Sunday, December 16, 2012

Stranger Danger - Can we protect ourselves from the Adam Lanza mentality?

CNN blog "Dec 14, 2012 · 20 children, six adults and the shooter are dead after shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, on Friday..."

I work at multiple schools.  We, as teachers teach the children "Stranger Danger" (SD) drills to let them know the steps they must follow when there is a possible threat.  SD is a weak defense.  This is how it's done.

A message is sent over the loudspeaker alerting us of possible danger in or surrounding our school building. 

We account for our children.  Some may be in another location i.e., restroom, nurse's station, office, other classroom.  We hope they are being sheltered by another staff member.

We look up and down the hall to see if there are any stray children about.  These, we harbor in our rooms.

We lock our doors.

We cover any glass adjacent to our doors with paper.  This is so that the intruder can not look in.

Then, we instruct our students to huddle down quietly in the dark until the danger passes.

What's wrong with "Stranger Danger":

Our door locks need to be checked regularly to make sure they lock easily.  It's not uncommon for a teacher to waste minutes having to jiggle the key to get her door to lock or unlock.  Sometimes, the locks don't work at all.

Covering glass adjacent to classroom doors.  Imagine having to tape paper over the glass while your students are at a heightened level of excitement/panic.  Some schools have classrooms with large walls of glass.

We are not instructed to barricade the door or use any type of door jamming device.  A gunman can break into a classroom, if he really wants to.  The lock can be broken or shot off.  Violent persons sometimes have a revenge mentally.  They want pay back for some ill will that has been done to them. 

The "Stranger Danger" method needs to be revamped.  

Via Colori Street Painting 2012 
As our population increases, the chances of mass murders will increase.  There will naturally be greater loss of life at each incident, too. 

Two thoughts have been mulling around in my head:

     I agree, something needs to be done about the mentally unstable persons in our communities.  Perhaps, some type of daily computer monitoring.  But, let's take a step back and recognize that caregivers and others in contact with the mentally ill are most responsible.  I don't know what Adam Lanza's (mass killer) mother did to help her son.  I don't know what steps she took to help him.  Being a single parent of a child with mental issues is taxing.  Perhaps, she was doing the best she could, but that's the problem.  Those who knew Adam's issues and let things slide are at fault, if there is anyone whom we must point out.  Point out we must.  Not for revenge.  Not to appease our feelings.  Simply to try to change every one's thinking and actions - to educate, so that murders and suicides decrease.

    Gun enthusiasts must treat their privilege to bear arms with greater caution.  I think of how those in the medical profession must safeguard and be accountable for the powerful medicines they prescribe.  Other professionals, those who deal with dangerous tools, weapons, etc. are required to take measures to keep these instruments out of the hands of others.  These individuals face fines, prison time, and possible loss of license.  Why aren't civilians who own weapons held as accountable?  Perhaps if Nancy Lanza, gun enthusiast and mother of mass murderer Adam Lanza, had taken rigorous measures to store her weapons, twenty-eight people would still be alive today.

(I know there is more to say.  These are my elementary thoughts on a sensitive issue.)


Monday, November 26, 2012

A Toddler for Grammie

Thanksgiving week I became a "Grammie" or grandmother.  Not an official grandmother.  The U.S. government has to approve of my daughter and son-in-law as adoptive parents first.

Although these new parents had sent me a few video clips and pictures, of a rambunctious 23 month old they had parented for a week, I wasn't sure what he would be like.

This is my daughter's rabbit "Stew".
Kids are like fingerprints.  Each one is different from another.  I had 4 toddlers of my own. They came about two years apart.  My baby girl was quiet, sweet, and cautious.  Think baby bunny.

Baby boy #1 was more active than a kernel in a sizzling pan .  I nicknamed him sponge because he guzzled water like an elephant.  He was loud, daring, and independent.  Think grizzly bear.

Baby boy #2  liked to say yes when he really meant no.   Singing, daydreaming, and making art with just about anything was one way to describe him.  A free spirit, I think.

Baby boy #3 was thoughtful, soft spoken, and gentle.  A girl magnet, even as a toddler.  I called him "little man".

Now they're adults, and here was my first Thanksgiving with my first grand baby.     

My grand baby is a little boy.  He's cautious with strangers, but after he gets to know them, he's ready to give the biggest  bear cub hug and smoochie kiss East of Texas.

My first grand baby.

He loves to growl "no" at the strangest times.  He's a runner, jumper, and shouter.  His smiles give so much they are incredible to describe.  Oh, he's as active as a cup of kernels in a sizzling pot.  His eating?  Well, he eats and drinks more than three hungry toddlers at a late lunch.  He's love warmed by sunshine.

