Archive for May, 2011

Hot Button Memories

May 31, 2011

While choosing fresh vegetables at a farmer’s market, I wandered upon an unusual jewelry display.  A woman had fashioned bracelets and rings out of old buttons that acted as a door to decades in the past. 

“Wow!  I can see this on a 1940s coat,” I said, examining a large green button. 

The woman at the booth pointed to a pink button on a bracelet that jangled at her wrist.  “I remember the exact housedress my mother wore,” she said. 

Just the other day when I rummaged around in my closet I came upon a box of buttons my mother had given us. When my son was little he loved playing with those buttons.  Now it was my turn to treasure them.  “If I gave you some buttons will you make me. . .”

“Sure!  People do it all the time,” she answered. 

I couldn’t wait to get home.  Digging out the button box, I felt like a kid, spreading the buttons on the table, sorting them into colors.  Sadly, I didn’t have any concrete memories of the outfits they had been attached to.

Until one flipped over.  There!  Black and white material, still on the button!   An image of my mother wearing the white and black dress she had made, her trim figure standing with her enviable posture next to me in church, with a little black veil on her head.  Or if we had forgotten our veils, we’d attach a piece of Kleenex with a bobby pin.

Of course, that day at the farmers market I walked out of there with a $15 bracelet, and a longing to come back with my very own buttons. 

Writing prompts:

  1. Find an object of your past that brings a flash of an old memory for you.  Write about that memory.  Can you recreate a scene? 
  2. Choose a button or a piece of clothing.  Let it take you back to a memory.  Write about it as if it were today.  Then change it slightly and make it fiction.  What could have happened?  You can star in this yourself, or create a completely new character. 
  3. Interview a member of your family about a special piece of clothing.  What was their favorite thing they EVER wore?  Why?
  4. Write about your favorite piece of clothing.  What makes it special?  Using details, describe what it looks like and how it makes you feel when you wear it.

Dog Survives Incredible Tornado – – And Makes his Way Home

May 26, 2011

What an amazing story of courage from this cute little dog!   View the video and then write about his adventure from his point of view.

Young Writers

May 25, 2011

On Saturday,  May 21, the California Writers Club, Mt. Diablo Branch held it’s annual Young Writers Contest Banquet at Zio Fraedo’s Restaurant in Pleasant Hill.  The twenty-seven award-winning students along with their teachers, family and friends were invited to eat the delicious banquet Tony and his efficient staff prepared, receive their cash, and their lovely awards created by Joanne Brown.

Guest speaker editorial agent and former Tricycle editor Abigail Samoun spoke about actually being an editor.  To the threatening sounds of  the music known from JAWS, we saw on the screen before us an actual room filled with slush pile manuscripts. (Yes, we WERE frightened!  We could have gotten smothered by those stacks of large manilla envelopes!)  The young writers discovered that slush refers to  manuscripts sent to the publisher without an agent.    The audience learned how busy editors really are, and found out it can take years for a manuscript to turn into an actual book and appear on bookstore or library shelves.

Congratulations to all of the winners of this contest, and to everyone who took the big step and risk of putting pen to paper and writing.  Each time you bare your soul on paper, it is a risk.  You are brave!   Congratulations to everyone who entered the contest.  Each time you do something brave like this, you learn and grow.  We hope if you are a Contra Costa middle school student next fall, you will enter your short stories, poems, and personal narratives again.  It doesn’t cost anything but the postage.  And you can start writing this summer!  Hope to see you at our FREE July 27 writing workshop at the Clayton Public Library!


On Tuesday, May 24, I visited Mrs. Laird’s fourth grade classroom and the students impressed me with their intelligent questions, comments and ease at writing.  The moment Mrs. Laird turned on classical music, the kids’ pens hit their paper and didn’t stop moving until the music came to an end. 

Wow!  Very cool!  Most classrooms I visit today don’t have time for writing, and when I ask them to pick up their pen to write, kids are plain stumped.  “How shall I begin?”  they may ask.  “What if I spell something wrong?”  They don’t realize that first drafts are the place to make spelling mistakes!  It’s okay!  It’s fine to be messy or to make a punctuation error.  In a first draft, you just want to WRITE! 

I was very proud of how well this class wrote, and how eager they were to share their writing.  It was wonderful how they included their personal thoughts and feelings in their words. 

