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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

More Inspiration

There are only a few children's book authors that I will seek out to read, to listen to, to go to for advice. One of these is Jane Yolen. After listening to an interview she gave for PBS, I am once again inspired to write better, to scrutinize more closely my choice of words, and to think of my readers as more intelligent than I. She never writes down to children. Yolen's books always challenge young readers to imagine more, to stretch their minds, to read outside the prescribed "box".  She has an incredible website that has many pages and many gems of advice to writers, storytellers, teachers, and more. It's simply, . I have it bookmarked. You can even send her a message.

I must admit that when I lived in Massachusetts and reviewed children's books for the local newspaper, I had the opportunity to meet several children's book authors. Jane was among my favorites. She is down-to-earth, and very approachable. Patty MacLachlan is another (and very funny as well). And Yolen is as devoted an author as they come. You can see this plainly if you go to her website.

Let's all be better than we think we can be. Don't settle for good. Go for the best you can be.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Working with Kids in Schools

I'm very excited about a project that I'm currently working on with a local middle school. The details have not yet been worked out, but, hopefully very soon I will be talking with students and their art teacher about illustrating a book I'm writing.  My graduate work was with fourth grade students creating their own radio programs and having them air on a local radio station. Well, radio is, perhaps, not something children listen to these days, but the concept is similar; that being to let children create something from their own imaginations that is then published. I've been saying for so long that children need to be encouraged to use their imaginations. I guess now I'm putting my money where my mouth is. If this project is successful, I may try the same with elementary school students.  Wish me luck.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Imagination at work - constantly

This is probably true for most of us writers. Whenever I find myself drifting off, leaving the conversation, watching the scenery out the car window, lying in bed in that fuzzy place between sleep and consciousness, I start to imagine other worlds. This morning before the sun appeared and my eyes were still closed, I listened to a lone cricket somewhere in the grass outside my bedroom window. Its crick was weak and irregular, and I imagined it was seeking a friend, a lover...or perhaps calling out to a lost friend. Perhaps, I thought, it has lost its way and was calling for help, for direction. Before long I had created a whole story. Such is the life of a writer - whether for children or adults. But, you know what? I absolutely love it.

Then I thought, do our children get the same chance these days to just sit and imagine? Is everything pre-programed for them? I hope not. We should let our children drift with the clouds on sweet summer days - encourage them to imagine what might - what could be.

We do.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Why we write what we write

I've been re-reading Alice Walker's "In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens", a sensitive examination of her writing life and what other writers have meant to her, how they inspired not only her life, but her writing. In the section titled "Saving the Life That Is Your Own" she writes about Toni Morrison (an author whose complex and intense writing I find difficult to read). Walker writes, "It has been said that someone asked Toni Morrison why she writes the kind of books she writes, and that she replied: Because they are the kind of books I want to read." Walker continues, "This remains my favorite reply to that kind of question."

I often look at what others have written and say to myself, "Now why can't I write like that?" And being perpetually deficient of self-esteem, it bothers me...for a minute or two. When reading, say, Alice Walker, and realizing that I cannot and will not ever write like her (or J.K. Rowling), I am content to know that I write the way I want to, mainly because what I write I truly love to read. It is me.

Recently, I gave a talk to a local group about my books, and included a reading from two of them. At the end of my reading I was in tears. My story, no matter how many times I read it, still evokes strong emotion in me, and hopefully in others. It is the kind of story I love to write because it is the kind of story I love to read.

Love what you write. Write what you love to read. It will be much better than trying to write like someone else.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Women Writers/Artists

My writers' group always gives an assignment - a writing task - for our next meeting. This time it was to write something - a poem usually - about our town. But I started thinking about the women in my group. One member has recently appeared very tired to me. So I wrote a poem about women and what they do. It started out as a personal recollection, and ended up a tribute to women in general.

by Kath Fearing

After I retired
I slept ten to twelve hours
Every night
For a month - at least
Never realizing the bone weariness
Ignoring the darkness around my eyes
From living
Chasing the necessary
Taking everyone’s care unto me
Pushing myself behind
Everyone else before
And my mother crept into my thoughts
Whispered, there is no place called Hell
It is here, on Earth
But she misspoke
I only had to stop chasing
Throw my head into the wind
Let it muss my hair
Caress my cheeks
And find myself among the brambles. 