I'm back home now, and I miss him.  Grandpa does, too.  My grand baby is 1,040 miles away.  He gives his new mommie and pappi blissful happiness, wet sloppy diapers, and much to think about. 

I can't wait to see him again; being a patient "Grammie" is tough.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Via Colori Houston 2012 Participating Artist

Tomorrow I will be participating in Via Colori's 7th Annual Houston Street Painting Festival.  The artists and sponsors of this festival help raise awareness for those who are hearing and speech impaired.  Every year, hundreds of thousands of dollars are raised to help support the work that the staff of the Center for Hearing and Speech (CHS) do.  One of the most important things they do is help kids prepare to enter Kindergarten. CHS has its own school for children 18 months to pre-K age. 

I've been preparing for this event for weeks.  Practicing my art on my rough canvas (the driveway) with pastel sticks that wash off easily with water. 

I began with a digital image I had made months ago.  I liked the color and pattern of the worms and thought I would enjoy blending my new pastels to make the varied colors of the waves.

These characters are the Texas Eight Pointed Forester. 
They are vacationing in the Texas Gulf.

The last time I worked on murals, I was in high school.  So, I wanted to practice, practice, practice.  I'm glad I did.  As I worked, I discovered I needed a list of things I would have never thought of unless, I was actually working on the mural.

I discovered:
-  Making a grid drawing was too time consuming.  I was worn out before I began to fill in the    design.  I needed tracing paper and a document projector for magnification.
-  The sun zapped my strength.  I should work before 1:00 PM and after 4:00PM, if possible.
-  I must wear clothing that won't drag and smear my work as I lean over.  Must get a hat.
-  Rubbing the pastels into rough cement hurt my fingers.  I bought stencil sponges on wooden sticks.  These I used to blend and spread the pastels.
-  I need a chair for resting breaks.
-  A damp washcloth helps keep me, and my materials, clean.  
-  I should start at the top and finish each section before starting on the waves.
-  My water drops need a template to be perfectly round.  The hardware store has washers in varied sizes.

Finished Pastel Mural 4'x4'
Original Artwork

Ready? Well...
I received a beautiful T-shirt advertising the festival.  I washed it and tried it on for comfort.  The neck was too snug so, I snipped.  The shirt was too long so, I snip-snipped.  The sleeves were too long; I folded them under.  Then, I took out my sewing needle and thread.  I sewed.  I took out my crochet stick and yarn and added trim.
Gosh, I guess I'm ready. 

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Learning From the Masters

A writer would do well to study the writings of famous authors of past generations.  Often, these writings are categorized as Classics.  Classics are timeless stories made vivid by the unique style and creative word of the author.   One may purchase these stories inexpensively at resale shops.  However, there is another way to explore the Classics, and it's free through Librivox. 

My youngest son introduced me to the free Audiobooks' app for Librivox.  Librivox's mission is to record every book that is considered to be in the public domain.  The books are recorded by volunteers.  Currently, volunteers have recorded 5,000+ books in nearly two dozen languages.

Librivox has enriched my life as a writer and added a welcomed amount of pleasure to it.   Every evening, as I stroll about my neighborhood, I listen to a story.  I make note of the pace of the story, how it unfolds, and how the author tempts his readers to read on.  I am always amazed at how talented these authors were. 

These masters were gifted at their craft.  They knew how to manipulate their readers' emotions.   Even a century later, they can manipulate mine.  I love those special times when the suspense is so thrilling I can't bear to hear more.  My senses tell me that my heart is beating rapidly, my pace has quickened, and I'm getting goose bumps.  Oh, how glad I am to be walking after dark, when no one can see my facial expressions.    

Listening to stories by master authors has been the equivalent to taking an excellent writing course.  I am learning from the masters how to develop a story, set pace, and draw the reader in.  It excites me to know that I can improve my craft simply by listening to stories. 

Below, I have listed a few stories I have enjoyed through Librivox.



I hope you will find Librivox beneficial to your writing craft, too.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Are You Too Old to Write?

Imagine living longer than you ever thought you would and in good health.  At each Doctor's visit, the Doc says, "Your doing great.  For your age, you're in excellent health."

The day you turned 90, you thought surely this was your last year.  "I can't live this long.  It's too amazing." 

"Can you guess how old I am?" you ask strangers.  Shaking their heads they wait for your response. "I'm 90. Can you believe it?"

Soon, your 91st birthday is only months away, then weeks, and then days.  You are 91!  The celebration is wonderful.  Your children and their children give you hugs, kisses, and gifts.    

