A Mountain of Words to Help Voices Be Heard

“I feel like this country doesn’t want to know about me or my life but that is why we are doing the magazine. So that we can give kids a voice. So that they know we care about them.”

-Word on the Street Online Magazine participant, 13 years old

During this heated time in our country, it’s so important that our youth, families, and communities feel empowered to share their voices, and I’m incredibly grateful to be a part of that work.  This year, Asheville Writers in the Schools & Community launched Word on the Street, a bilingual online magazine run by teens of color so that youth locally and globally can share their perspectives through creative expression.

We also continued our Family Voices program, placing writers in classrooms to share literacy skills and build a creative classroom community, and inviting families to come together for food and creative writing in the evenings.  The students and families then publish their stories, poems, and artwork in an anthology.  When I see my students who have participated in the past, the first thing they usually tell me is, “I still have my book!”

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“My hands are old, tight, closed, very hard to work with.  Wrinkled, brown, long.  They have been through a lot in life.”

-Writing and Artwork from Family Voices at Hall Fletcher Elementary, 2016

Next weekend, Asheville Writers inthe Schools & Community will be hosting the 4th Annual Mountain of Words Write-a-thon to support these programs and keep kids feeling that this country does want to know about their life and care about them.  Here are some ways you can help:

  • Sponsor me in the Write-a-thon!  Next weekend, I will spend time writing as much as I can as a way to show my support for Asheville Writers in the Schools & Community… and for the sake of my own writing.  Donations will help programs like Family Voices and Word on the Street to continue and grow.  You can sponsor me here, or send a check to 347 Kenilworth Dr., Asheville, NC 28805 with my name in the memo line.
  • Join us for the Write-a-thon this Saturday, November 19, 1-4 p.m. at Malaprop’s Bookstore.  Bring your laptop or notebook, friends and family, and spend a couple of hours writing in community with some of our featured writers . We’ll have writing prompts for those that want them as well as some fun writing activities and favors for the kids. Plus, we’ll have an open mic for those that want to share.
  • Volunteer with Asheville Writers in the Schools & Community.  We recognize that our community has a great variety of knowledge and talents to offer, and there are all kinds of ways that your skills can contribute to what we do.  Just click here and let us know in what ways you’re interested in helping out.
  • Spread the word!  Re-blogging, re-posting, and telling your friends are some of the easiest and biggest ways you can help.

We hugely appreciate any support you are able to give!

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Post-Election Post

The biggest reason that I write and teach the arts is because I believe that everyone has a story and that everyone’s voices deserve to be heard.  When I woke up after the election, I was hit with hopelessness, but then I tried to come up with every reason I could to feel hopeful.  One of the biggest is that people are voicing themselves about important things.

I grew up hearing that you don’t talk about politics.  Now, more than I can remember, racial equity, immigrant and refugee rights, gender equality, LGBTQ rights, and climate change are out on the table being talked about rather than swept under the rug.  My social media is filled with people sharing their grief, anger, and fears and lifting each other up.  This speaking out is such a huge step.

What’s missing is the other piece of conversation – listening.  There are people saying, “I don’t understand.  How could this have happened?” and then essentially disowning their friends and family who helped make it happen rather than listen for the answer.  I saw protesters outside of a Trump rally shouting, “Love Trumps Hate” with two middle fingers in someone’s face. And it wasn’t to be ironic.  For every Facebook post that has given me hope, there has been at least one response, sometimes from the someone of the opposing political party but often from within the same one, attacking the poster with hatred.

This country is divided enough.  Instead of driving these cuts deeper, can we begin to heal them so that we can continue taking steps forward?  I’ve never seen a situation where someone changed a person’s mind by attacking them.  But I have seen people who disagreed work through their differences by listening to each other and then work together to achieve something.  And we have a lot of work to do.Snapshot 3 (10-25-2014 11-21 PM) (2).jpg

I’m aware that people might attack me for posting this – for being too liberal or for being too soft when I should be outraged and call people out for supporting a hateful, intolerant candidate.  Or that I can say this because I’m white and privileged (which is totally true and valid).  If so, I will do my best to hear you.

But I’m not saying that I’m not outraged or that I accept unjust policies.  I’m saying that we should continue to fight even harder for social justice and human welfare and the environment.  I’m just saying that if we listen and try to understand each other, maybe we can fight from a place of love instead of hate.

