Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Summer Musings

I've been quite fortunate this summer.
My writing has been productive.
My days have been leisurely.
My gardens have been fruitful....We actually had enough strawberries from all the rain to allow me to make a batch of strawberry jam. That is the first time that has happened in 20 years. So yummy!
And our family vacation was fun.

This is also the first summer in a long time where projects from teaching haven't interfered with my days, so I've actually been able to feel what it means to relax and turn my attention to my creative work--writing--without distraction. The goals I set for spring are being met, with numerous new picture book manuscripts completed and my MG is half-way done. Hooray!

One of my activities in summer is to help raise Monarch butterflies that I bring in as caterpillars. Raising them inside in enclosures ensures so that they won't be eaten by other predators and beetles that visit their home among the milkweed plants.

A couple days ago I saw a butterfly flitting around the milkweed that grows along the rock wall of my garden. Thinking it was a Monarch that had finally returned from Mexico or California, I grabbed my camera to take a picture.

Alas, as I got closer I realized it wasn't a Monarch. It was a Swallowtail visiting the showy flowers in bloom for their nectar.  But still beautiful.

I've heard the Monarchs have been slow to return to our area this year. Until then, the milkweed awaits and nourishes other butterflies that visit.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Spring into Writing

It's here.
Don't let the snow fool you. This is springtime in the mountains.
#SnowShoeing Last weekend

After what has been a long winter with days made gray by skies capped with heavy clouds, SPRING is standing on my doorstep -- threading its yellow light across my lawn, nudging the crocus flowers from the flowerbeds, and urging the tulip flowers that are still sleeping in bulbs beneath them to take notice.

In my yard, salmon pinks will follow purple.

These small events... that make SPRINGTIME springy... make me happy.

They awaken the creative sparks, leading me in slightly new directions, allowing me to see manuscripts I've been working on in new ways, making the revision process more crisp and fresh.

With such feelings stirring, it seems near impossible to do anything but breathe more life into the characters that have been reaching out from the page.

Which means it's time for spring cleaning. Or rather, re-energizing.

For that, I'm springing into my writer's chair at my writing desk and tackling a new list, which really is nothing more than the same old list, but with more verve.

1. Write. Write new. Write fast. Write now by visiting the ideas for picture books I've jotted down in notebooks over the last few months at different conferences and in different settings. Choose 10 of the best ideas and crank out rough drafts for at least 5.

2. Write more. Write with focus. Write with intention. Start with the most promising draft from above and revise that into a 1st draft to work on. Repeat for the others.

3. Write through Resting. While those manuscripts simmer on the back burner through April, work on finishing the first draft of the middle grade I've got going.

A full sunbow (like a rainbow
 and a moon bow) encircled the sun during our trek
4. Revise and Restock. I write most of my drafts in notebooks, so I'll have to allow time for restocking ink. Jetstream pens are my favorite. And one of them ran out of ink today. (Which is good, because it means I've been writing). (But I'm okay for now because I've got pens in bundles. Well, 6 to be exact.)

5. Assess my spring and summer calendars. Set goals, plan ahead to make deadlines. Summer won't last forever and I want to make the most of it.

6. Continue sharing and learning what I can from my writing groups and critiques and conferences. Yes, Write.

7. Keep writing, and keep reading, and repeat.

Happy Springtime!

View from a snowshoe trek last weekend above Bear Lake, Utah, #AllSnowAndSunshine

Monday, February 18, 2019

Meet children's author Laura Roettiger and her new picture book, Aliana Reaches for the Moon

Teachers and parents strive to inspire their students and children to become engaged and excited about the world around them.

As a parent, I loved discovering new ideas on how to have my children interact with nature when they were younger.  I believe that fostering this interest in learning played a large part in their ability to put themselves on their own paths to successful futures now that they're grown, because they learned how to ask questions and get excited about possibilities.  Looking back, their journeys began with picture books. There were so many that we read before bedtime.  Some of our favorites that featured nature were We're Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen, Owl Moon by Jane Yolen, and When Will It Be Spring? by Catherine Walters. 