Your "To Do" list is short and so are your worries. 

1. De-clutter the house.

2. The driver's license expires this year.  Will the state of Texas let you renew? 

3. Prepare a story draft for your critique group.

This biography snippet is about my friend Ilma who turned 91 this month..  She and I attend the meetings at our local SCBWI.  She's a children's writer and brings her stories for critique just about every month.  These wonderful stories are of a time long ago.  They are everyday stories and have historical value.  When her stories are read aloud, I am transported to a time I could not imagine without her.  Her words come to life and take me there.

From her, I have learned that I must never stop writing.  One day, my stories will have historical value.  I will be able to transport my readers to a place and time I knew well, and they will experience it afresh through my eyes. 

I remember when I was young...

my house didn't have central heating or cooling. My brother has a burn scar on his bottom from when his derriere touched the heater at bath time.

the day young girls were coaxed by TV commercials to exchange their classic hard plastic Barbies for the "new and improved" posable Barbies.

the moonless night we saw "The Night of the Living Dead", in our old station wagon, at the drive-in theater.  Oooh, scary!

Mom sewing all my dresses, because it was cheaper to buy 2 yards of cloth and notions than a ready-made dress.

Can you think of what life was like when you were young?

Friday, July 13, 2012

44 Days

El hospital de viejitos

As a family, we've been camping out at hospitals for several weeks. Last week Dad was transported to another extended stay hospital. On the second day, Dad looked at me and said, "Why do you all concern yourselves with me? I want to die. God told me he has a room for me."

My heart rejoiced. 

Dad hated religion, and he put Jesus' face on it.

So, there I sat jolted by his reference to God.  The very God who said:

"My Father's house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?" (John 14:2) (NIV)

Those were Jesus' words.  Just as Christ had to confront Paul (Saul of Tarsus), so that Paul would believe, Jesus the Christ had to proclaim himself to my dad.  This is how my dad became a believer.

I said,"Dad, Jesus Christ spoke to you.  In the Bible, Jesus tells Christians that in heaven he has a room for each one of us.  And you're a Christian, Dad!  You're right.  God does have a room for you, but dying isn't our decision.  It's God's.

The next day, I reminded Dad of what he had said.  Due to dementia, he didn't recall it, but he didn't deny Jesus either.  He was happy to be called a Christian.
To hear Dad say God had spoken to him was amazing.  Dad was the kind of person who refused to acknowledge Jesus Christ.  He wanted nothing to do with Jesus.  As a child living in poverty (one of nine children), he had grown up aware of the hypocrisy of the Bolivian Catholic Church.  He would tell stories of how rich the Catholic Church, and its priests had been.  Dad would describe the adorned church buildings, in his poor Bolivian towns, with disgust.  He also spoke of the cruelty of the priests who disciplined children with beatings.  Dad's anger towards religion caused him to despise the Bible, too.  He considered Bibles bad luck and would throw one away rather than keep it in his home.

So, my dad's conversion (and Paul's) has me wondering.  Are there some folks so stubborn, that Jesus Christ has to personally testify of himself to them?

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

"I'm a loooser!"

"I'm a loooser !" My dad would join the Beatles, in belting out the chorus to "I'm a Loser".  This happened whenever that song came on the radio, and it came on a lot!  As a kid, with limited English, I'd sing along with him. "I'm a loooooser!"

Later, I learned all the lyrics, but my favorite part was, "I'm a loooser,and I'm not what I appear to be." So true, I thought in my childish contemplations.

I welcomed my teen years singing, "I'm a Loser". I played it cool in school. I was too cool to want to be popular. I was an artist and everyone knows artists are cool and aloof.

"A New Dawn" by Dean W. Harris
In my bedroom, I sang, "One is the loneliest number that you'll ever do." I became lonely. I searched for a soulmate. I sang, "Give me love, give me life, give me peace of mind." In college, I met my soulmate; we've been together for 31 years. He introduced me to Jesus (a loser, too).

I still sing, "I'm a loooser!" It's perfectly okay being a loser. In fact, it's very satisfying. It gives peace of mind. My days are filled with the awesome curiosities of life. I'm free to express myself; creativity is not held hostage by commercial demands.

I enjoy singing, "Give me love, give me light (life), give me peace on earth (of mind), because in God's eyes, I'm a winner.  In my eyes, too.  (BTW: Jesus is the mega winner.) 

Are you a loser? 

"I'm a Loser" by The Beatles (1965)
"One" by Three Dog Night (1969)
"Give Me Love" by George Harrison (1973)

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

21 Days

Today is the 21th day of my dad's stay in the Intensive Care Unit of a local hospital.  My family is very supportive.  Being a member of a supportive family means that some of us have been with him almost every day (me).  Some of us have even slept there (not me, yet). 