At one point in my talk, I mention an author I interviewed for my book, The ABCs of Writing for ChildrenJane Yolen likes to say BIC is the most important rule for being a writer.  I agree!  What did the kids think BIC stood for?  They talked with partners and came up with some possibilities:

Brain in classroom

Butt in conversation         (Hmm.  This could be a funny story, but I’d hate to assign it . . .)

Butt idea chair

And finally, one group got the answer Jane came up with:  Butt in chair! 

How can you be a writer?  Sit down and write!  Turn off all of the distractions in your life and pay attention to the sounds in your head!  Write your thoughts, feelings, senses, and memories.  Create characters, stories, poems and combine them with art if you can.  Let your imagination run wild!  But you can’t do that if you don’t take time. Sit. Let you mind wander and pick up a pen.   

As one student told Mrs. Laird, “Now that Liz came to our school, I know what to write:  moments from our lives.” 

They don’t have to be big moments.  Some of the best writing can be a small detail that makes all the difference in your world.

Writing Prompts:

1.  Write about one small (or big) thing that happened today to make you smile.

2.  Take out the last story or piece that you wrote.  Now add a sensory description.  Is there a sight, sound, taste, touch, or smell you can add that will give your piece more depth and make the reader feel like he or she was really there?  Can you add more than one?

3.  Recently, I posted a photo of a gopher that my husband took onto an online sharing site. I thought a couple of people might think it was cute.  Twenty-five people began a discussion about it! Who knew so many people could talk so much about a little gopher?  Something so un-important became a heated discussion!  Write a conversation where you say one little thing and suddenly people react in ways you’d never imagine!

4.  Keep a diary/journal for one week.  You don’t have to write everything that happens to you.  Just choose one thing each day that you want to write about. What will you choose?  Whatever you choose, make the reader feel like he or she is right with you by writing your thoughts, feelings, and a sensory description.  You can even put in some dialogue!

5.  Write about an animal you have met or known.  Make that animal come alive!  Describe it.  Make it move.  How did it make you feel?

Figment: A Writing Site for Kids

May 19, 2011

Article about Figment from Publisher’s Weekly:–1-million-to-a-literary-site-called-figment—and-it-s-not-imaginary.html?utm_source=Publishers+Weekly%27s+Children%27s+Bookshelf&utm_campaign=a238a8a58e-UA-15906914-1&utm_medium=email

Figment itself and its contests:

Throw Unusual Characters Together

May 18, 2011

A friend sent me the video below, which made me think of how some of the best writing can come out of making two very different characters interact  in a scene.

What happens?  Will there be conflict?  Friendship?  Humor? 

Add to the mix, make one or both of the characters be a “fish out of water.”   The uncomfortable feeling in an unlikely setting can add to the humor and/or conflict.

* Place a cowboy and a circus performer in a fancy ballroom with a king and queen.   Why are they there?  What happens next?

*A gang of thieves kidnap a Hollywood actress and a Harvard professor.  Why?  What happens next?

*Or write about the unlikely friendship in the video below.  Why did they become friends?  What happens next?

Wimpy Kid Contest, California Writers Club Young Writers Contest Banquet, and Pleasant Hill History Contest

May 16, 2011

Enter the Wimpy Kid Contest!   $500 for you and $1000 for your library!

Deadline is June 10, 2011  For more information and guidelines, visit:


Remember:    This Saturday, May 21, is the California Writers Club, Mt. Diablo Branch’s Young Writers Contest Banquet which will be held at Zio Fraedo’s Restaurant in Pleasant Hill. 

    • As we’ll have many guests, REGISTRATION WILL OPEN AT 11:00 AM, a half hour earlier than our regular 11:30 schedule.
    • To acknowledge this special event, the cost per guest is reduced to $20 per person, the equivalent of our regular member rate.
      • Sign-in:  11:00 a.m. – noon; Buffet Lunch
      • Presentation follows
      • Zio Fraedo’s Restaurant, 611 Gregory Lane, Pleasant Hill, CA, 94523

      About Abigail Samoun

      Abi has worked in children’s publishing for over a decade. During that time she’s edited board books, picture books, middle-grade novels, and early young-adult novels for Tricycle Press, Random House, Simon & Schuster, and Little, Brown. Her books have received numerous honors including a CCBC Charlotte Zolotow award, an SCBWI Golden Kite, a Pura Belpre Honor, a Smithsonian Notable, and a New York Public Library Ezra Jack Keats award.

