Yes, This Will Be On the Test

Writing, Reading, Laughing

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

View From the 5th Grade Trenches - August 2011 - The Scieszka Zone

You are about to enter another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound, but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land of imagination. Next stop, 
The Scieszka Zone

Where else can a math cursed kid escape by putting two halves together to make a hole in the wall?

Where else can the Big Bad Wolf plead his case?

Where else can a cowboy crack up about a head of lettuce?

Where else can Chicken Licken seek an audience with Obama?

Nothing tops the giggles of a roomful of kids. That is why I start every school year sharing the witty and hilarious words of Jon Scieszka and the crazy-perfect pictures of Lane Smith with my class. Their stories are every bit as guffaw-inducing for adults as they are for the kids.

Jon Scieszka has clocked time as a teacher in the elementary school trenches and he proves over and over his special magic for communicating with kids. As a teacher I appreciate everything Scieszka for the teachable moments the works provide above and beyond engaging kids with their solid gold humor.

MATH CURSE – Introduces the Fibonacci sequence: 1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21,34 (Have you cracked the code?) as well as empathizing with students about the mind boggling math concepts they have to conquer each new school year.

THE TRUE STORY OF THE 3 LITTLE PIGS – Is an approachable and entertaining example of teaching voice and point of view.

COWBOY AND OCTOPUS – Is Diversity 101. The relationship and tolerance between these two unlikely amigos exemplifies the joy of putting differences aside and being friends with someone unexpected.

THE STINKY CHEESE MAN AND OTHER FAIRLY STUPID TALES – Besides the perk of getting to say “stupid” for the guaranteed laugh, these quick spins on traditional tales are ripe for teaching the elements of a story.

Thank you Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith for all the lesson plan blanks you’ve filled in for me, and above all else, for making kids crave books.

Look for the signpost up ahead – your next stop, 
The Scieszka Zone

The Twilight Zone introduction is written by Rod Serling.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Say Hello To My Little Friend

The term “butt in chair” is the endearing way of saying you need to dedicate yourself to a routine of writing. I think we can all agree forming a writing habit is the best way to be productive, but what about the chair? Our creative streams deserve the perfect pedestal from which to flow.

I have recently graduated from a discarded kitchen chair with a thin pad to a super-deluxe, turbo desk chair. Viva la difference! I could keep my butt in this baby all day!


  • Padding
  • Swivel (If it spins – even better – not to say I spin when I’m mulling a manuscript – okay I do)
  • Arms (not too high or your fingers get stuck under your desk. OUCH!)
  • Fabric that your legs don’t stick to if it gets too hot
  • Neutral color (So you aren’t distracted)
  • Wheels
  • Unattractive to cats who like to claw everything
  • Back support (In case any doctors are checking my list)
  • Not so awesome that another family member will steal it
  • Easy to assemble (My son had to do mine)

“Say hello to my little friend.”

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


Here is some treasure I’m carrying in my pocket from this year’s SCBWI LA Conference.

Don’t throw anything away. You never know what might be “mineable” material. BRUCE COVILLE, Author

A big mistake is submitting your manuscript too early. TRACEY ADAMS, Agent from Adams Literary

Readers are not trends. They want a story full of heart and soul. LIBBA BRAY, Author of BEAUTY QUEENS (You have to listen to the audiobook. I’m still laughing.)

Know what came before you – classics and current works. STEVEN MALK, Agent Writer’s House & JON SCIESZKA, Author of STINKY CHEESE MAN (And a stack of other books I share with the kids in my class every year)

COWBOY AND OCTOPUS by JON SCIESZKA (I dare you not to giggle for days.)

Start a book on the day something different happens. JUDY BLUME, Author of countless amazing books

Help kids know there is more than one way to look at things. NORTON JUSTER, Author of THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH

Be the kid you were when “it” happened. ALAN SILBERBERG, Author of MILO, STICKY NOTES AND BRAIN FREEZE (I dare you not to feel your heart fill with laughter and your eyes with tears when you read MILO.)