What does one do in a hospital when a parent is heavily sedated? For me? I pray.  Whisper comforting words and learn to read monitors.  I also work using a sketch pad.  This, I pull out and proceed to sketch illustrations for my finished stories, all the while, daydreaming about the color palette I'll use.  Working with pencil, I practice sketching character movement and develop multiple sketches of character profiles. 

Porting my unfinished drafts to the hospital and home again, I consider new story action and stronger character personality for each story.  As I organize the story plot, I rework it to "show" and not "tell" the story.  Intently, I search for those illusive "lazy" words that I must replace or omit.

It's an intense time each day.  My frustrations lead to elevator rides.  First floor for walks and fresh air.  Seventh floor - coffee.  Basement - a snack .   
Dad stirs and grasps at nothing. "It's okay, Dad.  It's me, Brenda. "

Texting the latest medical reports to family members, commenting on FB, and reading blog posts by other writers and illustrators helps to fill the lonely hours.
A hospital room is a working cubicle for nurses, doctors, and even custodians.  I am a fixture.  Sometimes I'm in the way; a useless displaced obstacle in an overcrowded cubicle.  At other times, I'm a curiousity; me, with sketch pad and pencil.  Nurses begin to question my profession. "Are you an artist?" 

I say, "Yes.  I'm an illustrator.  I've written and illustrated a book."

"Oh, you have a book?" 

"Yes, a children's chapter book.  It's called ADOLFO AND ATHENA."  (Is it tasteless to mention your recently published book while your dad is struggling to survive?)

Days pass.  Distant family members discover they have an author in their family.  They check out the book trailer on their phones.  I watch their reactions.  Their chuckles and smiles are like water to a displaced traveler.  (I check my guilty feelings.  Dad is still very ill.)
Dad has a nightmare.  In discomfort, he pulls at the tubes.  I try to pacify.  "It's okay.  I'm here.  We're always here, because we love you."

It's Day 18, Saturday, and I need a break.  In the Family Waiting Room my son has been telling a teacher (friend of my sister) about my book.  She asks if I would like to do a classroom author visit next year.  She thinks it would be good for her 4th grade kids.  "Sure," I tell her, "Just send me the objectives." 

On day 19, my dad is awake, weak, and responsive.  He laughs in silence.  It's all hand signals and head nods.  No vocal sounds protrude, after his tracheotamy.

Day 20, Francis introduces herself.  She tells me, Dad has to be moved to an extended hospital facility.  I ask for her contact information.  She searches for a pen.  I hand her my pencil.  She marvels at it's balanced weight and touch. 

"It's an artist's pencil," I say.  She asks if I'm an artist.  "I'm an illustrator.  A new one.  I've written and illustrated my first book."

"I love to read.  What's the name of your book?" she says.


"Oh, like the Greek goddesses Athena and her sister Artemis."

"Yes, but I also have a friend named Athena.  I named the book after her."

Thinking back, I could have said my character's name is Athena like the goddess of war.  Afterall, my main characters, Athena and Adolfo, are  siblings who are at war with each other.

So, this is the story of how I did nothing to promote my book and yet, it got promoted in the midst of desperately sad and sometimes lonely days. 

Today is his Dad's 21st day at the hospital.  I dressed and prepared to go, but didn't.  Exhaustion set in.  I notified Mom, stayed home, and slept.  Dad is getting better.  Mom called to tell me the doctor installed a talking device on Dad.  He seems to be tolerating it well.  Dad has many more weeks of recovery.  I'll be there tomorrow to hear his first words in 22 days. 

(Pray for his healing and for peace from pain and fright.)

A Birthday Poem for Mia, rev. 2

I sent out a call to my "12x12in 2012" poet buddies.  Two generous poets answered my call and critiqued the poem.  Here's a brief overview of what they said.  (I hope they don't mind my posting their thoughtful and extremely helpful advice.)

Ellen Ramsey

Your poem is delightful. The rhythms are lively and the poem is fun to read.
I'm concerned that the poem may not have a strong enough story to become a picture book. Have you thought about adding a stronger story line--some conflict--a problem to solve so that this poem would work better as a picture book.

Another option you might consider is developing this as a board book. Your narrator and your intended audience is a very young child, so this might be appropriate—and a board book would be shorter than a standard picture book.
If you decide to make the poem longer, you might consider a refrain—

My piñata tree,
Is calling for me.

You could have a few things go wrong at the birthday party, but still the party would end with the joy of the piñata bursting open and showering the kids with surprises.