Today, I'm excited to share a new picture book by Laura Roettiger called Aliana Reaches for the Moon.  This story is centered on the process of discovery and creative interaction with the natural world by a young girl as she creates a birthday gift for her brother. I anticipate that children will enjoy looking for clues about the gift Aliana makes in subsequent re-readings, and will be inspired to make marvelous creations of their own. 

Laura took time out of her schedule to share some insights about her new book. The book's birthday is tomorrow, February 19, so you will be able to bring this book into your own personal libraries to enjoy with the young readers in your life! 

What was your inspiration for Aliana Reaches for the Moon?

The inspiration for the story comes from a few different people and observations that I have woven together.  I moved from Chicago, Illinois to the mountains west of Boulder, Colorado in July 2016. It was the first time I lived away from the light pollution of a city and I was amazed by the brightness of the full moon. This is what starts Alianas journey in the book. Aliana is based on my own daughters and some of the wonderful children I taught in Chicago at Carlos Fuentes Charter School.

Your story is set in Colorado. What are some of your favorite outdoor places to explore in Colorado and beyond?

Colorado has so many ways to enjoy the outdoors. I had vacationed in Colorado many times including ski trips, hiking, river rafting, and a little mountain biking. Now that I live here, I hike trails with my Goldendoodle Charlie in all seasons. One of the biggest differences between living here and Chicago is the amount of time spent enjoying nature. My "backyard" is National Forest, so I can hike from my house or drive a few miles to a variety of trails. I've also learned to snowshoe which is an amazing workout. Several years ago, I took a hiking trip on the Oregon-Washington border seeing amazing waterfalls near the Columbia River Gorge. Minus the waterfalls, it's very much like that here. 

Do you have any favorite artists that combine science and art, perhaps like Aliana does?

I love impressionism. Artists like Monet, Degas, and Pissaro and their Post-Impressionist disciples Van Gogh, Seurat, and Gauguin have inspired me. I'm not sure if they combined science and art like da Vinci is known for, but I'm sure there are connections. My writing and photography are the way I express my art.

What were some of your favorite books when you were younger?

My favorite books included Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Sydney Taylor's All of a Kind Family, and all of the Beverly Cleary books.

What is your typical day like as a writer? No real typical day. 

What is your favorite advice to share?

Author Laura Roettiger (on Left), signing a copy for a reader
Advice for writers: Join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), connect with other writers as much as possible - if you write picture books, Julie Hedlund's 12x12 Picture Book Challenge is an excellent source of support and education. Read widely, especially in the genre you write in. It’s important to study craft by reading and knowing what works and why. Be patient, because publishing is a long slow process.

Advice to support writers: Buy the book for yourself or to give as a gift. In addition to that, some of the other ways that are free and also valuable to writers include requesting a book from the library. Libraries make purchases based on patron requests. Write reviews online at Amazon and Goodreads. You can submit reviews on books you purchased elsewhere or read from the library. Talk about the books you enjoy. Recommendations from word of mouth are an important factor in purchasing books.

Find more information about Laura and connect with her at her website:

Saturday, November 17, 2018

12 Gifts for the Writer to help them (and you) Survive NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo is well underway - the month where writers commit to writing every day in order to bring a novel length book into existence. I'm actually cheating this year with a modified month of writing. The first half was dedicated to a new picture book text which I researched and wrote during the first half of the month (note the break to self allowed for writing this post), while the second half of the month will be dedicated to finishing a novel that is already half-written. See the justification? I am looking forward to finishing it with the same sense of urgency experienced by everyone else by leaving myself with only half of a month to do it, because the first half of the month was dedicated to another project.

Yet, here I am, about to dive in, and already I've thought ahead as to the list of things I will need to survive. Since I am a person whom others depend on for food, I hope you will see that this list stems from a altruistic desire to see others in my family survive as well. Their survival ultimately depends on my survival.

Because I am not all that much of an extra-ordinary kind of human being, I am willing to bet that some of the items on this list will resonate with others, so here goes. If you are a writer yourself, pass this list on to the others you live with. If you interact with a writer who holds special significance in your life, take note!

1. Turkey. Yes. Get the turkey.

If you live in the US of A, guess what? In six days I am willing to bet that your household is counting on a roasted turkey, and with your Writer-in-Residence spending his or her free-time sitting at the computer, pounding on the keys, that Turkey is not going to get itself bought and dressed and roasted by itself.