History repeats in every human heart. RICHARD PECK, Author of A YEAR DOWN YONDER

The seed of my art was spinning in my soul. LAURIE HALSE ANDERSON, Author of SPEAK

I'm still floating on a cloud of inspiration. Sell the cat if you have to in order to go to SCBWI LA 2012. You'll never regret it.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Music As A Writing Partner

I adore the way different art forms compliment each other in the creative world. As a designer I have to see a scene visually in my head as I write it in order to understand the lines, textures, and colors of characters, settings, and emotions. Another beloved partner in my writing process is music.

How do I use music?

A LESSON IN CONCISE STORYTELLING: “Augie Nieto,” by Five For Fighting and Taylor Swift’s, “Love Story,” each tell a complete tale in under four minutes apiece.  Often for me, a line in a song will give me an “Ah ha!” moment for a character or action. Maybe we should start singing our loglines.

THEY’RE PLAYING OUR SONG: It is great fun to find a specific song to convey the emotions between two characters in love. “Far Away,” by Nickelback, and “Falling In,” by Lifehouse are currently turning my characters to mush in different stories. Breakup songs can be cool as well. “Not Meant To Be,” by Theory of a Deadman hits that note.

FEEL THE BEAT: I like to assign each chapter of my MS a song that matches its emotional context, action, or intention. Listening to the playlist can take you on an auditory journey though your story. You hear beats, builds, tension, conflict, joy, sorrow, and resolution. The playlist supplies a textural soundscape that hopefully matches your character and story arcs. When I have trouble finding a piece of music to compliment a chapter, more often than not, it’s the chapter that has issues.

MIX IT UP: When you are finding musical matches for your stories it is important to tap into multiple genres. I have never heard a more beautiful song than the classical piece, “Siegfried Idyll” by Wagner. “Stand” by Rascal Flats and “Live Like You Were Dying,” by Tim McGraw are fantastic country songs that scream to be character anthems.

How do you use music in your writing process?

Note: The links will take you to iTunes so you can taste snippets of these super songs.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Teens Rule

Many of my friends were surprised when I "stepped out from behind the curtain" as a writer two years ago. Little did they know of the boxes and boxes of journals and story notes from the past 30+ years I had tucked away all over the house. Some pals remembered my playwriting days and were baffled that my focus was now on young adult stories. 

Why did I finally step up to the writing plate and start swinging again? Two reasons – Melissa and Cameron, my kids had become teenagers. Suddenly I was immersed in the sticky tangled world of teens, and it was fantastic. Conflict, love, confusion, angst, invincibility, frustration, and madness had landed on my doorstep and I could no longer resist the pull of my own teen memories.

Teen snapshots:
Why doesn’t ______________ like me?
Can I have some gas money?
What’s wrong with my hair?
Can I have money for the movies?
Why won’t you let me wear this?
Why do I have to be home by midnight?
I’ll never finish this homework.
Can I have money for dinner?
You said no phone calls after 10:00pm – not texts.
Why is Facebook taking so long to load?
Can I have money to buy a new ringtone?
I don’t have any clothes.
Can I use your credit card for iTunes?

I’m wearing it again because it’s not dirty.
What homework?
Do we have anything to eat?
I’m not on Facebook.
Can I have money for a new World of Warcraft game card?
I don’t need a job. I’ll just eat at home.
My room is not a mess. I know where everything is.
My teachers don’t give homework.
There isn’t anything to eat in this house.
Can I have money for a new X-Box controller?
Your car isn’t that dirty. I’ll wash it next week.
I looked in the freezer. There wasn’t anything good to eat in there.
I can’t get a job. I have too much homework.

With inspiration like this, how could I keep my fingers away from the keyboard? It's all in fun. I will be forever grateful to my kids for giving me the spark to re-enter the world of writing.  

What brought you into the writing light?

picture credits