next project, but some kind of writing. Maybe a letter or e-mail, maybe a review of a place I went or a business I used. It might be a memory or recollection, or just jotting down words that sound good together.
That’s what I do when I’m waiting. Lots of things, especially writing. It’s good to remember the things I don’t send to a publisher can never be rejected and can always be enjoyed.
Another school year has come to an end, and with it, another ending of sorts: my work as a writing consultant. I have been consulting with schools since 2000, doing trainings, teaching classes, modeling lessons, and providing other professional development activities to teachers. I have done this through our local education service district as well as privately.
During these 18 years I’ve had the pleasure of working with teachers in all 16 school districts in the county—Lane—where I live. I’ve been fortunate to have worked in various states from Vermont to California and in epic towns, from Burlington, home of the International Rotten Sneaker Contest to Victorville, the residence of my cowboy hero, Roy Rogers. On several occasions, I traveled to Buenos Aires to work with teachers at the Lincoln International School. These trips led to great adventures in Argentina, Uruguay, and Peru.
Doing this work has been a blast! I have immensely enjoyed working with people committed to teaching kids. Based on the feedback I’ve gotten over the years, I believe I have added value to their teaching lives and to the lives of their students. That’s very gratifying.
It hasn’t always been a smooth road, though. “Forced trainings,” in which administrators require all teachers to attend, can be problematic. My suggestion has always been to make attendance voluntary. The challenge, however, is that often the people who need it most, won’t show up. Thus, one of the many dilemmas administrators face, and another reason I have never had any interest—zero—in working that gig. My choice: work with
“the willing,” the people who are interested in professional growth.
And, that’s what I’ve been able to do these last few years. I’ve been a part of the STELLAR grant at the University of Oregon, which taught participants visual thinking strategies. I was the writing resource person, accessible to any and all participating. This past year I also worked as a consultant for the Pleasant Hill School District, assisting teachers who wanted to enhance their writing programs. Both experiences combined to make this an ideal conclusion to my consulting days (I’ve even been able to place my professional books and materials with enthusiastic recipients!).
So, what happens now? What’s next on the life agenda? Well, for one, there will be writing. Projects to finish, ideas to develop, words to play with. And, of course, I’ll keep visiting classrooms to share with students the joys and challenges of writing. But beyond that, who knows. Maybe I’ll do the things retired people do. Travel sounds good. So do photography, painting, and guitar playing. And, I’ll make sure to devote some time to investigating life’s many mysteries, like why people post No Trespassing signs on their homes and why slow drivers speed up when they come to passing lanes.
It’s been a good run. A darn good one. I’m excited to see what happens next.
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?
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.
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:
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.
Teachers made sure students were familiar with the work I have done. Some prepared with activities.
An art project: draw the author
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!
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.
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!
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…
Food: Nectarines, Cheese, Kale
Activities, Hiking, sailing, ping-pong, biking
Music: Rock, Classical
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.