Because I don’t think that love is too soft.  I think love might be the strongest thing we’ve got.

Thanks for listening. 🙂

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Halloweensie Writing Contest

Happy Halloween!  Six years in, and I’ve finally learned about Susanna Leonard Hill‘s fun Halloweensie Writing Contest.  The challenge is to write a 100 word children’s story about Halloween using the words Spider, Ghost, and Moon.

Check out her blog to read all of the great entries… and submit yours!

Here goes…

Halloween in Korea

No zombies, witches, or ghosts prowl the apartment building.  Just one tiger and her dad.

“Trick-or-treat,” says Teagan.  Her dad speaks a slew of Korean.

Jamkkanman,” they answer, then disappear.  They return with ginseng candy, a pear, or stickers for Teagan’s pillowcase.

One ajumma holds a fresh steamed bun in her spidery hand.  Teagan nibbles the warm red bean center.

Teagan knocks on Mr. Moon’s door.  Her dad bows.  When Mr. Moon disappears inside, he returns with a girl.  Teagan smiles and takes off her ears.

Now, two tigers prowl the apartment building on Halloween night.

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Create Great Characters with Me and Mr. Puffball Illustrator, Constance Lombardo!

Know any budding illustrators?  Check out this free, family-friendly art event with local author/illustrator of the Mr. Puffball books, Constance Lombardo and myself.  Get some tips on how to sketch a character to life, and then spend plenty of time drawing your own!

Hope to see you (and meet your newest character) at Firestorm Cafe in West Asheville on Sunday, November 6th at 11:00 a.m.

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Tim Bowers & my dog who made it in the Children’s Book World before I did

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This is Emma.

She was my woods-romping, tug-of-war-playing, stick-her-head-out-the-car-window-and-eat-the-wind-until-she-broke-wind, ice-cream-eating, adorable-looking, snuggling best friend from 1998-2011.

She is also a famous children’s book character.

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Tim Bowers, whose awesome illustrations you might recognize from over 35 picture books as well as widespread greeting cards, lives in my hometown of Granville, Ohio.  His daughter graduated high school with me, and I remember when he visited our class and gave us a lesson in character drawing.

Shortly after, he needed some models for his own character drawing.  Dog models.  Since Emma clearly won the genetic lottery for cuteness, I auditioned her for the part.  Although Emma was very modest, I was a proud mama when I learned that she had won the role of the title character’s mother in Laura Numeroff’s book, Sherman Crunchley.

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Tim did not only capture Emma’s likeness, he managed to capture her entire personality from just a photo.  Emma, who jumped in fright if she stepped on a stick and who barked nervously when a pumpkin appeared on the front porch, was perfect for the role of the sweet yet emotionally frail mother.

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Although this post is mostly a chance to show off my cute pooch, I’m also sharing it as a reminder that we are surrounded by real-life resources to inspire our art and our writing.

Carry a sketch pad or notebook with you to capture them, use your friends, hold contests, and come up with other innovative ways to draw from the world around you.  Not only is it a wealth of subject matter, engaging the community allows them to be a part of what you’re creating too!

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Radical Copyediting

I love writing because it inspires, empowers, and opens doors to new ideas and worlds.  But language can also be elitist, exclusive, and oppressive, sometimes in ways we don’t intend or are not even aware of.  Language, as my friend Alex eloquently puts it, transforms reality.

rad copyeditor

Alex is a radical copyeditor, a job they created to help authors to ensure that their words align with their values.  Check out Alex’s insightful radical copyeditor blog  for ideas on how you can use your words to empower, not oppress.

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Great Big Thank You

Book signingI just wanted to say an enormous THANK YOU to everyone who has shown up to my launch parties, spread the word about my book, cheered me on when I’ve felt insecure (it turns out that publication doesn’t make that go away, but sometimes affirming readers do!), and been otherwise supportive in so many ways since my book came out this spring… and long before!

It really struck me when I was heading to my hometown after writing a book about a guy returning to his hometown after writing a book.  Thomas Wolfe was met with death threats and boycotts of his book and went on to write You Can’t Go Home Again.  Well, I can.

I got to go home to a book signing overflowing with my family, childhood neighbors, grade school teachers, and old friends.  And that was after my current home, Asheville, surrounded me with friends and fellow writers, co-workers, students and their families at my book signings here.