Another thing you might consider is that the first stanza doesn't have quite the same pattern as the rest of the poem. Also, I'm not sure the line in the fifth stanza "Its mosaic sings" fits with the simplicity of the language of the rest of the poem.
Hope this helps. Good luck with this poem. Please let me know how you decide to proceed.

Alison Kipnis Hertz 6:45am Jun 16
Brenda, I enjoyed your poem but it needs a little work on rhyme and meter. If you are doing rhymed couplets, then the end of every two lines rhyme. It looks like this is the format you are using but the following do not rhyme:
tios & three
coming & running
Mama & Papa
clown & around

also if a word is rhyming with a singular word, it should be singular, not plural or it sounds off. You used bright with delights. Take the "s" off delights and that line in fine.

The message in the poem is cute. Sounds like a great party.

Last thing, say each line out loud and count the beats. Poetry is not just about numbers of syllables, but also about how it rolls off the tongue.

Here is revision 2 of my poem:

Feliz! Feliz! This is My Day

This is my day!
Everyone play!
A pinata tree,
is ready for me.

Clap for Mia's three!
Shout and dance with me!
Sing, "Feliz, feliz."
Share a hug and kiss.

Look, friends are coming,
See, Mia's running.
Pilla, pilla tag me!
Corre, corre catch me!

The pinata sings,
With all joy it swings.
The colors are bright,
They tell of delight.

Primos dance with me,
Sing that Mia's three.
Pilla, pilla tag me!
Corre, corre catch me!

Laughing with Mama,
Laughing at Papa,
Who's dressed as a clown,
And dancing around.

Pilla, pilla tag me!
Corre, corre catch me!
My pinata tree,
Is calling for me.

Lots more work to do.  I'm trying to find appropriate words that rhyme with clown. Here's the easy list:

town, frown, brown, crown, goun, down

and words that rhyme with around.

bound, found, hound, mound, pound, round, sound, wound

And trying to make stanza 6 fit in with the rest of the poem.  Also, I wonder about the order of the stanzas.  Plus, I have never been able to count beats correctly.  Is it because I'm bilingual?  Oh, I don't know.  :{

Do you have any suggestions or comments?  Constructive comments and/or critiques welcomed.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

A Birthday Poem for Mia

Feliz! Feliz!  This is My Day

Primos and tios,
Are saying, I'm three.
And shouting, "Feliz!"
Come give us a kiss!

Look, friends are coming,
See, Mia's running.
Pilla, pilla tag me!
Corre, corre catch me!

Laughing with Mama,
Laughing at Papa,
Who's dressed as a clown,
And dancing around.

This is my day!
Everyone play!
A piñata tree,
Is ready for me.

The piñata swings,
It's mosaic sings,
The colours are bright,
They tell of delights.

Pilla, pilla tag me!
Corre, corre catch me!
My piñata tree,
Is calling for me.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Model Author

Battling your inner fears.
What makes a successful author? Is it the number of books sold? Is it the charismatic interviews? Or, is it the author's ability to peddle his wares at schools, book fairs, libraries, etc. (His wares will include book markers, coloring pages, trinkets, free copies of his book, etc.)

Aside from the basics of morality (e.g., don't plagiarize), there are no set rules in the field of writing. An author is his own boss. He is offering his craft. If he is a new writer, it would do him well to follow the traditional route until he feels he has established himself as a writer. Would it? There is no set line to cross that dictates the point at which one becomes an established writer. So, should he follow the traditional route?

 I've often heard:

"It takes seven years to master a craft. Don't give up. Keep at it. You will hit that magic mark."
"Make sure you get involved in critique groups. Doing this will help you improve your writing."
"Start your career by sending stories and articles to magazines."
"Work at perfecting your pitch and query letter then, send them to the right editors and/or agents."

I've also heard, "Whether you go the traditional route to publishing or self-publishing, you must promote your books. The best ways to promote your books are through blog reviews, creating trailers, and visiting schools."

 Are these helpful hints? Are they rumors, gossip, or the wisdom of writers derived through years of hard work?

Recently, Writer Beware Blog! (May 26, 2012) wrote a post briefly detailing a survey done on self-publishing authors (about 1,000 survey participants). One of the things the canvassers discovered is that "The most financially successful  self-publishers write more than their peers, and spend less time marketing. In fact, those self-publishers who marketed the most earned the least."

Repeat: "The most financially successful self-publishers write more than their peers." Really? Does this statement make sense to you? It does to me. Why? Because the more you write, the better you write. The less you worry about promoting, the less likely you'll develop writer's block, and the more freedom you'll have to experiment with your writing skills.

