Archive for November, 2013

What secret elements make a quest/adventure book great?

November 25, 2013

If you’d like to read a great new middle grade, choose Clare Vanderpool’s Navigating Early, a quest adventure story about a boy dealing with his mother’s death after WWII. Sent to a Maine boarding school, protagonist, Jack, is unhappy and feeling friendless until he’s intrigued with Early Arden, a unique character with a fascination about pi, who leads him through Appalachia.

Vanderpool’s poetic style lures the reader forward. Here is a scene where they fish with Gunnar, a minor character they meet on their journey. Gunnar carries an emotional, heart-wrenching past.

“You have a fine cast,” called Gunnar.

“I know. My brother taught me before he went to the war.” Early swished his line back and forth. The motion seemed to take him away somewhere.

Gunnar’s expression registered what he knew, what we all knew, of the fate of so many of those brothers who went to war. He looked at me, asking the question he didn’t want to say out loud. Did Early’s brother make it back?

I shook my head in answer. No, Fisher was dead.

Gunnar allowed the quiet to take over as Early moved farther out into the water and into his own thoughts.

Finally, Gunnar spoke, his voice so fluid and moving, it could have come from the river itself. “I once hear a poem about angling. It say when you send out your line, it is like you cast out your troubles to let the current carry them away. I keep casting.”

I liked the sound of that. The river pressed and nudged, each of us responding to it in different ways, allowing it to move us apart and into our own place within it.

Notice the unique dialogue of Gunnar, creating a fully formed person in just a few lines and a second layer of meaning within the words, so you’re not just reading a scene about fishing.

Another aspect which is fascinating about this book is how this Newbery Medal-winning author broke the rules. (In order to break the rules, you must first establish that you know them.) Although in writing adult novels (and nearly always in the movies), authors (and screenwriters) are allowed to fictionalize history for the sake of character and plot. In children’s books, this has been a distinct no-no. Why? We don’t want to confuse nonfiction facts with untruths for kids. But at the end of this book, Vanderpool has a page: PI: FACT OR FICTION? Here she lists the truths about this captivating number, since she has bent the truth within her story.

Writing Prompts:

1. Write a quest/adventure short story with the above elements in mind. Before you begin, think and wonder about your story, developing the plot and characters within you. Daydream, jot notes, and free write about the back story of each character first.

2. Can you write a quest poem? Any style you choose!

3. Create a piece of art with a quest/adventure theme.

4. As you begin reading a book, use post-it notes to mark the scenes that are evocative. Why do they work so well?

Question about California Writers Club Mt. Diablo/Young Writers Contest

November 20, 2013

Hi, I am wondering about next year’s contest: are we allowed to resubmit entries that we have already entered in last year’s competition? Even winning entries? When will the submissions for next year’s contest start? Thanks!

AlexandraHi Alexandra

Great question! Thank you for writing. A winning entry from last year would not win the following year. It would be disqualified. I’m sorry. (Yes, we do save the the winning entries.)

For the best chance at winning, you should begin a new piece, but if you really like an idea from a non-winning story/poem/essay last year, start fresh! Don’t even LOOK at your old draft. Hopefully, you are now a different, stronger writer and will write something so fun and terrific, it will surprise you and the judges! We can’t wait to read the entries!

You may submit as soon as the new guidelines are posted. I’m hoping this will be soon. I do know there will be a new award for humor writing. I will post the guidelines here as soon as I get the “A-Okay” to do so. Hope you’ll join our writing workshop at the Walnut Creek Library on Feb. 1, 2014. Ask your teacher for extra credit if you attend!

In the meantime, keep writing!

US Mint Contest for Artists: Design Coins & Medals

November 20, 2013

The United States Mint is seeking artists interested in taking coin and medal design in new directions and trying new approaches as part of our endeavor to ensure that the designs on United States coins and medals are of the highest quality to best represent our country for years to come.

Application Deadline: Jan 10, 2014

Work Samples to be uploaded by: Jan 28, 2014

Applicants Notified if Selected to Submit a Paid Drawing Exercise: by Feb 28, 2014

See more at:

Dogs In Mourning: Writing About Animals We Love

November 19, 2013

My friend S and her husband X were owned by two adorable Westies, Dolly and Duncan, buddies and comrades in squeaky toys, chew bones, running races in the park and protecting their home. Romping after squirrels, cuddling on the couch and greeting guests with snuggles and kisses, the two were inseparable.

A month ago, twelve-year-old Duncan fell ill with pancreatitis and never recovered. Losing him was a terrible blow to S and X, but even worse on poor Dolly. Instead of her usual zip and zing, Dolly mopes around the house, ignoring outside critters, her sad eyes staring out the window, far into the distance. Is she remembering happier times with her friend, Dunc? How long is mourning for pups? Should they take her to a doggy shrink?

The other day they did take her next door for some r & r to play with her two vivacious pooch friends. The morning after, S answered the phone. The dog’s owner called to describe one of her dogs’ behaviors once Dolly left.

His eyes and tail drooped; he hunched over, refusing his treats. Instead he crawled straight into his dog bed. Placing his head on his paws, an aura of sadness encircled him. No amount of love or comfort helped.

We shouldn’t assume our superiority over all species.

Writing Prompts:
1. Have you ever seen an animal express emotion? How? Communicate with another animal? How have you connected with another species? Write a personal narrative about your experiences.
2. Write a poem or short story with an animal as a major focus.
3. Create a piece of art or shoot photos with animal communication as a theme.

