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32 And Counting!

 

32 years. That’s how long I’ve been visiting schools and doing author visits. I’ve done them as near as my local school and as far as Buenos Aires, Argentina. What began as a presentation about chewing gum and my first book evolved over the years as my bibliography grew to 28 books. Having so many books has provided me the opportunity to feature many different topics, from Teddy bears to atomic bombs, from sneakers to wolves. Despite the varied topics, three common threads have always been an integral part of my presentations:

  • the importance of writing
  • curiosity
  • revision

Over the past several years I have been exploring different forms of writing, including graphic novels, screenwriting, and song lyrics. Recently, I’ve been able to incorporate the latter into my presentations to offer kids another writing outlet.

G.T. Albright, a longtime music pro, has been taking the lyrics I create, adding music, and making them into songs. We have copyrighted 20 so far and are poised to add 10 more before we start recording the best ones in the spring.

During the presentations, I still focus on the writing threads as well as some of my books, but then I segue into lyrics and then bring on G.T. to demonstrate how he does his magic. More magic follows as he takes lyrics the kids have written and creates music to go with them. We are all amazed and enthralled!

Last week we had the honor of working with Todd Grassman’s fifth grade class at Pleasant Hill (OR) Elementary. We had such a great time, it was hard leaving. Hopefully, Todd’s students will be inspired to share their thoughts and feelings through lyrics. They (and others) can even post them in the Comments section here to share and get feedback from others.

G.T. and lyric writer

 

What’s In A Title?

You might notice that the title for our Lobo book as been revised. Originally, it was “Lobo: The Wolf That Changed the Man Who Changed America.” Quite a mouthful, huh? Quite lengthy, but them it really summed up what the story was about.

The trouble was, we got feedback from some folks who are planning a major motion picture on the project. They reminded us that a while back, there was a BBC broadcast on the topic with a similar name. That means that people who search our project will be linked to that broadcast rather than the movie they will be making.

Good point. So, we brainstormed several possibilities and came up with “Lobo: The Hunted and the Hunter.” Much more succinct and it still provides a taste of the story, and even adds a little mystery.

We even like it better than the original. Collaboration is good. So is mutual support. The movie makers are on board with us and will help spread the word about our project. As we will do for them.

Coming Soon…

Here’s a blog post from my collaborator on the Lobo project. He continues to amaze with his artwork:

https://invisibleinkstudio.com/news-updates/2021/10/24/coming-soon-lobo-the-wolf-that-changed-the-man-who-changed-america

Make YOUR Case

In my book Friends of the Wolf I make a case for preserving and protecting wolves. I use reasoning and evidence to help make my case. I include an opposing viewpoint, and address it. My goal in writing this was to get readers to accept my viewpoint, not necessarily to agree or to do anything about it (although I did include practical suggestions for what they can do if they do agree).

Writing that uses reasoning and evidence for the purpose of having readers accept a viewpoint is known as Argument writing. I call it Make A Case writing. Persuasive writing is a close cousin, but it uses more opinion and emotion and its goal is to have readers actively agree with the viewpoint or to do something.

What is a view that you have for which you could make a case? Here are some examples:

We should not have to wear masks in school.

Everyone should be vaccinated. 

Football is dangerous and should not be played in high school.

I should be able to stay up later at night. 

We should be able to chew gum in class.

Math is the best subject.

Dogs (or cats or rabbits or ???) make the best pets.

I invite you to click on the Comments tab above and write a statement for which you could make a case. Extra points *** for those who actually make their cases here. It’s a great way to get your writing out for others to see. Remember, reasoning and evidence.

I will be reading a responding to all. Have fun!

 

 

 

 

The Graphic Novel Journey

Once I decided on the story I wanted to tell, I had to decide the medium for telling it. The story was too limited for a regular novel and too violent for a picture book. Graphic novel, a combo of the two, seemed like the best option. I settled on that.

Trouble was, I had never written a graphic novel before and I had no idea how to do it. So, I went to the library and started reading all that I could find, especially true stories (which are not that common). Doing this was very helpful from a story standpoint, but I still needed help in how to actually format the writing, since it involves illustration descriptions, captions, and dialog.

Searching online for formatting guidance helped somewhat, but the suggestions were often at odds. I needed some real-world help. Fortunately, a writer friend (Kurt Cyrus – check out his books, they’re great!) introduced me to one of his friends, Mark Fearing, another awesome writer. Mark has had great success creating graphic novels as well as picture books, and he was very generous in sharing his experience and insights with me. Many writers are like that, and I am so grateful.

Then came the researching, the writing, and the rewriting. Weeks, months, a year shaping the story, pacing, attending to details, checking them out with knowledgeable sources. David Witt, curator of the Seton Legacy Project, was a shining light. So was Julie Seton, the granddaughter of Ernest Thompson Seton.