Think of it.  The natural writer can't help, but write. They have been writing for years and will continue to do so whether their writing style is popular or not. I bet most natural writers have piles of story drafts stashed around their homes.  Those who don't, due to some circumstance or another, need not dismay.  Just start.

So, if you are wishing to become an author, don't allow yourself to despair. Don't surround yourself with naysayers. Take note of what you hear from those in the publishing field, but don't allow it to derail you. Invest your time in your craft. Have faith in your God given talent. Fear not and write, write, write.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Illustrators and Artists

Natasha Newton on Etsy Blog discusses her unexpected career into the field of illustration.  She tells of how Random House came knocking.  Newton also gives illustrators pointers on how to succeed in the illustration market.  Her work is haunting in its simplicity, and yet, complex in it's textural patterns.  It is beautiful.  Modern.
Check out her post: "My Big Break: Intro to the World of Illustration and Book Cover Design" on Etsy.

Nick Morley is also an artist/illustrator.  His work particularly involves linocuts; it is bold and edgy.  His use of pattern and sketching complements his art.  I'm fond of his Hungry Fish.  Morley's work can be seen in Magazines. He has also worked for Penguin publishing.  He blogs about linocuts and features other artists, too.  If you are interested in learning how to linocut and what's happening in his world, checkout his blog: Linocut Boy .

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Book Cover Illustration

After an intense couple of months of working with my art portfolio and a couple of months doing a hodge podge of things, I decided to get back to my picture book illustrations.  Here's the first cover.  I say this knowing full well, I'll keep adding and taking away from the drawing until the book is published.

Medium: pencil and digital art

When I finished illustration #1, I asked the writers and illustrators of my 12x12 in 2012 group what they thought would need fixing.  They came up with a lot of great ideas.  Draft #2 has incorporated some of those.

Can you see the slight changes?

Saturday, May 5, 2012

What is NaPiBoWriWee?

NaPiBoWriWee is the acronym for National Picture Book Writing Week.  Paula Yoo began this event in 2009.  She had been promoting her book SHINING STAR - THE ANNA MAY WONG STORY and was procrastinating the start of a new story draft. 

If we think back on any big event in our lives, we know that the human mind and body need to rest.  (Perhaps, this is what occurred to Paula.)  To get back to writing again, she decided to set a fun, short challenge for herself.   Her challenge: to write seven picture book drafts in 7 days.  After announcing her challenge, people from all over the world thought it was a great idea and decided to join her challenge. 

Now, 3 years later, NaPiBoWriWee is here again.  Paula Yoo's (ever increasing) community of writers join her every May 1 - 7 for this event.  This year I am one of them.  The rules are: writers must post a comment each day letting Yoo know how they did on their draft for the day.  While on her site, participants can read her writing advice, interviews with guest authors, and her personal encouragement.

The trick to making this a stress free event is to have a basic idea for each of your seven drafts before the event begins.  Some writers make an outline for each of their stories, but I decided to jot down as many one sentence story ideas as I could.  I ended up with nine; I felt some were duds.

My drafts for days one through three, took less than an hour to complete. I like them; I'm excited about their possibilities.  Giddy at my success with these drafts, I turned to draft four and changed my approach.

For draft four, I decided to skip my pre-formed ideas and came up with a new one.  This one was personal.  Bugs that had been plaguing my tomatoes all week.  I did some bug research and decided that I would write a story about my battle with them.  This was a bad idea.  Instead of a picture book draft, my story stretched into a graphic novel.  I have not finished it, yet!  So today, I decided to move on to draft number five.  I finished it in about 30 minutes.  (I think I've learned my lesson.)  Now, I'm  going back to finish draft number four. (The bug battle scenes in my head are getting pretty graphic.) 

If your interested in reading more about Paula You and NaPiBoWriWee, go to  .  It's too late to join this year, but challenge yourself anyway and be ready for next year's event.

Happy Writing!

Monday, April 30, 2012

Voice Lessons: Making Your Manuscript Sing

Heather Alexander's Intensive –
                     Voice Lessons: Making Your Manuscript Sing

Alexander is assistant editor at Dial Books for Young Readers.  She gave a writing intesive during the SCBWI weekend conference in Houston. 

Below is an excerpt from my notes on her lecture.  What makes voice?   
Diction – (vocal choices)   These could be cultural references.  You can make cultural references up , but use them sparingly and  thoughtfully.  It’s the personality of your story.
Perspective – It’s about setting, too (where you’re from or where you are).  Text that has great perspective can be found in these books : AU REVOIR, CRAZY EUROPEAN CHICK,  THE EVOLUTION OF CALPURNIA TATE, THE WEDNESDAY WARS.                              

