SPIDER WEBS: Thoughts on Weaving Stories

Lately, I’ve been noticing an abundance of spider webs dazzling in the early morning light as the first rays catch their dewy threads. Their strength and structure amaze me. Each spider web I notice follows the same basic pattern. First the spider established her outermost framework and then worked her way inward in concentric spirals until she reached the heart of the web.

There’s no doubt that there is a universality to spider webs.  But look closely and you will see that even though they share many common characteristics, each web is also a unique creation.  Each web’s shape and size varies depending on where it was woven and on the delicate dance the spinning spider performed as she leapt from anchor point to anchor point. One web I saw was spun snuggly between two slender stems of Queen Anne’s lace, stretched oblong by early fall breezes.  Another was hung high among prickly pine boughs, round and tight, so as not to get prickled, yet big enough to capture a passing fly.

As writers, it sometimes seems that every story has already been spun and that there couldn’t possibly be a new way to tell anything. Yes, it’s true, like spider webs, most stories fit into plot types and there are common structures.  There are also universal themes.  And like spiders, who all use liquid silk to build their webs, our stories too, are created using the same building blocks – words.

But does this mean originality is impossible? Not at all. Like webs, the best stories do have a universal quality about them.  But, if we listen to our inner creative spirit, something unique will unfold within that universal framework.  A spider web’s uniqueness emerges as she weaves in response to the specific setting and conditions surrounding that creation.  She also leaps and dances in a way that only she can.  Another spider spinning her web in the same spot would create a different web altogether.

So take heart as you write and listen to your deepest inner voice, the one that expresses itself in a way only you can. If you do, then I am convinced that, like a spider weaving uniquely concentric circles, you’ll weave the story as only you can.

Happy spinning all!

Note: Over the summer, I will be sharing some of my favorite analogies from years past as I stockpile new ones for the fall and beyond. This oldie but goodie was first published in October 2013. I was reminded of it this past week while visiting my dad in Lexington, VA. Each morning my husband and I took a lovely stroll through a long grass meadow on our way into town and what did we see? Hundreds and hundreds of spider webs catching the first morning rays as they shimmered in the tall grass.

TEA TIME: 5 Tips for Writing TEA-licious Stories!

Last week I rediscovered this antique silver contraption while going through a box of old family items. It was terribly tarnished and took twenty minutes of diligent polishing to restore its shiny charm. Can you guess what it is?  

It’s an antique silver swivel tea strainer and this is how it works:

First, select your loose tea and place desired amount into your favorite tea pot.

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Next, pour freshly boiled water over loose tea leaves and steep for three minutes.  

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If desired, cover your teapot with tea cozy to keep everything nice and toasty while the tea is steeping. (I made this one a few years ago and I use it every day.)

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When the tea is ready, it’s time to pour yourself a cup. Simply tip the strainer so that the tea flows freely into the cup, but the leaves don’t.

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When your cup is full, place the strainer upright on the table so that any remaining tea drips daintily into the tiny reservoir below.  Add milk or lemon and enjoy!

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Now, in celebration of loose tea and swivel tea strainers, here are five tea-fixing principles that apply to good storytelling as well.

Let steep before serving. Good stories, like tea, take time to steep. In other words, don’t rush to publication too quickly. Take time to develop your idea. Let the story sink in to your very being so that you can write from the heart.  And once that early draft is complete, take time revise and improve your story, until, like a cup of fine tea, your story flows beautifully.

Go light on the sugar.  To my taste at least, like sugar in tea, the best picture book writing is light on sugary adjectives and adverbs. Instead, I prefer to sweeten my writing with carefully chosen nouns and verbs to create tight clean sentences that draw littlest readers in with their immediacy and keep them sipping until the very last drop.

Add milk, not cream. This might be my personal issue, but I think cream, even just a splash, is too heavy for tea. Likewise, there’s nothing worse than a picture book with a heavy-handed message.  A message that helps a kid stretch and grow is good, but, done well, it will be as light and fresh as a splash of milk. 

Keep that strainer polished.  When I first rediscovered this tea strainer, it was completely tarnished.  It was hard work polishing it, so now that it’s in tip-top form, I plan to keep it that way through regular use and regular polishing. Likewise, if we want our writing to shine like silver, we need to make the commitment to write regularly so that we don’t get rusty.