I’m touched and so grateful for you!

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Feeling Writeous

I’m sitting in a coffee shop co-op, my elbow nearly touching a Black Lives Matter sign in the window, a donation jar for justice for Jerry Williams, a black man killed two weeks ago by a police officer in Asheville, replacing a tip jar on the counter, and feeling guilty about using my white middle class privilege to read SCBWI articles and brainstorm picture book ideas.

I’m always cautious about making my writing overly Peace Pencilspreachy and, because of my ethnicity and experiences, about being the wrong voice for the right cause.  So what good am I doing sitting here working on picture books if they are not directly speaking out about the injustices in the world?

I’m not telling you this just to alleviate my guilt or to justify my work, but because a poignant Teachers & Writers Magazine article arrived in my inbox on just this topic while I was sitting here, suggesting that I wasn’t the only writer out there feeling this way.  In case you’re struggling with the same, here are some reminders of a few of the many ways that children’s books can change the world.

  • Children’s book can encourage creative and imaginative ways of thinking.  Inspiring kids to think outside of the box can help them to become problem-solvers and world-changers.
  • Children’s books can impart knowledge and inspire a love of learning.
  • Children’s books can broaden kids’ worldview, which can foster tolerance and empathy.  Be conscious of the lens through which you are writing and make sure that your books are inclusive, tolerant, and caring.
  • Children’s books can create a soothing escape for kids experiencing turbulence in their own lives…
  • …or they can reflect that turbulence, give kids space to process difficult emotions and feel that they are not alone in them.
  • Children’s books can give kids a chance to see themselves as a hero and then give them the confidence to actually become one.
  • Children’s books can directly speak out against the injustices in the world.  They don’t need to be a security blanket or safe shelter for children.  Kids are often more curious about the world, intelligent, and mature than we give them credit for, and the very issues that adults think are too dark or difficult for kids are often the ones that motivate them.  If picture books only portray a perfect, peaceful world, kids won’t trust them when they learn that the world is not that way.  Kids need both – books that tell it like it is, and books that show the limitlessness of what can be.

The pen is still mightier than the sword (or maybe in today’s world, the keyboard mightier than the assault weapon).  Keep writing!

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Local KidLit Reading List: Part 2

And now, bringing you more awesome authors who double as awesome people… and who happen to live in my neck of the woods.  In case you missed it, here is Local KidLit Reading List: Part 1.

Middle Grade

Snakes and StonesSnakes & Stones

Why I’m excited to read it:

Another brilliant member of my critique group, Lisa Fowler has an incredible writing voice and sense of adventure.  While we got to see and give feedback on the first few chapters of this story, I still haven’t had a chance to see how it ends!

MaypopThe Maypop Kidnapping

Why I’m excited to read it:

Who doesn’t love a good kidnapping mystery?  C. M. Surrisi and I attend writers game nights together, and if her writing is anywhere near as clever as her Balderdash playing, then this book is well worth a read!

Saraswati

Saraswati’s Way

Why I’m excited to read it:

I love it when a book can transport me to a different part of the world.  And after hearing Monika Schroeder’s poignant keynote speech about when and how to authentically write about other cultures at last year’s SCBWI-Carolinas conference, I’m eager to see how she portrays culture in her own writing.

Diary from the EdgeMy Diary from the Edge of the World

Why I’m excited to read it:

The title alone is enough to make me want to pick this book up.  The fact that Jodi Lynn Anderson is so sweet and humble despite being a New York Times bestselling author and a killer pictionary player is just an added bonus.

Nine Pound HammerThe Nine Pound Hammer

Why I’m excited to read it:

Although this Hillsboro author is slightly less local than the others on this list, John Claude Bemis has a great regional presence, and his talks at Malaprop’s and SCBWI-Carolinas conferences have been lively and inspiring.  He just released the first book of his new series, Out of Abaton, but I have some catching up to do first.  Plus, I’m intrigued by the magical slant on this tall tale adventure.

Young Adult

Watch that Ends the NightThe Watch that Ends the Night

Why I’m excited to read it:

I have the feeling this book will have a lot to teach me about perspective.  Allan Wolf tells the Titanic story from 24 different points of view – including the iceberg’s!  Allan also happens to be an awesome supporter of Asheville Writers in the Schools & Community and an all around upstanding guy.

