Tag Archives: writing

Valentiny Writing Contest Entry

A Fun writing contest, brought to you children’s author, SUSANNA LEONARD HILL.

Here’s my entry.


Tillie’s Valentine Surprise

Tillie the plant was grumpy, because she was just a plant. She sat in her pot, surrounded by other plants, beneath a dull light in a cool basement. There was nothing extraordinary about any of them. Tillie wanted to be extraordinary, but she was afraid she would remain just a plant. Her grumpiness grew.

One day, a little girl wrapped her hands around Tillie’s pot. She carried Tillie through the darkness and up some stairs. It felt warmer up here, and it was much brighter! The girl placed Tillie on a shelf beneath another light. It was warm and welcoming. Tillie snuggled in, happy about her new home. Her grumpiness began to fade.

Every day, the little girl watered Tillie’s roots, made sure the light shone directly on her leaves, and talked to her. At night, before the girl turned off Tillie’s light, she said, “I love you.”  Tillie’s grumpiness faded more.

One day, Tillie realized she didn’t feel like just a plant anymore. She felt…


“Oh!” the little girl exclaimed, and ran off.

Tillie worried, and turned grumpy again.

The girl returned. She drew a picture, and held it up to Tillie.

It was a picture of Tillie. She was a beautiful, red, heart-shaped tomato!

Tillie was not grumpy.



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Exploring Setting from Different Points of View

Author Elana K. Arnold presented the Tuesday Quick-Write on Kate Messner’s blog today. She had us shift points of view and describe the same setting. Here are my descriptions. They’re very rough. I have not worked extensively on any of them, and have not spent time editing them.

A description of my surroundings

I live on a corner, where one street is busy and the other is a side street. We have weeds – which we call alien plants because they grow so quickly – bordering the property line on one side. The birds love these weeds because they can hide in them. Our neighbor behind us mows his law a couple times a week, and is precise about where his (unmarked) boundary is. He’s planted a shrub – possibly a lilac – on the side. Across the street is a young motor head. He fixes cars in his driveway. His next door neighbors hate him and spy on his constantly. We all jockey for a parking position on the street because no one likes these neighbors.


The same surroundings, now from the POV of a lost six year-old child. 

I don’t know this neighborhood. How did I get here? The streets are strange. There’s a dog barking somewhere. I hope I don’t see it, or if I do, I hope it’s friendly. Should I go to someone’s house and tell them I’m lost? There’s no one outside, so I don’t know if anyone is home. There’s a motorcycle parked in front of this house. Cool! My mother said never to go near anyone with a motorcycle because they make bad decisions. Some houses have nice yards. Oh, there’s the dog. He’s a huge, black, furry dog! And he’s barking a deep booming bark. I’m not going near him! Now I see a lady with two kids. Mom always said that if I got lost, to find another mom and ask for help. I’ll go ask because she looks nice.


The same surroundings, now from the POV of a housecat. 

Ah, I love it out here. I think I’ll just creep under these bushes and wait for the birds. It’s dark and cool under here. What’s that? Oh, a bug crawling over the stones. I’ll just watch for a while. Maybe give it a good sniff. I’ll try smacking it with my paw. Here come the birds. They don’t know I’m here. I’ll watch them preen and chirp. Hey! They’re flying away! Oh, it’s the woman and her two kids. They scared the birds away. I think I’ll take a nap now.


The same surroundings, now from the POV of aa fifteen year-old whose parents are divorcing.

I’ve always hated this place, now I hate it even more. Dad’s leaving. Figures. I have to stay here with Mom. Not that it matters. She’s never here anyway. NONE of my friends live around here. Dad used to take me everywhere because he works from home. From this home. House. It’s not really a home. And this neighborhood is not really neighborly. Bunch of old people, or people with little kids. They always look at me funny, like they’re afraid of me or something. Like I’m gonna hurt anyone. I’m too puny anyway. All I have is this stupid skateboard. That doesn’t get me very far. And the stupid sidewalks around here are all cracked and broken. There’s parts where the tree roots have pushed sections of sidewalk up. I have to stop when I get to them. Or I could ride in the street, like I see everyone else doing. Mom would have a fit if she saw me do that. Too bad. I’m going down this person’s driveway. The yard is up so high that the apron of the driveway is a ramp. I put my earbuds in and crank up Eminem. I’ll get a good start on that and just ride down the street, away from this house.


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Time to Get Moving!

Thanksgiving morning, 2012 I woke up to a revelation. I had been “thinking about” writing a novel (based on my grandmother’s childhood spent in a Catholic orphanage) for several years. I’d been thinking and planning, and thinking some more, but not doing any writing. So, that fall morning, I had this realization – If I had started writing this novel a year ago, then I’d be a year further along. Duh!