So, I shall present my poem at our next meeting and say to them, women, take some time for yourself. Be yourself. Love yourself.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Changes - the stuff of life

Recently, I purchased a new computer - a Mac. Wow! I love it, but it's really different from my old pc. I know I'm going to love the changes; but, change can be intimidating. The Mac has a different look, a different way of filing folders, a different way of doing many things. The wonder is, I love the idea of doing things in a different way. It's that 'wow' factor that makes us look at old things in a new way - changes old habits for new ones.  Change creates a spark in the brain that, in my case anyway, is totally welcomed and appreciated. I'm learning a new way to create. I'm experimenting. That spark in the brain is mixing up old writing juices that were sitting around doing nothing. My advice: make a change, even a little one. Try something new. Get the juices flowing. Wow!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Poetry and Children's Books

The writing group I belong to boasts a number of poets. They are very good writers. And when I sit down to begin or edit or continue writing a children's story, what I've learned from these excellent writers bubbles to the surface of my fingers. They are lessons I take to heart, e.g., use words sparingly. Make the words you use say exactly what you want to say, what your characters feel, and what you wish your reader to feel.
A poem from my book "An Old Heart: Yesterday and Today":


Ice conquers
paper-thin skins
raw winter leaves us shrunken
though once we bloomed
reaching toward sun's warmth
while sweet summer rain
pulsed through our fragrant yellow heads
now we lie
far beneath December's killing snow
with each spring
when warm winds once again
thaw our yearning hearts
the earth never forgets we're here.

Monday, August 9, 2010


Recently, an old classmate of mine went back to our elementary school for an Arts Festival. The participants set up their booths on the lawn of our old school. Frank, my classmate, couldn't resist going inside the school to take a see how it might have changed. His sister took pictures for me, and to my great surprise, the school has not changed in the past - oh, well, too many years to think about.  When looking at photos of the hallways and the gymnasium, old memories flooded back to me. I was there again, dancing to live bands in my socks (those wonderful sock hops - they wouldn't let you wear shoes in the gym, shoes would wreck the floor). I was dancing to the music of Danny and the Juniors, Frankie Avalon, Chuck Berry...  What great inspiration to get my mind wrapped around the age of adolescence.  It might be an easy way to take yourself back and transfer some of those adolescent insecurities into your writing, if that's your age group: either look at some old photos, or take a trip to a local elementary school and just sit and take it all in. Wow, time flies.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

School Visits

If you're at all interested in tips for making terrific school visits, I've found a website. . Here's their latest. 

"To “make” more time for academics, many school districts across the country have chopped recess and axed assemblies. To make sure that you don’t fall victim to the “Dulling of American Students,” make your author visit program irresistible to administrators. When you describe your assemblies, show administrators how your presentation links directly to the curriculum and educational standards. If you’re willing (and able) to do large group assemblies, this also makes your program more attractive to schools who want to be totally democratic and reach all children."