Plus, time is of the essence, because that turkey is going to need to be thawed before cooking, and it takes a couple days of fridge-time to do it. So, off to the market you go! Turkey.

2. Bubbly, as in drinks that Sparkle and Fizz. Lots of them. A variety.

Why? Because we are at Day 17 in NaNoWriMo, which means that your Writer is probably at the midpoint in their novel. The Muddy Middle. And quite frankly, it may suck.

It's one of those dreaded places where writers can get lost, feel adrift, be left wondering if the end will ever be in sight. So, bubbly is most needed now. And because you love your Writer-Friend-Mother-Father-Brother-Whoever-They-Are in your life, you should help them. Better yet, think of it as helping yourself. Their state-of-mind = your state-of-mind.

I plan on starting my NaNoWriMo task off with something bubbly, since I last left my book when it was approaching the Muddy Middle. And already, because bubbly drinks leave me feeling a slight bit more happy, I am looking forward to it, instead of dreading it. My mindset is altered to the positive, simply because the fizz and the sparkles lend themselves to celebration. So, help your writer celebrate! They are half-way to their destination!

3. Eye protection. You may wonder if I am missing the mark with this one. After all, the writing life hardly seems like any sort of dangerous undertaking. But apparently, staring at a digital screen with its unceasing load of high-energy blue light that streams directly into the Writer's eyeballs--which are basically connected to your Writer's brain--can disrupt sleep patterns. And... because mesmerized eyeballs do not blink as much, Writers connected to computers may be prone to dry eye and eye fatigue.

Plus, if a lack of sleep and irritated, uncomfortable eyeballs isn't enough to get you searching the internet for more information before practicing your purchasing power, too much exposure to blue light can damage the cells on the all-important retina. Vision problems associated with the cornea and lens can be corrected, but not those vision problems associated with the retina. Damage to the retina is nearly impossible to fix.

So, a strong dose of preventative medicine here could be an unnoticed blessing, which you'll know you can be thankful for with each day that passes where you don't need to invest in a Braille keyboard.

4. Popsicle Sticks. What? Well, perhaps I mean finger splints.

I have joints in my fingers that get a little achy with prolonged periods of typing. Plus, I have a broken pinky, that never healed itself after a break about 5 years ago. For a while, I had an unwieldy popsicle-stick-splint on my finger so that I could hit the keys for the letters P and O, along with the punctuation marks on the right side of the keyboard. To this day--5 years later--sometimes hitting those letters still leaves me wincing, and wondering if I can write words that don't need the letters of O and P.

Which is silly. So then I look for a splint. Which I never seem to have on hand.

Because I doubt I am the only person on the planet with this annoying ailment, I suggest popsicle sticks at the ready. Or finger splints, rather, as better educated peeps might attest. And they actually exist.

It's an item that easily can be added to the grocery list under Turkey and Bubbly.

5. Sweets. Again, a variety. So that your Writer-in-Residence is reminded of the variety of life, whose details can be brought into their unfolding story.

Starburst, Skittles, Mints, Chocolate, although personally, I have lost my taste for Chocolate. I don't know why, but I realized as I stopped at the store for headache medicine the other day that I have a new fondness for pastries. Which Definitely is Not a good fondness to develop.

Yet, I decided then and there that with a headache on in full-force, I deserved comfort food in the form of mile-high, ready-made, frosted cinnamon buns. Usually, I am a food snob and walk past such delectables, thinking that really good cinnamon buns must come from a really good bakery. Unfortunately, I discovered that the buns from my local store are pretty darn tasty.

So, with hesitation, I add Sweets, a.k.a, Cinnamon Buns to the list.

6. Hydration. If you refer back to the Bubbly at Item 2, and note that you opted for the alcoholic kind, you'll want to take additional measures to stay hydrated.

I had both legs and both feet cramp up on me at the same time after swimming one day last week because I forgot to drink water during the day--which may explain the headache....  Anyway, I nearly passed out from the agony and had a hard time walking for a bit. It would be a bummer to find your significant Writer-in-Residence passed out from dehydration with their face pressed to the keyboard, effectively filling page after page with strings of non-sensical letters of JKjkkkkkkkkkklklkkklgkgkgkkgkgkgkkkhk.