      Abigail also edited the middle grade series Edgar & Ellen which has sold over a quarter of a million copies worldwide and inspired a cartoon series on Nickelodeon. She has just launched a brand-new children’s literary agency with agent extraordinaire Karen Grencik.

      For YOUR reservation, please send an e-mail to Joanne Brown.  by noon May 18.  Seating is limited. 

    • _____________________________________________________________
    • Pleasant Hill History Writing Contest
    • More information will be posted here this summer, but in honor of Pleasant Hill, California’s 50th anniversary as a city, there will be a middle school writing contest with $ awards $ for essays about living in Pleasant Hill.  Students may research and interview people to discover the rich history of Pleasant Hill. 

Grandparent-Grandchild Writing Workshop

May 10, 2011

On Saturday, May 14, California Writers Club member Kathy Urban will facilitate a Grandparent-Grandchild Writing Workshop from 10:00 to 11:45 a.m.

Grandparents have a wealth of stories to tell, and so do kids. Share your memories by writing a story together. Children in grades three to six are invited to accompany a grandparent and learn the keys to crafting an engaging story. Bring a notebook and pencil to Dublin Senior Center, 7600 Amador Valley Boulevard in Dublin.

For more information, call the senior center at 925-556-4511 or contact Kathy at

Kids! Write Book Reviews!

May 9, 2011

Junior Editors and Wordplay Summer Writing Camp


Are you an opinionated reader? Do you like to write and talk about books? Join our lively team of Junior Editors to read soon-to-be-published books and learn how to compose and edit book reviews.

We meet four times throughout the summer on Thursday evenings:

June 23 

July 7

July 21

 August 4

(The program works best if participants attend at least three out of four sessions. We have a big Press Release Party in the fall to celebrate the publication of our newsletter, A Bookworm’s Feast containing reviews from each editor.)

Emerging Editors Ages 7-9 5-6:30 p.m.

Junior Editors Ages 10-up 7-8:30 p.m.

$110 new members $100 returning members

(Cost includes reading material, light snack and copies of our culminating publication.) PICK UP A REGISTRATION FORM AT THE STORYTELLER, OR EMAIL

WORDPLAY SUMMER WRITING CAMP: Join us for a week of playful storytelling and poetry! Learn how to set up a writer’s notebook, create characters, develop plot, structure verses, and paint pictures with words.

Ages 8-10; 11-up June 27-July 1 10-11:30am

$110 new members $100 returning members

Cost includes notebook, light snack, author visit as well as copies of our culminating lit ‘zine, Word Waves.

Both age groups will meet simultaneously with different activities and instruction.



Writing From Your Own Life

May 4, 2011

You may not realize it, but as you live your daily life, you are creating memories, details and history that is invaluable for you, for other writers, researchers and historians.

I wish I had kept a diary as a teenager.  Not one where I wrote every thing I did every day, but one where I jotted down important feelings that moved me.  What did someone say that hurt my feelings?  What did someone do that made me feel great?  What were the details about school that I loved?  What were the ones that made my stomach turn?

My father and his brothers and sisters kept journals.  They are tiny little books with itty-bitty lines.  For instance, during one of the most horrifying times of their lives, when their brother Leo became ill with what they later learned was an infected appendix, words in the diary reflect this:

“Leo sick.”

“Leo worse.”

“Doctor called.”

“Leo’s operation. ”

“Leo died.”

No thoughts, or feelings of sadness or grief, or shock.   Since there were no antibiotics in 1925, after Leo’s surgery on the kitchen table in their farm house, Leo lingered a few days and then passed away at home.   His body was in a casket in the parlour, as was customary at that time, where a rosary was said before the funeral service in the nearby Catholic church. 

But none of this was in any of the Koehler’s diaries.  Just the facts.  Midwestern Catholic German farmers were stoic; they shed tears but they moved on.    My aunt told me she remembered her mother placing her head on the kitchen table and silently crying.  Then she wiped her eyes and finished her farm chores. 

I asked dad as a youngster, was he ever afraid of the dead bodies which were in their living rooms?  He shook his head no.  Death was so much a part of life.

Or perhaps he was afraid but just no longer remembered those feelings of so long ago?

Over the years, life has changed.  Feelings and thoughts are expressed more freely.   Reading about a character’s thoughts and feelings help the reader identify with the character. 

So take a moment in your busy life and express your feelings now and then on paper.  It may help you in your own writing.