Once the manuscript was ready, I started sending queries to publishers. And waited. And waited some more. Most of them I never heard from. No response – that’s how they reject these days. The few I heard from said I needed to send artwork with the manuscript. Ugh!

Now, the journey changed from finding an interested publisher to finding a talented (and willing) artist. Easier said than done. Every artist I spoke with wanted upfront payment. That’s understandable, but it wasn’t something I was willing to do, especially given that I didn’t have a deal with a publisher. I wanted to find an artist who believed in the project enough to do some work (not the whole book!) to show prospective publishers.

After a year of searching, I found my artist: Daniel Becker. I found him through Kickstarter, in which Daniel successfully raised money for a graphic novel project. It clearly demonstrated his entrepreneurial spirit and motivation. And, it showcased his artwork, which is excellent.

Although Daniel lives in Australia, he’s from New Mexico, where the Seton story takes place. He connected with the story right away and began drawing in earnest. Here’s some of his early sketches:

Next post I’ll show you the finished work that we sent out, and share updates on the project.

 

 

Take a Sample

Dear Teachers,

It’s the start to another school year and there’s lots to do, but I hope you won’t forget to get a writing sample from your students. It’s an excellent way to discover their level of writing skill as well as to use as a benchmark.

It doesn’t have to be a big deal with a lot of set-up. Keep it simple.

Offer a prompt. One of my favorites is: “Tell me something you did this summer, or something you would have liked to have done.” Or: “What are you looking forward to this school year?”

Take your samples early, the sooner, the better. Look them over to see general and specific strengths and weaknesses. File the papers and use them throughout the year to view students’ progress.

Would you like to know more about the kids you’ll be working with for the next nine months? Ask them! Offer this writing prompt: “We will be working together this year. What would you like me to know about you?” Model a response, writing a draft telling about you (how you like to teach, personal quirks, preferences, etc.). Share your writing, then let them loose.

Have a great writing year!

What’s Your Song?

Writing song lyrics is a great way to express yourself. What are you thinking about? How are you feeling? What makes you mad, sad, happy, or afraid? What do you wish for? Write about it in a song.

Don’t know where to start? Listen to your favorite songs. Write out the lyrics. If you can’t make out all the words, search for them online. When you have the words in front of you, study them. What do you notice? Is there rhyming? What’s the pattern? Notice what is the same and what is different in the songs you like.

Song lyrics are made up of verses and a chorus, the part that gets repeated during the song. Many songs have a bridge, a part that is different than the verses and chorus. It provides more variety to your song. But let’s not concern ourselves with bridges at this point. Let’s keep it simple.

Do you play music? If so, you can start by developing a melody you like and then adding the words to it. Or, you can begin with the lyrics. Select your topic and stick to it as you write. One way to write lyrics is to start with a title. Ask yourself what you want to say about the title. Then, say it in your verses and chorus. Try to create a rhythm in your lines that sounds good when you say them aloud. If you’re using rhymes, make them consistent. Use an online rhyming site to help you.

When you’ve finished, you can add music if you haven’t already done it. If you don’t play an instrument, you can create the melody with you voice. Or, you can find someone who can add the music. That’s what I’ve done. I showed some of my lyrics to a guy who has been in the music business for 40 years, who’s been in bands, made records, and written his own music. He really liked the lyrics I showed him and has been creating the music to go with them. The songs will be made into a CD when we have enough.

I’ll share an example of lyrics I wrote. These words were written with Liam, my first grandson, in mind. But, it’s also a message I have for everyone, wishing them well (“…and a million stars up above.”).

Liam Scott Young

 

I Wish You

 

This place ain’t easy

It won’t take long to see

You’ll learn the ropes along the way

And the cost to be free.

 

I wish you

A world of wonder

Lightning with no thunder

Miles and miles of love

And a million stars up above.

I wish you.

 

The rain will shout

The wind will scream

But you’ll stand tall against the storm

Just like it was a bad dream.

 

I wish you

A world of wonder

Lightning with no thunder

Miles and miles of love

And a million stars up above.

I wish you.

 

And when your time is over

And all that’s left is night

You’ll load up all your memories

And step into the light.

 

I wish you

A world of wonder

Lightning with no thunder

Miles and miles of love

And a million stars up above.

I wish you.

Robert Young, Real Writing Unlimited, 2020

 

So now, it’s your turn. Explore your thoughts and dreams. What is it that you’d like to say? I invite you to click on Comments tab and share it.

You Never Know

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…

Terry Wilson, songwriter and bass player extraordinaire

While We Wait

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.

 

 

A Good Run

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.

 

A good run on the Nile River.