A pot of tea serves two or three.  Like sharing a pot of tea, I’ve found that the writing journey just wouldn’t be the same without a nice support system. For me this includes my family and the wonderful network of like-minded children’s writers I’ve connected with over the years, many of whom have become dear friends and trusted critique partners. So, my final tea-inspired writing tip, is to find a writing buddy or two to join you on the journey! 

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Happy writing all!

Note: Over the summer, I will be sharing some of my favorite analogies from years past as I stockpile new ones for the fall and beyond. This oldie but goodie was first published in January 2016.

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: The Inspiration Behind DADDY, CAN YOU SEE THE MOON? by Gayle Krause

Join me in welcoming fellow rhymer and picture book author, Gayle Krause, whose brand new picture book, DADDY, CAN YOU SEE THE MOON (Clear Fork Publishing), debuts this month! Gayle is the author of several books and a talented poet. She and I met as critique partners years ago in the critique group, The Poets’ Garage. Today, I am honored to have her as my guest sharing the inspiration behind her newest book. Thank you, Gayle!

The Inspiration behind DADDY, CAN YOU SEE THE MOON by Gayle Krause

Some people say children inspire them, some say it’s a feeling, or a dream. For this special picture book, I can’t explain how it came to be. My stories are usually filled with fantastic creatures, magic, or some silly, humorous happening. But not this one! This picture book is serious, and for me that’s a complete 180.

As former Early Childhood Educator, I taught Children’s Literature to prospective teachers as part of their training program for over thirty years. I also directed a Laboratory Pre-K, affiliated with my teaching course. It was there, as I sat on the floor of the nursery school, reading countless picture books to the preschoolers, or acting out fairytales as creative dramatic presentations that I became uniquely attuned to the young child’s mind.

DADDY, CAN YOU SEE THE MOON? was a combination of the memory of one little boy that was having a difficult time accepting the time frame of his dad’s separation from the family (preschoolers do not understand the concept of time) and the military family reunions shown on the news each night when soldiers come home to surprise their children at school, baseball games, or parades.

I will say this. The idea for Daddy, Can You See The Moon? came all at once— the story, the rhyme, and the emotion. Good stories always come fast. Straight from the heart, with no pre-judging or revising before you choose the words. And this story is timeless…

Soldiers will always be deployed and children will always be waiting patiently, counting the days when their Mom or Dad returns from war. But sometimes they don’t come home the same way they left. In Daddy, Can You See the Moon? a young boy and his soldier dad share special moments by looking at the moon each night. But when Dad comes home wounded, his son discovers it’s the power of love that kept them connected all along, and he plays a major part in his father’s recovery. 

We chose April 9, 2019 as the release date to celebrate The Month of The Military Child. So if you know a soldier, who was deployed and came back wounded, this book may help the family heal. And for those of you who aren’t in the military, it’s a universal story about the love of family. 

Thank you, Gayle! I wish you the very best as you launch this very special book.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Gayle C. Krause is a member of SCBWI, and a past member of the Historical Novel Society and the Poet’s Garage. She’s served on the Rhyming Revolution Selection Committee, choosing the “best” rhyming picture book for 2015-2018. A Master educator, she’s taught Children’s Literature to prospective teachers at the secondary and post-secondary levels. Ms. Krause writes fantasy, contemporary, and historical fiction for Young Adult, Middle Grade, and young children. She’s been published in Chicken Soup for the Soul series, Scholastic Book Clubs, and in various Young Adult Anthologies. Her previous work, RATGIRL: Song of the Viper was a 2013 nominee for the Boston Globe/Horn Book and International Reading Awards. Follow Gayle’s writing journey at http://www.gayleckrause.comhttp://www.gayleckrause.com on Facebook and Twitter @GeeCeeK. New books coming in 2019. Daddy, Can You See the Moon? – April, 9, 2019 – #PB #woundedwarriors #military. Once Upon a Twisted Tale, a MG Fractured Fairytale Poetry Collection, Quest of the Ungnome. Clearfork/Spork Publishing.

Meet Laura Sassi: Cardinal Rule Press Author Interview Series

Yesterday I participated in my first Facebook LIVE Interview. Hosted by the delightful Maria Dismondy of Cardinal Rule Press, our 10 minute chat was part of their Winter Author Interview Series. Here’s their pitch for the series:

Have you ever wondered what it is like to be a children’s author? Or maybe you are interested in hearing how award-winning authors got their start?