Therefore, keep your writer's brain sustained with lots of liquid hydration. Born of the planet. H2O. Filtered.

7. Bananas, along with Calcium and Magnesium supplements. See number 6. Feed the muscle in the brain. Keep it happy, keep it relaxed.

8, 9, and 10. Music, Photos, Namaste. Enough said.
Feed the Writer soul.
Stay connected to the wider world.
I'm at a time limit here, so it's back to work for me.

NaNoWriMo, and carry on!

Thursday, October 18, 2018

4 Reasons Why Fall is a Great Time for Writers and 5 Quotes for Inspiration

Fall is a great time for writers. Here are three reasons why this season recharges my soul.

1. Step outside and the senses are sharpened.  Sight, Touch, Taste, Smell, Sounds - those key tools in a writer's toolbox are quickly awakened. 

With the rush of cool air across the skin or into the lungs, with the bright colors changing across the landscape from morning to night, with both new and familiar smells of foods offered up at regional harvest festivals, there is an invigorating sense of a larger world around us and our connections to it.

2. Along with this seasonal realigning of the senses also comes a sense of urgency in both tackling new projects or wrapping up old ones as the holidays bob on the horizon.  Writers and illustrators have 2 different community challenges available to participate in during the fall season: Inktober and NaNoWriMo

I've loved watching the sketches done by my illustrator friends show up in my social media feeds during Inktober. Getting a glimpse of their talent from day to day is another kind of inspiration for the creative spirit.

3. The swift transitions in weather and temperature can offer unexpected surprises - both good and bad. Experiencing them reminds me of getting beyond the climax of a good book and on the way to a satisfying ending.

Brisk mornings that unwind into pleasant, warm afternoons remind us to take hold of opportunity when it presents itself because soon the warmer temperatures will lead to cooler ones at night. Although cooler nighttime temperatures can offer their own rewards - a warm fire in the hearth, a cozy blanket on the sofa, a cup of hot tea or cider steaming beneath our lips.

4. As the year's end approaches, the Fall season offers a final opportunity to readjust and establish goals. I write both picture books and middle grade novels, and this November I plan on jumping into NaNoWriMo to spur myself on to finishing a novel that I've already started. I've got a bit of a head start, so call me a cheater, but I prefer to think of it as having my course already scouted and mapped. The big trick will be sitting down daily to reach the final destination. But I am already beginning to get tingled with the anticipation of working through it.

Here are some great quotes from writers that I like to believe were inspired by interactions with nature.

"The bluebird carries the sky on its back." - Henry David Thoreau

"I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars." - Walt Whitman

"Never lose an opportunity to see anything beautiful, for beauty is God's handwriting. - Ralph Waldo Emerson

"Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul - and sings the tunes without the words - and never stops at all." - Emily Dickinson

"If you look the right way, you can see the whole world is a garden." - Frances Hodgson Burnett

Happy writing!

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Lists: A Tool in Writing and Life

Years ago I attended a presentation by children's author Claudia Mills on the art of keeping lists. From what I recall, Claudia is an ardent list maker and list keeper. She has journals of lists of all sorts. The fascinating thing is that she never throws a list away -- even when she has reached the end of a to-do list with each item neatly crossed off because she regards her lists like a journal, or a time capsule of things she has done or was planning to do.

Lists are not only a useful tool for navigating daily living. They are a useful tool for writers. There are so many ways that lists can be used. In an online conference yesterday, I learned that even author David Shannon makes lists to improve the books he is working on.

Although I am sure we all know what a list can be, here is a list of possible lists that you might find useful.

1. Character names and their traits
2. Things to fix in a manuscript as you read through a draft - this will keep you from slowing down when you want a general scope of how a story arc is shaping up.
3. Tasks to get done for the professional side of your work
4. Tasks for the personal side of your life
5. Brainstorm lists, like for titles of your next book that is ready to submit
6. Books you would like to read
7. Resolution lists that include healthy habits
8. Shopping lists that include chocolate (mine always include chocolate)
9. Favorite authors
10. Favorite artists
11. Motivational songs
12. Types of settings or places you come across that seem interesting
13. Favorite quotes
etc etc etc

Of course, as writer Lauren Laverne points out, lists may help keep our priorities in perspective and give us a sense of control, many of the best and most interesting things in life happen by accident and without any planning....