The Way I Used To Be

Why I’m excited to read it:

Amber Smith piqued my interest as a writer and as a person when I saw her speak on a YA panel last month.  This novel addresses the controversial but unfortunately relevant topic of rape, possibly opening the door a little bit wider for teens to feel comfortable talking about the subject.

BONUS: Adult

Fresh WaterFresh Water from Old Wells

Why I’m excited to read it:

No, it’s not kidlit, but I wanted to include this book on my list because it’s been way at the top of my reading list for many months, I am just a tragically slow reader.  This memoir not only tells about a tumultuous family dynamic during an important era of Southern history, it also tells of the author’s experience in writing it.  And because Cindy Henry McMahon also happens to be my good friend’s aunt, her story is one that I feel a special connection to.

It’s a good thing it’s summer, because it looks like I’ve got a lot of reading to do!  Please let me know if I’ve missed any great local reads, and I will get started on a Part 3.  Happy reading!

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Local KidLit Reading List: Part 1

When my first story was published in Spider Magazine, it was on the opposite side of a two page spread from a drawing by Quentin Blake and a few pages down from a Kate di Camillo story.  I was totally star struck.  But you know what’s just as cool?  Seeing my book on a shelf of regional authors in a local indie bookstore and personally knowing nearly every author whose books share the shelf.

A writer friend recently said to me, “You can’t throw a stone in Asheville and not hit a writer.”  And not just any writer.  Incredibly talented writers.  Overwhelmingly supportive writers who share their knowledge, root for each other, and even play games together.   I can’t wait to read some of their latest stories, and I recommend that you do, too!

Picture Books, Easy Readers, and Comic Books

 

Three SleepsThree Sleeps

Why I’m excited to read it:

A family therapist wrote this story that addresses issues of separation anxiety, which I see some of my students experience.  It is also available in Spanish, and the beautiful illustrations were painted by my friend’s wife, Shannon Cappezzali.

Carlos and CarmenCarlos & Carmen

Why I’m excited to read it:

Carlos & Carmen are twins from a Latino-American family.  They have all the adventures and challenges of typical American kids, but with a little more laughter and Spanish sprinkled in.  Kirsten McDonald, the author of this easy reader series, is a children’s librarian, so she knows what she’s talking about.  She is also in my critique group, so I got a sneak preview and even had some input on a few of these!

RSP 1Robot Samurai Penguins

Why I’m excited to read it:

J. Rutland is another writer from my critique group (yes, we are a very talented bunch), and he also paints the beautiful and extremely imaginative artwork in his Robot (Samurai) Penguins comic series.  And I have a few students in particular who I know are going to fall in love with the main penguin, Waddul.

Middle Grade

SerafinaSerafina and the Black Cloak

Why I’m excited to read it:

No list of Asheville kidlit would be complete without Serafina.  And yes, I am a bad person for being a local children’s author who has not read it.  It is a dark, suspenseful story set at the Biltmore Estate, and my students eat it up.  I’ll have to read it soon since the second book in the series is already out and a movie is on its way.  And although this is the first author on the list that I haven’t met personally, I hear that he is a nice guy with an interesting story of his own.

Puffball

Mr. Puffball: Stunt Cat to the Stars

Why I’m excited to read it:

I cheated on this one.  I’m excited to have already read it.  But I recommend it to you because it’s full of clever puns, cute cat pictures, and heart.  Plus the author and illustrator, Constance Lombardo, is one of the coolest cats in town herself.

 

How to steal a dogHow to Steal a Dog

Why I’m excited to read it:

I love books about dogs.  And this one was adapted into a film in South Korea!  The author of this one, Barbara O’Connor, looked fabulous in a feather boa and monocle at my book launch party’s photo booth, and I can’t wait to discover that her writing is just as fun.

 

Yound Adult

InvincibleInvincible

Why I’m excited to read it:

This novel about a girl’s struggle to fight cancer and, later, addiction to medication, is the book that I’m smack dab in the middle of right now.  I keep reading it at night to help me fall asleep, but end up staying awake longer because I want to keep reading.  Fortunately, when I get through it, I get to read the new sequel, Unforgivable.  My friend and mother of a sweet girl at one of my schools, Amy Reed, wrote this one.

Stay tuned… Local KidLit Reading List: Part 2 is coming soon!  I told you there were a lot of talented authors here.

 

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