Characterization - The character determines your voice.  Write down all the reasons you like a character. (You should pity the villain.  Feel sorry for him.)  All likable characters are incredibly independent.  Also, all your characters should be as fully realized as the main character. 
Dialogue – It has to feel real.  Never start dialogue like a real conversation.  Real conversations can drag the story down and make it boring.  Use economy of words to express what is actually being said.  Cut the crap, but keep the voice.

Interior monologue (im)– It is the best way to express character, to convey their feelings, to see a character being truthful or dishonest.  It’s in im that readers get the “Aha!” moment.  Without im we lose the emotional stake of the dialogue.  Text with great im can be found in: SHINE, A BEAUTIFUL BOY, FREAK SHOW
Interior dialogue (id) is needed to create empathy about the character.  You can have id if it’s in third person, i.e. what the character thinks.  This is also a great place to get backstory.  Without id the reader can lose dramatic irony (where the reader knows more than the character).  Id examples in text: SLAM, THE HUNGER GAMES

You want suspense in all your scenes. You can have that by using voice.  Voice is how the character reacts to the action or effect (no quirkiness in character). 

Voice is the way your words sound on a page. 
Voice is not constant.  It will change. – Our voices change dependent on who we talk to and where we are.  Your voice will change as you talk to different people, e.g., your boss, best friend, thief, baby, and your dad.

An authorial voice is the voice of the writer of the book or voice of the creator.
A narrative voice is voice invented by the author.  It’s the protagonist voice.

Exercises to help you define and improve voice.*:
Exercise 1
Heather Alexander had us do a voice exercise to help us see how voice changes are dependent on characters.  We were given 3 – 5 minutes to write a paragraph from each of four different points of view.

1. She had us think of the most beautiful place we’d ever been to.  Then, we were to describe it.
2. Second, we were to describe the same scene from the perspective of a high school girl.

3. Then we were to describe it from the viewpoint of a Middle School rural boy.

4. Lastly, we were to describe the same scene from the point of view of a six year old girl.
(If you would like to read my 4 examples, they are at the bottom of the post.)

Exercise 2: Go to a public place and see what kids are not saying: stomping, eyes rolling, fist making, etc.  Think of how you can use these to help you with voice. In this way, readers can get a clearer picture of your story.

Exercise 3: Write 2 different scenes.  One viewpoint from the kid being bullied.  The second, from the bullies perspective.  This exercise shows you that both characters can be unreliable, because neither knows the full story.

Middle Grade and Young Adult "Voice" – Characters have a limited perspective of the world.  They have a limited life experience. 
MG and YA readers like interesting characters.  For a young person, everything feels like it’s the end of the world.  Every day they are doing something new.  Everything shifts because of one new experience in their young lives. 

When writing for this age, erase all your adult views for the mc.  Text examples can be found in: THE TRUTH ABOUT FOREVER, OKAY FOR NOW.
Helpful Hints:

In dialogue use “said” or show the emotion.  Don’t use words such as: retorted, responded, remarked, etc.  in dialogue.
Remember,“your first idea is never your best idea” when writing stories.

My response to Heather’s voice exercises:
Describe the most beautiful place you’ve been to.

The warmth engulfed him.  His soft skin feeling the coolness of the water sent sensations like he had not know before.  Inside surged laughter, wonder, and pleasure until his inner world burst into the scene.  “Agua!”  He laughed.
Describe the same scene from the perspective of a high school girl.

A baby, nude!  Oh, no.  And his parents smiling as if they had somehow thought their nude kid on public property was such a clever idea.  Hideous!  It’s ruined my summer day at the beach.  Thank God my parents never put me through that.
Describe it from the viewpoint of a Middle School rural boy.

The ocean was unbelievable.  It went on and on, sort of like the spinach fields at home.  Water rippling in the wind just like my pa’s crops.  And the baby, pink as a pig, having the time of his life in a salty water hole.
Describe the same scene from the point of view of a six year old girl.

Wow, the sun is so bright.  Everything looks pink with my new sunglasses.  Momma looks pink and Papa’s hair looks pink.  I love my new bathing suit.  It feels soft and the wind makes the ruffles dance.  My baby cousin is naked, and he likes it!  He’s too little to get in the real ocean.  I’m not.
*If you want to understand voice, do the exercises.  They will help.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

A Music Logo for a Music Producer

My musically talented brother, Max Aguilar (with a name like that you know he's an artist), made the music for a book trailer I was working on.  The music was funny and funky.  It fit right in with the life of the characters in my chapter book, ADOLFO AND ATHENA.  I had no idea music could make me laugh, but his had so much character I had to laugh.