And so I began…

to research.

In order to start writing, I knew I had to do a bit of looking at the time period (1918-1919) in order to get a feel for it, before I could begin to form a story. I went back and looked at my grandmother’s genealogy notes that I had collected over the years. I delved into websites, books, and articles. I read and took notes until…well, until I really had to get my butt moving and write!

Then along came Teachers Write! This wonderful virtual summer “camp” is the catalyst that got me really believing that I could do this writing thing. Although I first “enrolled” in the summer of 2012, I was only a lurker. But when founder and children’s author Kate Messner tweeted about the 2013 camp, I jumped right in. I haven’t looked back.

Undoubtedly the most beneficial part of TW for me has been Friday Feedback with author Gae Polisner. She and her invited author friends provide critiques of participants’ writing pieces. They’re helpful, supportive, friendly, and encouraging. I was never so sad to see summer end.

And then…

And then at the end of the camp’s session, Gae offered to continue Friday Feedback on a monthly basis! Talk about generous.

Regardless of her offer, I didn’t participate immediately. I got caught up in getting back to school and into a new-old routine. My own children began their sports activities for the season, and Mommy Taxi (AKA I have no time for myself) started up gain. It took me until this past Friday to get going.

At the end of 2013, I knew I would come up with my writing goals for the new year, and that I would actually write them down. And I did.

As a matter of public record here is my major writing goal for 2014:


In order to achieve this major goal, I needed to identify minor goals as building blocks.

This goal is probably the most difficult for me to meet. I always have good intentions, mostly to get up earlier each morning, get ready for work, and then sit down to write. I recognize that I can’t always do that (due to personal or professional demands), but I always attempt it. Maybe the writing gets done in the morning, maybe during lunch, maybe at night. Or maybe, like my first excerpt submitted to Friday Feedback on 1/10/14, in five-minute increments between requests from my husband and children. Sometimes I don’t feel like writing, and I know myself well enough that if I don’t feel like doing something, it ain’t getting done! So, in those instances, I read or do more research instead.

Goal number one above directly impacts my ability to achieve goal number two. I’m always cognizant of this. Even if Gae is not able to host FF, I still have this monthly goal in the back of my mind. It’s very motivating. Therefore I write…

More writing. Always more writing. In meeting this goal (as vague as it is), I’m actively working at my craft (and maybe even inspiring others to do the same).

So, there it is. This is the first year I’ve actually put my goals in writing. I believe this is the first year I will accomplish what I had in my mind to do.

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My First Tuesday Quick Write for Teachers Write 2013

Sometimes on the south shore of Lake Ontario, the fish wash up and stink up the whole place with their fishy smell. Their mooneyes stare up into the sky and cloud over. Their once-shiny bodies become dull, but the seagulls find them delectable, their cries calling their friends to the feast. It’s hard to find a place to enter the water, with limp bodies strewn about. Still, the sand is cool and soft beneath my feet as I walk along the beach. If I dare to venture closer to the water, careful to avoid the dead fish, the hard, wet sand feels reassuring on my soles. It’s firmer and cooler that the dry stuff. Bits of shells and water-worn glass poke out from the sand. These I pick up. And the piece of driftwood that catches my eye. I place these items in my pocket, running my thumb over each surface, committing their feel to memory; memory of a childhood that drew to a close ages ago. There is no breeze this morning. The water is calm, with only the slightest kiss against the shore. I turn and walk away, the sounds of summer and youth fading behind me.

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Summer Writing Plans

A few days ago I came across a tweet, announcing an online summer writing workshop. What caught my attention about the post was that the workshop is specifically for teachers and librarians. Well, I happen to fall into that category, so of course I had to join. The other attractive thing about this workshop is that it’s organized by author Kate Messner.  So, a (free) writers’ workshop, offered online by a well-known author.

A no–brainer.

I hope to finish a short story that I started over a year ago, and perhaps start some others. However, lately I’ve been thinking about writing a Young Adult novel. I know, crazy isn’t it?! But I’m a high school librarian and I love to read YA fiction,I love to write, so why not write YA fiction? So maybe I’ll find some inspiration this summer.

Watch here for updates.

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Using Pinterest for Work and Play

A few weeks ago I started seeing Pinterest pins showing up in my Facebook feed. I soon began hearing that it’s a huge time waster, so I wasn’t really interested in getting involved in it. But for the web 2.0 course I thought I’d give it a try.

I’m hooked. Yes, I knew this would happen. I’m finding all these amazing photos about home decorating, cooking, traveling, and painting my nails. And I won’t even get into the images I pinned of Gerard Butler! Ummm, yeah.