Their site has loads of terrific tips for making your school visit memorable.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The summer doldrums have hit...big! To counteract this, I took a day trip to Berea, Kentucky, where the wonderful liberal arts college is located. A friend and I walked around the town, visiting the outstanding craft shops staffed by students, and which offer their work for sale.  To me, there is nothing quite so envigorating as a college campus. The young people that surround you are enthusiastic, full of life-affirming energy, and happy to be doing what they're doing.  My friend asked one girl in a shop, "Are you a student here?" She replied with a big smile, "Yes, I am." That smile was infectious. I spent many years on college campuses teaching and learning (for one cannot do one without the other), and I cherish my time there. As a result of my trip, I was able to sop up some of the students' energy for myself and my writing. If the doldrums have hit you, spend some time around students. If their energy doesn't encourage you to keep going, why not?  Give it a try.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Have you ever tried writing a play? I've written two plays, one for elementary school level and one for high school level. It's difficult...a totally different type of writing. You can't describe anything. Everything has to come out in dialogue and/or an actor's interpretation of the words. Everything! And if there's not enough action dialogue, it becomes boring. The actors have to get up and move around or throw things or something...something to keep the emotional level at a peak. It's so totally different than writing a story with descriptive passages. At first I tried using a narrator to describe a character's emotions. But that's a bad play. I had to work my dialogue so that the characters displayed and talked about what was going on inside them. It's a great work out for a writer's brain and talent. It's also very exciting to move your characters around and make them do what you want. All writers should (I believe) try writing a play. Stretch yourself into another dimension. It's a kick.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

I've found another great tip from a successful writer. Bruce Hale, writer of the Chet Gecko mystery series for kids, publishes a newsletter. In his latest newsletter Bruce answers a question from a reader about how to deal with different age levels when making school visits. He makes suggestions on how to make presentations for grades k-2, 3-5, and middle grades, 6-8. His suggestions are great and it's worth going to his web site - to see them, or to subscribe to his newsletter. Bruce is a very funny guy - one of those people who was born with a natural sense of humor. Wish I was.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Recently, I have been looking into transforming some of my children's stories into ebook format in order to make them available for iPod sales. I suppose it's the next big thing in publishing - at least that's what I keep hearing. I know nothing about it, so I'm beginning from scratch here. I've contacted sources, downloaded information, etc., etc. When it comes to doing something entirely new, one can't get enough information. I'm from the old school, though. One of those old folks who just loves the feel of a book in my hands...turning the pages back and forth...the smell...the texture... But my love of physical books is not going to stop progress. So I've decided that, for better or worse, I'm going to see what it's all about. and other sources have more information. Wish me luck.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

My latest visit with my son has led me to two conclusions: one, children do grow up, and, two, his enthusiasm for life has renewed my own. And, now that I think of it, there is a third conclusion: my enthusiasm for writing is directly connected to my own enthusiasm for life. When everything around me seems vital and full of purpose, my writing flourishes. I see things more clearly. The voices of my characters speak louder to me...telling me to bring them to life, to tell their stories. For any writer, that's life, right there in a nut shell. Sometimes that nut is hard to crack, but what's inside is sweet, and worth fighting for. And so it should be for any artist - crack the nut, see what's inside, then let it free.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

What is it with the clouds and me? Whenever the weather gets stormy, cloudy, rainy, I pull back into my little space to wait it out. I am an outdoor person, so when I can't get out for my morning and afternoon walk, I get grumpy...ask anyone who knows me. I know all about SAD: seasonal affective disorder. We all have some sort of disorder, don't we? The worst part of it all is that I can't write much during those periods of darkness...those cumulus shrouds gather not only in the skies, but inside my head as well. Writing is a chore for me when it's dark. However, here I sit, writing. One thing I have done is take notes about the story I'm working on. Little ideas pop into my brain, so I write them down, confident that when the sun reappears, so will my writing skills. I admit it - I'm a sun worshiper. So, now you know. If it happens to you, too...turn on all the lights in the house and try again. Oh! Is that the sun I see?

Friday, May 7, 2010

We all need help in this business of writing for children, that's for sure. One place I rely on for up-to-date information is the Children's Book Insider and their Newsletter. It's always full of inspiration, links to lots of information for writers, and news about what agents, editors, and publishing houses are seeking submissions. To see for yourself, go to

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Just a thought and a hint for today...Bruce Hale, author of the popular Chet Gecko mystery series for kids, has an informative newsletter that he sends out. His Chet Gecko series is very funny, Bruce has an amazingily sharp wit; but his newsletter is full of information that writers of all genre can use. Check it out at Subscribe to his newsletter for a bucket full of great hints. Anything written for kids needs a little humor in it somewhere.