San Francisco Bay Area Free Writing Portfolio Workshop for Eighth Grade Students!

November 12, 2013

Nov 23,2013, 10:00 AM – 1:00 PM @
Creative Writing classroom on the SOTA Campus (555 Portola Drive) San Francisco School of the Arts
If you’re in eighth grade and want to assemble a strong portfolio of creative writing that highlights your unique voice, this workshop is for you. 826 Valencia is teaming up with SOTA’s Creative Writing department to offer a class that will help you refine a portfolio that you can use for applying to SOTA or other schools or summer programs. The deadline for the SOTA application is December 6, so this class arrives just in time to offer you feedback on your work, answer your questions about the application process, and help you get through any writer’s block or feeling stuck.

Two current SOTA seniors, Giorgia Peckman and Frances Saux, and Writer-in-Residence Maia Ipp will lead the class with 826 Valencia’s Molly Parent and a crew of SOTA 10th-12th graders. To learn more about SOTA’s Creative Writing department, including the application process, check out

What to bring to the workshop: a portfolio of your writing that you’d like to share and receive feedback about; if you plan to apply to SOTA for Creative Writing, this would include 3 short stories; 10 poems; and a 5-10 page one-act play. Bring as many pieces of writing as you have ready for feedback (in any draft stage)! We don’t expect you to arrive with a complete portfolio.

Taught By: Maia Ipp, Giorgia Peckman and Frances Saux

One-on-One Portfolio Help with Creative Writing Students & Staff Tuesday, November 19 or Thursday, November 21@ 826 Valencia St.
Free, but registration is required
November 19 and November 21, from 6 pm to 8 pm both nights

What to bring: One or two pieces of writing for your portfolio on which you’d like feedback. You can bring them as hard copies, on a thumb drive, or in an email to yourself.

Parents, students, or teachers: For more information, please contact Maia Ipp at or Molly Parent at

Heads up, Contra Costa Middle School Students!

Next year’s California Young Writers Contest will have a new category. We have received a grant to include a special prize for humor! Sharpen your pencils and start practicing now! And note the free writing workshop where you can ask questions, receive hand-printed guidelines, and interact with other young writers will be Feb. 1, 2014 9-Noon at the downtown Walnut Creek Library. Teachers, why not give your students extra credit for their attendance?

How to Finally Write That Book, Change a Habit, and Earn a Million Dollars . . .

November 12, 2013

I have many excuses as to why I haven’t written on this blog sooner. Relatives were visiting, I traveled to a lovely writing retreat, and I’m on a book deadline and negotiating a contract. But at the end of this paragraph, who cares?

What habit would you like to change in your life? Want to get that book written? Create art every day? Drop a few pounds? I just read This Year I Will . . . How to Finally Change a Habit, Keep a Resolution, or Make a Dream Come True by M.J. Ryan.

Ryan says there are ten resolution pitfalls:

1. Being vague about what you want. A friend of mine is creating a website. When I asked her for specifics, she can’t pin it down as to what her site is all about. No wonder she’s a year late on her own deadline for this project.

Write down your goal. Next, break it up into baby steps. I like list-making. If it’s too big of a project it will scare me away. But if I only have to do one tiny thing per day, the work will eventually get done.

2. Not making a serious commitment. How bad do you want this goal? Why?

3. Procrastinating and excuse making – – no time, wrong time, dog ate my homework. (See my first paragraph above.) An acquaintance of mine does this, too. Years ago she said she couldn’t write because she was raising her children. Now, children are long gone and she still hasn’t written the book.

4. Being unwilling to go through the awkward phase.
In writing a book, this often is either when a person begins the book or when the writer reaches the murky middle. Even though writing isn’t digging ditches, it’s tiring. And no one is patting you on the back with huge checks with each chapter you write.

5. Not setting up a tracking and reminder system. Have you created a schedule? Check off what you’ve done so you can visualize your own progress.

6. Expecting perfection, falling into guilt, shame, regret. Remember, rough drafts are supposed to be lousy. Don’t keep rewriting. Just get the work written. When you write THE END, take a break and only then are you allowed going back to the beginning for your rewrite.

7. Trying to go it alone. It takes a community to write a book. Discover a writing partner, group, or online list serve to cheer you on or suggest ideas for your creative process.

8. Telling yourself self-limiting rut stories. Negativity not allowed!

9. Not having backup plans.

10. Turning slip-ups to give-ups.
I’m not explaining the last two. Read the book. It’s worth it.

I’m trying to stop drinking diet soda. I manage this fairly well until travel time or when a migraine attacks. My body seems to crave caffeine and diet soda. Somehow, through the wall of pain, I feel the world owes me this addiction. I’ll never get rid of this horrible pain again. (#8?) A writing friend also is struggling with the same addiction so we encourage each other along and cry on each other’s shoulders. (Thanks, Deborah!)

One more hint from the book: If you have trouble with negative thoughts, here is something from the work of Byron Katie who stopped being a morbidly obese agoraphobic. She’s now a famous and lovely spiritual guru.
Ask yourself four questions:

1. Is it true?
2. Can you absolutely know it’s true?
3. How do you react when you think that thought?
4. Who would you be without that thought?

Writing Prompts:

1. Choose a habit you would like to adapt or change. Write it down.
2. Read M.J. Ryan’s book and use your habit to do the exercises within the book.
3. Will this help you with your art and/or writing?
4. Write about the emotions you experience through your process.
5. Write an essay or poem about your habit.