Pinterest is currently blocked in my district, so I’m not sure that it’s use is even a possibility any time soon. However, I could see teachers and students using it as an organizational tool as part of their research. They could create boards for their ancient civilization, or author study, or science project. Perhaps open access is on the horizon.

As a writer, the images are awe-inspiring. I could imagine using the images I pinned to help me describe a scene, the color and textures of an Irish cottage, or even a strong, handsome, male character….named Gerry.

Pinterest will be fund to continue exploring, but it is definitely a huge time-sucker.

Now where was I????


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Adding a New Dimension to my Blog

I’ve started an online Web 2.0 workshop because I want to learn more about these features in order to be more up-to-date with my technical knowledge. My immediate focus for these new skills will be for my teaching, with the side benefit of being able to incorporate them into my writing life. So, I’m eager to get started (and need to catch up actually), and am looking forward to learning new things. You’ll see updates on my progress posted here. 

I’d love to hear what you think.


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How to Create a Writer’s Renaissance

Maggie Stiefvater and me at Barnes & Noble

Our world thrives on renewal. The flux of seasons brings about natural rebirth. The start of a new school year guides us through a transition where we can once again have a fresh beginning. Forest fires are the catalyst for the eventual re-growth of an ecosystem. Divorce or death of a spouse or partner forces us to pick up the pieces and move on.

As writers we can enjoy our own renaissance. Every time we sit down to put our thoughts into words, we create a new world. When we revise, we are able to start over sometimes. I recently had the pleasure of meeting young adult author Maggie Stiefvater at the Barnes & Noble in my city.  She spoke about writing Forever, the sequel to Linger and the final title in her Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy. Stiefvater related how, two weeks before her deadline, she finished a draft of the book, but told her editor she was throwing it in the trash and starting over.

Starting over. A chance to put our past behind us and begin again.  The opportunity to create a life we want to live. The gift of being able to give life to new characters, or new life to old characters, again and again.

We are fortunate to have so many starting-over points in our lives. Here are some ideas for incorporating these breaks into your writing life.

1. September: We grew up starting a new school year in or near the start of September. Begin writing a new story on September 1st and commit to having it finished by the next school break.

2. The Holidays: Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hannukah, and Kwanza are all ripe with story ideas. Start a new story, or write a holiday scene in an existing story. Have this scene be a moment of change for your character.

3. Happy New Year: Many people resolve to change something about their lives. Sometimes they keep these promises and sometimes not. Keep a promise to yourself that you will begin a new story today. Or plan your writing life for the year, or decide to begin writing on this day.

4. Spring: The epitome of re-birth and re-growth. How will you recreate yourself or your writing life? Have your character give birth, plant a garden, paint a picture, or adopt a pet. Maybe your protagonist sees the light and offers forgiveness. Perhaps they take other drastic steps to leave their old life behind.

Can you think of other ways to find natural breaks in your life and schedule your writing to coincide? Let me know your thoughts.


Filed under Writing, Young Adult Fiction

Three Ways to Find and Feel Divine Inspiration

I am a divinely inspired writer. I don’t mean to say that I write inspirational, spiritual, or religious material. I simply mean that when I am in need of ideas, the Universe/God/Source provides them. How do I know this? Faith. I believe that the idea, or word, or answer I need comes to me through God. The feeling I experience when this happens is hard to explain, but I’m certain it happens to all of us. The thought I think just feels right. I’ve learned not to question it; I just run with the idea, or write down the word, or walk in a certain direction. I frequently crack writer’s block when I keep my faith strong and remember to recognize the help when it arrives.

So how can you learn to recognize divine inspiration? Try these easy steps, or practice them again if you haven’t done so in a while. Then feel writer’s block crumble.

1. Brainstorming

Have youever brainstormed a story idea? You experience divine inspiration when you do this. Jamee Rae explains the brainstorming process in her recent blog article. I read her article on brainstorming with great interest. I’ve been stuck on a scene in a short story and I thought maybe a brainstorming session would help me get things going again. Jamee’s article is a great “how to” guide for this traditional writers’ practice. You can experience divine inspiration in progress through a session of brainstorming. Once you get started and the word associations or thoughts come to you, let them come freely. Don’t invite your self-editor to this session. Write everything down that comes to your mind, and find yourself in the flow of divine inspiration.

2. Perform the Mundane

Sometimes when I’ve reached a point where everything I write is garbage, I step away from my work in progress and do everyday tasks. When I’m driving is usually a productive time for me because I can think about a particular problem in my writing and usually arrive at my destination for my story. You can even put yourself in your character’s shoes and perform a mundane chore to break out of a rut. What’s running through your protagonist’s mind while she does the dishes, folds laundry, or polishes her nails? Try to focus your thoughts as if they are your character’s and discover what he’s thinking or feeling. Letting your mind wander is a great way to send your self-editor packing and open up to receiving divine inspiration.