Monday, April 26, 2010

I have started a new story...or let's just say I've taken a story that I started awhile ago and decided to try and finish it. There was a time when ideas for stories were flowing like rain. I started a few of them. Some went nowhere. The ideas just did not develop. Others had promise. This is one of those. It is about a young Hopi Indian girl, Kari, who searches for her true Hopi name, and thus, her true self. I wrote down an "idea outline", listing all the ideas about where I wanted the story to go and how I was going to get there. Now I just have to flesh out the details. Ay, there's the rub. But the more I write, the more clearly I see Kari and what she must endure to find her true self, alone in a vast desert. It's where we all are at times...out in the desert searching for ourselves. This is true, I believe, for most teens. Sometimes it just feels to them as though they're in the middle of a dry, empty desert looking for answers. Hopefully, I will be able to help Kari find what she seeks.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Usually, just the thought of editing, revising, rewriting, or rethinking a manuscript would almost send me into the streets screaming. I think to myself, "Look, you've spent so many months/years on this thing, how can you possibly go over it again?" Well, it really pays to look at your manuscript just one, maybe two or even three more times. There are things we all miss just because we've been too close to our story for so long...things we just don't see. My friend Rita did me the great service of pointing out some things to me that I missed in one of my stories. We should all have friends like Rita. Historically, I have been impatient with myself and everything around me. At my age (64) it's time I began practicing patience. It really pays off - especially when it comes to writing. Slow down a bit and take one more look...just to be sure.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

I've come to the conclusion that I'm just not in to hyper media for kids: hyper books, hyper video games, hyper-hyper action movies. I'm much more in line with the Fred Rogers way of communicating with kids, e.g., thoughtful, introspective, one-on-one communication. I don't know how to write a book where each page is packed with tension and fast action. That seems to be the trend in today's super-charged media market for kids. Glad I'm not a kid these days. When I was first learning to love books, I loved them because they let me think about what was going on; let me guess what might happen in the next chapter; led me on with subtlety rather than break-neck action. I'm sure that many kids love the comic book, action-in-every-frame story. But I know that there are still a lot of kids out there who want to - need to be talked to quietly, slowly, so their head wraps itself around a story without their pulse going sky high; lets them try to guess what's going to happen instead of having it thrown in their laps. They say 'write what you love'; and so I do. Hope you create what you love, too.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

My good friend Linda Rinehart Neas is a gifted poet and an exceptional human being. Her first book of poems, Winter of the Soul, was self-published in April, 2008. She has just announced the publication of her second book, Gogos Dream: Swaziland Discovered. She describes her book as "...inspired by the work of my friend Dr. Maithri Goonetilleke and the volunteers who work with him caring for the peoples of Swaziland, most especially the AIDS orphans." All proceeds from Linda's book will be going directly to Possible Dreams International, a non-profit organization that Dr. Goonetilleke founded. Linda's book is available at I hope you will take a look.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

I'm not sure just what drives artists to do what they do. I, for one, was reluctant to ever call myself an artist. The word conjured up images of James Joyce...a place I knew I would never be. Yet, I do create art through my writing. And so does anyone who struggles to create something beautiful. An incredible book that inspired me to keep writing and to consider myself an artist, is Julia Cameron's The Vein of Gold - A Journey to Your Creative Heart. She also wrote a book that I am about to order called The Artist's Way. These books were recommended to me at a time when I wasn't sure if I should continue to write or call it a day. Cameron is a wonderful motivator. Her books are worth what you pay for them. And I believe with all my heart that there is an artist of some sort in all of us that only needs to be discovered. Go for it!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