Happy unplanned things like:

sharing a smile with a stranger or a good laugh with a friend,
helping yourself to another slice of the perfect apple pie for dessert,
or taking a long awaited call out of the blue in the middle of the day in the middle of sentence you were just speaking....

Certainly none of these things were on anyone's list for their day. The unplanned pleasant surprises make life worth living.

So make your lists and remember to refer back to them, but keep your soul planted firmly in the present and the people you love keeping close.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Meet children's author Henry Herz and his 3 new books

For any author, the arrival of new book is much like the birth of child. We share the news with our friends and family, plan book birthday parties for our readers, and wait with anticipation for the date when busy-ness can begin.  I imagine author Henry Herz's schedule will be over-the-top crazy busy with the release of 3 different picture books from three different publishers at about the same time. 

In a sense, Henry Herz is having triplets! 

The names of his new books for children are: 
GOOD EGG AND BAD APPLE (Schiffer 2018) 
ALICE'S MAGIC GARDEN (Familius 2018) 

Henry was kind enough to take time out of his schedule to answer some questions about his books and his writing process. So sit back, enjoy, and check out his newest children's books as well as his his previously published titles.

1. How long have you been writing? Was becoming a published writer always a part of your career plans?

I began writing fiction about ten years ago, solely with the intent of getting my young sons interested in reading fantasy. I had no idea then that I'd be bitten by the writing bug or that it would lead to traditional picture book publication. So, it was never a part of my career plan. But now I'm glad I discovered writing. I've met some amazingly talented people. KidLit is a tightly knit and supportive community.

2. What were your favorite books or characters as a child?

Dr. Seuss and WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE (of course). Like most boys, I enjoyed cartoons like Jonny Quest and Spiderman. I also had picture book versions of Kipling's Just So stories and MOBY DICK! I was a ravenous reader, and started THE LORD OF THE RINGS in sixth grade. That sent me down the path of fantasy and science fiction, and I'm a big fan of those genres to this day.

3. What are your favorite children's books or characters now? Are any the same as those from your childhood?

I'm still a huge fan of WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE. My other favorite picture books, and there are many, are newer releases and include: THIS IS NOT MY HAT, JOURNEY, A SICK DAY FOR AMOS MCGEE, TEA REX, ZOMBIE IN LOVE, WHEN YOU GIVE A MOUSE A COOKIE, and THE FANTASTIC FLYING BOOKS OF MR. MORRIS LESSMORE. Technically, young adult books are considered children's books, and there are a TON of great YA fantasy authors, like Maggie Stiefvater, Victoria Schwab, and Laini Taylor.

4. You have some interesting and unique main characters in your books -- ranging from an Imp, to a Cuttlefish, to an Apple, etc., -- so in the writing process, which comes first for you? The character or the idea for the story?
It varies – it's a creative process, after all. In one case, I wanted to do a fractured fairy tale, and thought it would be fun to substitute a cuttlefish for Little Red Riding Hood. In another case, I saw an illustrated refrigerator magnet featuring a bunch of angry anthropomorphic vegetables. The caption read “Steamed vegetables”. Boom – I had my characters, and built up a food idiom-heavy story around them. With HOW THE SQUID GOT TWO LONG ARMS, I started with the character of a larcenous squid, inspired by Klassen's fish in THIS IS NOT MY HAT.

5. Bullying is a theme that appears in two of your upcoming books, particularly in GOOD EGG AND BAD APPLE. Is that coincidence, or is that an important topic for you?

I do feel that bullying is an important topic to address in children's books. If kids are encouraged to be kind, they grow up to be kind adults. That said, my themes usually pick me in the sense that ideas pop into my head, and either stick or don't. For example, SQUID's theme is “do unto others” (or perhaps, “karma is a b*#ch”). I have an as yet unsold manuscript with the theme of the Law of the Hammer (just because you have a hammer doesn't make every problem a nail). Another unsold manuscript has the theme “you can learn from everyone, although sometimes you learn what NOT to do”.