3. Meditation/Quiet Retreat

Not only is meditation very relaxing for the body, but it can also relax the mind enough to open it up to receiving inspiration. This practice is not as scary or strange as you may think. You don’t have to be formal about it at all. You can either find a method that you like by Googling “meditation techniques” or simply retreat to your favorite quiet place. Concentrate on your breathing and then relax, and let the inspiration flow to your mind.

What do you do to allow divine inspiration into your life? I’d love to hear your ideas.

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Finding Your Muse at Garage Sales

 Late April marks the beginning of a new season in my neck of the woods. I’m not talking about spring, although Mother Nature does usually show up around then as well. No, the season I’m talking about is such an important part of Central New York that it demands media attention: Garage Sale Season. One local country music station, as well as their sister television news channel, cover the Grand Opening of the season at one large community garage sale. The hordes of shoppers get to enjoy an early breakfast before venturing out, and then they spend the rest of the day bargain hunting. This opening day has become an annual tradition in our region, and in fact draws devotees from other states as

Why is this event, and the smaller ones that follow, such a big deal to a writer such as me?  Well, ok I do like a great deal as much as the next person, but more than that, I have discovered that these outdoor shopping centers provide a unique opportunity to add some depth to my writing. Stay with me here as I illustrate how garage sales can help you with your writing a  well.

 Brainstorming Story Ideas

Ideas for stories can come from garage sales. At one of your stops, buy a nice box or attractive container. It doesn’t have to be very large. Then, as you travel
from house to house, select small items from the sales and place them in the box. Back at home, when you need inspiration for a story or article, remove an
item from the box and start writing! Be as descriptive as possible and before you know it, you will have the beginning of a new story!

Gathering Character Traits

Eavesdrop on conversations among buyers and sellers. When people go to garage sales together, they talk a lot between stops and while perusing the wares. They make comments about the items as they pick them up. Often the seller has an interesting story to tell about an item. Note these conversations, including the body language used and inflections in the peoples’ voices. Also be sure to observe their clothing, the way they walk, and the car they’re driving. At one sale I happened upon, a metal junker dickered with the homeowner for her washer and dryer. His nearby pickup was loaded down with the metal he had managed to collect that day. He was an interesting character. Don’t forget about yourself as a character at these garage sales. How do you feel when you come across a toy or game you remember from your childhood? When you get back to your car, grab your notebook (you do carry one with you, don’t you?) and  jot down these emotions and physical reactions as well.

Establishing Setting

What is the weather like on the day you attended the sale? If you went in the early morning, was there dew on the grass and did you clutch your Styrofoam cup of coffee as you strolled from sale to sale? Was it a community garage sale or one at a single home? Did you venture into a neighborhood completely different from your own? What did the houses look like? Were the lawns nicely manicured, the backyard fenced in? Or did the houses looked “lived in” and in need of some TLC? All of these details and more are important to note for future reference.  A hazy-hot-humid day at a garage sale feels completely different from a cold and rainy afternoon of neighborhood shopping.

Building a Story

My daughter suggests that a garage sale shopper/writer can find items that will help them create a visual representation of their story. Buy stickers, stamps and stamp pads, or other items that will allow you to make an illustration, story board, or model of your story. Buy a map and plan a traveling character’s route. Another option is to buy an item that your character would use so that you have it for an accurate description. Does your character drink coffee all the time? Find a mug that looks and feels like one that fits your character and buy it. Keep it around you at all times. Drink from it to get a first-hand feel for how the coffee would taste and how the mug feels to your character. Start writing!

Feeding Your Muse

At a recent community garage sale, I picked up two books from my summer reading list. I’ve also found great deals on children’s books and sometimes reference books (atlases, dictionaries, a one-year-old Writer’s Market, etc). One sale I went to was hosted by a retiring 6th-grade teacher. She had stocked her garage with class sets of novels, as well as teacher reference sources, non-fiction books, and inspirational posters. As writers we need to keep reading. While you may find that many books sold at garage sales are mass market paper backs, you might be surprised to find that one book you’ve always wanted to read, but didn’t want to spend the money on. Now you’d be foolish to pass it up. Also, some sellers offer bundles of magazines to buyers. Don’t turn up your nose at these, as any pictures in them offer opportunities for you to write descriptive scenes, or even great ideas for articles and stories.

So, have you been to a garage sale lately? Go back to your Sunday paper and open it up to the classified/garage sale section. Or you can search on Craigslist.com for sales near you.  Find one nearby, or far away, and make plans to find your muse when you get there.

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