One of the best ways to find out what's happening in the world of kids' books at any given moment in time is to attend a conference. This past weekend (March 27th and 28th) I attended the Tennessee Mountain Writers Conference in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. One of their speakers was Candie Moonshower, author of The Legend of Zoe. Candie held two sessions, one of which I attended called "Writing For Young People and Children". She was her usual entertaining self and kept her audience's attention with her wit and knowledge of the art of writing for children. Out of her ten points to remember, what struck me the most were the ones centered around the act of writing, keep writing, write some more, then re-write what you've written. Writing exercises that creative muscle, as Candie called it. But another of the ten points was to be sure to read what's out there for children now. What I do is refer to what I think are the masters of the craft - the books that keep me coming back again and again to read and then re-read, trying to absorb, perhaps, what it is that makes them great. Work the muscle. It helps keep the juices flowing.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

There are many different ways to present a story to children. I sometimes take the first person approach where the protagonist tells her own story to the reader. That works well sometimes. But many times I like the onmiscient narrator who tells the story to the reader. One style of writing is the diary. It's risky to me to try and write as a child think as a child react the way a child would realistically react. So I leave that style to others, such as Candie Moonshower in her award-winning story, "The Legent of Zoey". Besides being a diary of two different girls, they live in two different times! That's a monumental undertaking. But Candie did a fantastic job. I tried it once...that's all I have to say. It just didn't work for me. But, when you think of it, if a writer can realistically write and think the way the reader does, the story becomes more compelling, more real. Great work, Candie.

Monday, February 15, 2010

I often hear people say that sometimes there is a great difference between a book for children they've read and the subsequent movie. In some cases the reason for this is that the books are just too long; and including everything from the book in a movie would make it hours too long. Also, movies are a different medium. They're visual. Anything created in a movie has to be based around that fact. They must be visually stimulating, or they won't be successful. So, many times, things just get lost in the translation between the print version and the movie.

One such book that became a bit more fantastic on screen was Katherine Patterson's "Bridge to Terabithia". The movie's scenes of imaginary creatures in Jess and Leslie's magical woods were, I think, not expected. But the movie creators took what they thought was inside the heads of Jess and Leslie and made them larger - brought them out of the print medium of books into the visual medium of movieland.

Another book, Maurice Sendak's "Where the Wild Things Are", was a vast departure from the book. The reason is simple. The book can be read in under five minutes (depending on how long one wants to sit and imagine what's going on). No one would pay $8.00 or more to see a five minute movie. But Sendak knew that and agreed to have his story-line expanded for the film.

The purists will scoff when books are changed when made into movies. I just look at it as a different medium and enjoy the show.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Speaking of humor, Gary Paulsen's "Harris and Me" is full of it, from beginning to end. Even though the reason the main character comes to be with his cousin Harris is because of his parents' alcoholism (who have gone into rehab), Paulsen has the reader feeling sorry in the end that his main character has to leave and go back to his parents.

At one point in the book the two boys are left alone at the farm. "Sometimes even the grown-ups could make mistakes. ...on several occasions...they took leave of their senses and left us completely alone."

Harris gets it into his head that he wants to be like the cowboys in the movies and jump out of the second floor of the barn onto the back of their horse Bill. So he jumped. But..."He missed Bill's front end and came down squarely on the horse's enormous rump, which was, unfortunately, actually as wide as a kitchen table. Harris's legs shot out sideways and his groin crunched with a sound I could hear from where I hung."

"Harris and Me" is a book I enjoyed greatly as an adult. It's that way with some children's books. If well written, they transcend age.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Humor is important in kids' books...very important. I've read some books that dealt with very serious subject matter (brain injury), yet, somewhere among all the seriousness there was some humor. Why? Humor is a very human reaction when dealing with difficult situations. And, kids love to laugh. It breaks up the tension.

One writer who writes one joke after another in his books, and quite successfully, is Bruce Hale in his Chet Gecko Mystery series. Here's an example from his book "From Russia With Lunch": "I never could resist a mystery. Any mystery. Like, if Number 2 pencils are the most popular, why are they still Number 2? If a pig loses its voice, is it disgruntled? And if bedbugs live in beds and tree frogs live in trees, shouldn't box turtles come in boxes?"