6. Readers will recognize many of characters in Alice's Magic Garden as those from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. Would you like to talk about your inspiration for ALICE'S MAGIC GARDEN and the connections you hope readers will make?
It might surprise you to learn that I didn't base my story on Alice at first. The original inspiration for ALICE'S MAGIC GARDEN was actually the Caldecott-winning A SICK DAY FOR AMOS McGEE by Philip and Erin Stead. My idea was to have a lonely little girl care for the plants and creatures in her backyard. Her love transforms (or reveals) some of the mundane critters as fae – a dragonfly would transform into a tiny dragon, etc. Then the fae care for Rosie when she gets sick.

The credit goes to my Familius editor, David Miles, who initially suggested a Victorian setting to lend a dreamier feel to the story. I renamed the protagonist to Alice, and changed the fae to match characters from Alice in Wonderland. David then encouraged me to create further parallels, and down the rabbit hole I went.

Carroll's final paragraph is exactly the feeling I want readers of my book to experience:

“Lastly, she pictured to herself how this same little sister of hers would, in the after-time, be herself a grown woman; and how she would keep, through all her riper years, the simple and loving heart of her childhood: and how she would gather about her other little children, and make their eyes bright and eager with many a strange tale, perhaps even with the dream of Wonderland of long-ago: and how she would feel with all their simple sorrows, and find a pleasure in all their simple joys, remembering her own child-life, and the happy summer days.”

7. Squid's facial expressions in HOW THE SQUID GOT TWO LONG ARMS are comically priceless. The book seems to offer a perfect pairing between text and illustration. Did you have any input on what your character would look like, or did your words inspire the artwork created by Luke Graber on their own?

I provided general illustration notes, including what kind of clothing the characters wore, but Luke deserves all the credit for the hilarious facial expressions and character designs. I wanted this to be a sparse book – originally five of the thirteen spreads were wordless, which would really put the emphasis on the illustrations. But my editor overruled me on that approach.

8. Do you have a favorite time and place to write?

I don't have a favorite time to write, other than a time without distraction. I almost always write at my home office, because I have a comfortable setup with my desk and computer. Occasionally, I'll write by hand if I'm out and about.

9. Are there any special routines you have to keep the creative process flowing?

On the one hand, I don't feel I can order myself to “be creative.” That said, there are some lessons I've picked up along the way. First, you never know when a good idea will show up in your head. So, always write them down. I keep a list of as-yet unwritten ideas. Second, it is perfectly fine to set aside a manuscript if you get stuck. Sometimes letting a few days or weeks elapse freshens your perspective. The corollary to that is to have multiple stories on which you work, so you can shift focus as needed. Last, read in the market for which you're writing and be observant of the world around you. Both will spark your creativity.

10. Do you have any advice for new writers?
In addition to the advice in the prior response, I'd say “slow down”. Hone your craft before rushing to submit to agents or editors (or self-publish). Develop a thick skin, because the industry involves an enormous amount of rejection. And be persistent, because you'll never get published if you quit before an editor falls in love with your manuscript. I have a full article on this subject at

11. Do you have many opportunities throughout the year to visit schools or bookstores to connect with your readers?

Yes, I have a busy fall/winter schedule because of the three new picture books. Here are some events at which I'll be speaking and signing:

San Diego Festival of Books (San Diego) – Aug 25
Cal Aero Preserve Academy (Chino) – Sept 14
Barnes & Noble (Glendora) – Sept 14
SCBWI Writers & Illustrator's Day (Fullerton) – Oct 6
Mysterious Galaxy Books (San Diego) – Oct 7
Barnes & Noble (Point Loma) – Oct 13
Scripps Birch Aquarium (La Jolla) – Oct 20
Warwick's Bookstore (La Jolla) – Oct 28
Intro to Writing Picture Books (Liberty Station) – Nov 18

If you would like to learn more about Henry Herz and his books, visit him at his website, or like his page on Facebook, or follow him on Twitter! Those links and information are below! 

Website: (includes full details on Henry's books and events)
Facebook: @Henry.Herz
Twitter: @HenryLHerz