Category Archives: writing

League of Exceptional Writers–Create Comics the Lowriders in Space Way

Grab your ball point pens! The author of the Lowriders in Space graphic novels is here to talk about how to write and draw comics in the distinctive ball point pen style. Lost of fun for writers, comics fans, and artists.

The League of Exceptional Writers is a free mentoring program sponsored by the Oregon Society of Children’s book Writers and Illustrators and hosted by the Cedar Hills Powell’s Bookstore. We meet every second Saturday at 2pm from October to May. Avid readers and writers ages 8 to 18 are welcome. Please share the poster below with your friends, your school and your library.

The Pleasures of being a Secret Poet

Poetry has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. My mother and father both read poetry, and I had a big picture book of poetry I read and reread so often that many of those poems linger in my mind though I never consciously memorized them. “A violet by a mossy stone half hidden from the eye. Fair as a star when only one is shining in the sky” is a line that reliably comes to mind every time I go hiking and find wildflowers clinging to unlikely spots along the trail.

My fourth grade teacher, an exceedingly no-nonsense woman named Ms. Jacques, seemed to have two great loves to communicate to my nine year old self: long division and poetry. She taught me dozens of poetic forms from Haiku to the ballad and (what seems more impressive to me now) showed me how to scan a line to fit the meter of the line before it. I loved the structure of writing to a particular format. Hunting for just the right word to fill out the rhythm or rhyme of a line was so much more game-like than ordinary writing which I detested at the time for its irritating reliance on standard spelling and punctuation. With a poem I could invent words to my heart’s debliss and dispense with punctuation entirely
Ms. Jacques introduced me to my first literary crush, the deliciously uncapitalized e e cummings. Since cummings had neither a first name nor a gender, my nine year old self imagined a pleasant, furry alien who might, should I come across him in my ramblings in the woods, translate for me the poetry of slugs and squirrels and sword ferns.
Eventually college broadened considerably my repertoire of poetry while siphoning off much of the pleasure I found in reading it and all of the joy I took in creating it. I stopped writing poems for years and didn’t miss it until I started reading poetry to my own children and writing my own stories.
Novels are so long, I’ve returned to poetry to give me the satisfaction of writing something I can finish a draft of in a single day. By contrast it takes 3 to 9 months to complete a single draft of even a short novel.
When I get stuck or discouraged, poetry gives me a reliable lift and often a fresh perspective on a character if I opt to write a poem in the voice of one of my characters from a work in progress.
It’s a huge relief to write something that I will not only never sell, but never show anyone. I think having work that lives in my own mind and heart but not in the world is extraordinarily valuable.
How about you? Do you have things you write just for your own pleasure? Let me know in the comments!

Middle Grade Monday book review: ECHO by Pam Muñoz Ryan

Ordinarily I just take the jpeg of a book cover from the internet, but for this one I just had to take a picture of the book with my Hohner vest pocket harmonica. It’s smaller than the instruments referred to in the story, and I haven’t played it in ages, but it reminded me how much I loved having music in my pocket as a child. Echo is hard story to sum up briefly but it’s got the best flap copy I’ve read in a while so here’s that.

IMG_1610 (3)Lost and alone in a forbidden forest, Otto meets three mysterious sisters and suddenly finds himself entwined in a puzzling quest involving a prophecy, a promise, and a harmonica. Decades later, Friedrich in Germany, Mike in Pennsylvania, and Ivy in California each, in turn, become interwoven when the very same harmonica lands in their lives. All the children face daunting challenges: rescuing a father, protecting a brother, holding a family together. And ultimately, pulled by the invisible thread of destiny, their suspenseful solo stories converge in an orchestral crescendo. 

Richly imagined and masterfully crafted, ECHO pushes the boundaries of genre and form, and shows us what is possible in how we tell stories. The result is an impassioned, uplifting, and virtuosic tour de force that will resound in your heart long after the last note has been struck

3 things for a young reader to love

1. This is a really intriguing mix of realistic historical and fantastical elements. There’s lots to learn about the history of the 20th century here but wrapped as it is in a mythic prophesy, it doesn’t feel “teachy” yet it brings to light some really interesting and dark and difficult aspects of American and German history.IMG_1612

2.There is some truly beautiful book craftsmanship here: decorated pages, a lovely cover under the dust jacket, and three songs with harmonica notation in case you want to learn the music from each section of the book.

3. It’s long! I know some people are going to look at that as a disadvantage in the supposedly attention deficit MG market, but I disagree. MG readers have time to read. Some of them love long books, love the seriousness they imply, love getting wrapped up in a tale that carries them along for hours and hours. And yet there’s nothing here IMG_1611to edge it up to YA. This is the perfect book for that tender-hearted teenaged reader who is not interested in sexual relationships and blatant violence. It’s also great for that really young high level reader who needs a challenge and a story with substance but isn’t up for YA content.

4. Okay I cheated 4 things. It’s diverse, seamlessly interweaving Jewish, Irish, Japanese and Hispanic experiences.

Something for the writer to think about

Prologues and epilogues are routinely discouraged by writing instructors and there are good reasons to be cautious about including one. But here’s an example of one that has been done beautifully. It’s a bold choice to mix the fantastical elements of the prologue and epilog with straight up historical fiction in the other three sections. I think it works brilliantly here making it a true bridge to the more complex and layered stories they will read as adults. And the book has something lovely to say about the nearly magical power of music to give the musician comfort and courage. I’m not a big believer in predictions, but here is a book that’s going to be on lots of best book of the year lists.

Minding the Details

I recently finished the final proofreading for my upcoming novel The Turn of the Tide. I’m really grateful that I get such detail-oriented editors and copy editors. They’ve been terrific to work with. We had a really interesting conversation about italics for foreign language words, and I learned a lot about page designIMG_1604.

Here’s the part that astonished me though. Even after I’ve worked on a book for years, even after it’s been copy edited, I still found more than 40 errors to correct, a few were printing errors but most were my own mistakes. It’s humbling.  I’m grateful that those people who receive Advanced Review Copies understand that about the process and don’t discount it in their reviews.