I'm still trying to add a little humor to my stories. And maybe my writing is too serious, but I do keep in mind that kids need a bit of humor in everything they read. So don't we all.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

There are some writers who just blow me away with their ability to put ideas and emotions on paper. One writer who does this better than most in his books for children is Gary Paulsen. I love most of the books he's written, e.g. "Harris and Me", "Hatchet"; but one book that I keep going back to time after time is "Dogsong". This is the story of a young Eskimo boy who probes the memory of an elder of his village to find out what it was like in the past. The boy, Russell, has a deep-rooted curiosity about and love for the old ways. He takes the dogs and dogsled of the village elder and makes his way across the frozen wasteland to find himself, his past, and his song. Paulsen's language is remarkable, and would be in any genre, not just children's literature.

Here's an excerpt from Chapter 11, "The Dream": "The man was no longer in the settlement on the edge of the sea, fat with walrus and seal oil, among fat puppies and round dogs and found faces. Now there was not a fog, but a slashing gray storm that took everything."

There are many more wonderful, verse-like chapters that are truly inspiring for any writer.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

I've said previously that poetry has helped me be a better writer. One of the poets I've tried to emulate is Mary Oliver. She has the ability to say in a few well-chosen words what most of us cannot in twice as many.

Here's an excerpt from her book "Dream Work" and her poem "The Journey".

"But little by little,/as you left their voices behind,/the stars began to burn/through the sheets of clouds,/and there was a new voice,/which you slowly/recognized as your own,/that kept you company/as you strode deeper and deeper/into the world,/determined to do/the only thing you could do -/determined to save/the only life you could save."

I recommend "Dream Work" highly, for inspiration and hope.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

There are several different ways to write for kids. I guess it all depends on what you feel most comfortable with...and that makes it work for you and the reader. I have been experimenting with free verse in my writing. For example: Karen Hesse has written her book, "Out of the Dust", in free verse. There are no paragraphs or chapters, but rather topical sections. Personally I think this type of writing flows, is easy to read, and is very economical with words, as is poetry.
Here's an excerpt from "Out of the Dust".
"First Rain,
Sunday night,
I stretch my legs in my iron bed
under the roof.
I place a wet cloth over my nose to keep
rom breathing dust
and wipe the grime tracing from around my mouth,..."

This is the story of a family in Dust Bowl Oklahoma in the 1930's. I feel strongly that for kids who don't find it easy to read conventional books, this type of writing encourages them to pick up a book and read. And in this case, they're learning some history about the 1930's dust bowl experience.

Friday, January 29, 2010

I've heard a few people say they were slightly disappointed in Patricia MacLachlan's latest book, "Edward's Eyes". Patricia has a gift for getting into the mind of a child, feeling his or her emotions, and then expressing them in poetic words. I think all writers change their writing style over time. Patricia is no different.
Here's a quote from "Edward's Eyes": "I smiled. The door opened behind me, and everyone came out and down the yard to the water. And then, for Edward, because he had once said he wanted it, Jack sent off a rocket. It went high in the sky over the water, a big dandelion of light. Albert and I watched the sparks fall back to the water. Then it was quiet again."
Her characters are intelligent, sensitive, vulnerable young people. They "see" a lot in their worlds. This, I think, is important for young people to read and understand: that it is entirely human to be sensitive and vulnerable; to be hurt and survive. Great stuff.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Kids Books

The face of book publishing is changing. One thing that doesn't change - a good story is a good story, no matter what format it takes.

I'm going to take a look at some books for kids and just tell you what I think. I received my doctorate in education from the University of Massachusetts. I've taught and written about children's books for years. I'd like to share some of what I've learned with you.

I'll be posting my thoughts on kids books that I've read. Hope you'll tell me what you think as well.
Kath Fearing