CEO of the publishing company, Cardinal Rule Press, Maria Dismondy,is hosting an interview series this winter with children’s book authors. Find out the inside scoop on how their journey began and hear about a day in the life of an author! We hope aspiring writers, classrooms and other fans nationwide will enjoy this exciting series!

I LOVE the mission of this series and thoroughly enjoyed being interviewed. You can check out their list of upcoming interviews here. Maria also hosted a Fall series and those interviews can be the Cardinal Rule Press blog.

It’s the LOVE IS KIND Valentine Blog Tour STOP FIVE!

Did you know that LOVE IS KIND celebrates the precious the bond between little ones and their grandparents? Indeed, it’s Little Owl’s love for his grammy that sets the story in motion… and it’s Grammy’s love for him that brings the story to a cozy resolution.

Here’s a sweet glimpse of that bond in a special clip illustrator Lison Chaperon made to celebrate LOVE IS KIND:

Now in celebration of LOVE IS KIND and intergenerational bonding – not just with grandparents –  but with older friends and relatives as well, today I’m guest blogging at Our Out-of-Sync Life with five ideas for building special bonds between old and young.  So hop on over and…happy bonding! (Special treat: There’s also a book giveaway!)


Rejection, Ladybugs, and Setting New Goals

2018 has been a mixed writing year for me.  I have had the joy of two new picture books releasing and all the celebration that entails including author visits – my favorite!  At the same, however, in the new picture book department,  I’ve received nothing but rejections. 

Discouraging, yes? Well, sort of, but I’ve never been one to wallow in self-pity, so as a form of “chin up” therapy for myself and because I LOVE writing short, snappy pieces, in early November, I set myself a new goal. 

Now, in addition to working on new picture book manuscripts and revising others that are still in progress, each week I have decided to write one new poem or story suitable for magazine publication – to be sent when ready. Not only does this new goal keep my creative juices flowing in fun and diverse ways, it also helps hone my picture book rhyming skills. In other words, good writing leads to good writing and that’s a good thing!

And today, guess what I received in the mail? My first acceptance in what seems like a long little while! It’s for a rhyming rebus, starring one of my favorite beetles – the ladybug. It has been accepted by Clubhouse Magazines to appear in their July 2019 issue of Clubhouse Jr! What fun it will be to see that in print!

And, now, a special thanks to Miss A. for letting me celebrate by sharing her hand-made ladybug sun catcher which hangs cheerily in my kitchen window, a sweet reminder that if rejection is starting to get you down – spread those invisible wings – and set yourself some “chin up” goals!

GUEST POST: The Story Behind H IS FOR HAIKU with Amy Losak

H is for HaikuPlease join me in welcoming special guest Amy Losak, as she shares the story behind a delightful new poetry collection for young readers, H Is For Haiku: A Treasury of Haiku from A to Z, written by her late mother, Sydell Rosenberg and published this past April with Penny Candy Books. How this collection came to be is a wonderful story – that involves poetry, hard work, determination and the special bond between mother and daughter.  Thank you so much for sharing this book’s unusual journey, Amy. It is an honor to have you on the blog today.  Take it away!

H Is For Haiku: A Treasury of Haiku from A to Z, by Sydell Rosenberg and Sawsan Chalabi (Penny Candy Books), came to be, is both simple and complicated:

 Syd is my mother. She died in 1996. Syd was a teacher in New York City and a published writer. Sometime in the 1960s, she developed an interest in haiku poetry. Somehow, it “found” her – and it was, I think, the expressive outlet which mom had  been searching for. (In her bio in the 1974 classic text, The Haiku Anthology, edited by Cor van den Heuvel and published by Anchor Doubleday, mom described haiku as “unfussy” but “demanding.”)

 Early on, she set out to learn as much as she could. In 1968, the Haiku Society of America (hsa-haiku.org) was formed, and mom became a charter member. (It exists today — and I’m now a member, too.)

 At some point in the 1970s or 1980s, mom developed a strong desire to create a poetry picture book. She created more than one manuscript from her individual poems, some of which had been previously published in journals. I remember that she wanted her book to be an alphabet reader, and my memory tells me that she even wanted children to be the illustrators.

 So the seeds for the book that became H Is For Haiku were planted early. That’s the simple part of the story.

 The complicated part is this: Mom, like most of us, had a busy life: she earned her Masters of Arts in 1972, taught both as a substitute and as an adult ESL teacher. She wrote constantly, and a good amount of her poetry (haiku and other forms) and other writings were published. She submitted at least one of her kids’ poetry manuscripts to some publishers, but they were rejected.

 In her later years, life became stressful and sad for mom. When my much-older father was diagnosed with dementia (and other ills), her creative and literary life didn’t come to a screeching halt, but her passions were put on the back burner. Mom became a caregiver to my dad. She had help, but it was still an extraordinarily difficult time. Those years took their toll in terrible ways on both her body and psyche. Her death at home one morning was sudden, shocking, and unexpected. Although now, when I look back on her suffering, I realize that perhaps her end was inevitable. She was defiant, in her way, but she had become worn out. She couldn’t keep going that way any longer.

 At mom’s funeral in 1996, her family resolved to try and publish the picture book she had long dreamed of. 

 Finally, decades later — after much procrastination and tentative fits and starts — I took loving steps to finish what mom had started. And I succeeded, thanks to the unerring and unending support of many people who have warmly embraced my efforts and the result.

In 2016, I connected with Penny Candy Books (pennycandybooks.com). The principals, Chad Reynolds and Alexis Orgera, who are poets themselves, saw the possibilities in mom’s simple, striking “word-picture” poems. Our visions were similar. The illustrator, Sawsan Chalabi (Schalabi.com), has a style that is vigorous and full of joy. Her art and lettering help make the poems pop!

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Courtesy of Penny Candy Books

 H Is For Haiku was released this past April: National Poetry Month. It’s our dream come true. But more importantly, I hope mom’s book, which celebrates a collection of small moments in our daily lives we may overlook, will bring bits of magic to young readers, and the adults in their lives.

 And thanks to mom, I now write and even publish my own haiku. Who knows – maybe the second picture book will be a combination of both our work. We will see!

Thank you, Amy, for sharing your story.  Interested readers can pick up a copy of H Is For Haiku: A Treasury of Haiku from A to Z, by Sydell Rosenberg and Sawsan Chalabi (Penny Candy Books) at your favorite local or online bookstore.  Happy reading!

BONUS: TODAY Show Parenting Team Feature!

happy fallI’m excited to report that this week’s “Love is Kind” inspired kindness post about “50 (Almost) Kid-Thought-of Ways to Spread Kindness” with Noelle Kirchner was picked up by the TODAY Show Parenting Team for their Grinch/Kindness Challenge! Please take a moment to pop over there and click “Vote Up!” — and leave a comment too, if you are so inspired. Thanks for helping to spread this message of kindness far and wide.

HAPPY WORLD KINDNESS DAY!

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Did you know that today is WORLD KINDNESS DAY?  But where does this gift of kindness and love begin? It begins in our hearts — and in the hearts of our children. And it’s never too early nor late to nurture it. One easy way to do that is to let children brainstorm concrete ways that they can show kindness each day.
So today, in celebration of World Kindness Day (and really every day should be kindness day), I’m over at Noelle Kirchner’s blog with a special LOVE IS KIND guest post sharing a list of ways to be kind from kids from across the country! My wish is that their heartwarming ideas will jumpstart a nice conversation with your own children!
So grab that cup of coffee and head on over. I’ll make it easy for you.  Here’s the link.

Oh, and there’s a GIVEAWAY for one brand new copy of LOVE IS KIND!

GUEST POST: The Inspiration Behind LOVE IS KIND

Version 2A few weeks ago Christian blogger, writer, and inspirational speaker Sally Matheny reached out to me to see if I’d be interested in being a guest on her blog.  I was honored to be asked and delighted to write a post. The topic I chose was the inspiration behind LOVE IS KIND.  You can find that piece here and it includes a special giveaway – a free 15 virtual visit with me!

In addition, LAST week Sally posted a very thoughtful review LOVE IS KIND.  You can find the review here.

Thank you, Sally, for inviting me to share my thoughts and for sharing your thoughts about LOVE IS KIND.

Happy Monday, all!