Not long after that, I attended Houston's 2012 SCBWI conference and won a bid for a book trailer from Ink In Motion (IM).  IM is working on my trailer now.  I requested that they to put the name of my brother's company Sonic Puppy Productions on the trailer.  IM said they would need a logo and would use a generic one, if Max didn't have one.  Max had no logo.  So, I made him one.

Max laughed when he saw it.  That's the reaction I was looking for.   I hope it makes you laugh, too. 

Copyright: Brenda A. Harris

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

How to Make a Storyboard Template

How to Make a Storyboard template:

A website that has a variety of FREE templates is Incompetech.  To begin, go to .  Select Graph/Grid Paper.  Click on Brick, Asymmetic, and Specialty and then, storyboard generator.  This window will appear.

Download it by clicking on Download PDF.  You will find that you have choices for making storyboards.  Experiment with these choices until you get the results you want - number of panels, heading, writing lines.  Now you have a story boardtemplate.

Adding text to your template:
   If you want to add text, select the paper and pen Icon.  To the right, under Sign Now window,  click on Add Text.   An Add Text bar will appear.  Now, you can type on your storyboard.  (I like to add page numbers and story text.) To delete or change text, place cursor on text and left click your mouse.  The text box will be highlighted and you can delete your text or click on it to reenter that specific text box.

Here is a 6 panel storyboard for a picture book I'm working on.


Print it.  Now, repeat the process for the next set of pages as needed.

Examples of a picture book storyboard I am working with.

Storyboard Printouts:  left: 9 panel.  right: 6 panel.

Other Storyboard Help:

A site for digital storyboards is .  There are 2 templates plus instructions.  However if you go to his commercial site, Jason Ohler (Technology Teacher/Speaker) lists an immense number of websites with resources for making digital storyboards.
The Chronicle of Higher Education’s article: “Submitting Digital Art for Publication: Advice From an Art Director” interviews Jill Shimabukuro, Director of Design and Production at the University of Chicago Press (UCP).  The UCP has set standards for authors who want to submit digital art for publication in UCP.  These guidelines are helpful for anyone wanting to include photos, art, and/or illustrations with manuscript submissions. 

Go to  and type – “submitting digital art”   into Search to find the article.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Susan Sherman Speaks at SCBWI Houston

At the SCBWI Houston 2012 Conference  Susan Sherman, the Director of Art at Charlesbridge Publishing , asked the question:

What makes a good children’s book?  

She responded by telling her audience that as writers we must understand our book's age range and genre fan.  Also, our book must speak on issues that relate to the specific age of the reader. 
     1. Questions to ask ourselves are: 
           -          Who am I writing this book for?
           -          Why am I writing this book?
           -          How does this book compare to other books in the market place?

  1. The main character (mc) should be a child or child surrogate.  Even if it’s an adult, the mc should have a sense of character
            -          Age should be appropriate to reader

-          Don’t insert adult perspective unless it contributes to the plot

-          No adult trumpet voice of reason

-          Keep age and maturity of character consistent

-          Don’t be afraid to make the child unlikable

-          Avoid a perfect character


"The author should have rich lively language in the story. 
There should be distinct
dialogue." - Sherman

What writers should avoid:
          No stereotypes – this is condescending to the reader
          No racial magical minority
          No great white hope. A hero can have any background!
          Don’t force multicultural characters and/or description

Resources for authentic multicultural characters: Stacy Whitman’s blog, and .   Whitman’s Tu imprint publishes multicultural sci-fi books.

Sherman went on to explain that real characters are complex, dimensional, and show growth. 
They have:
          Core emotions
          Realistic action
          Complex personalities
          Show growth

Sherman gave us more to think about as writers.  She stated that we should be able to make a point without being didactic or preachy and that redemption can be a powerful tool in character development.  She continued by stating that when writing we should use economy of language and structure.  The story should not be overt and repetitive – the main focus is the story not the moral lesson.  Our focus in key scenes should be on - dialogue and exposition (everything must contribute to character and plot) and that the story must never be predictable. 

For those who are writer/illustrators, she explained that sometimes we may have to give the illustrating task to someone else.  She gave Nina Laden’s blog  as an example of when to allow another illlustrator to do the work if needed.
          Remember those loose plot endings and give them closure
          Keep plot fresh and original.  Keep things unpredictable- giving a clever twist.
          As author/artist create a completely credible book

If you would like to learn more from Susan Sherman's wisdom visit Steven Withrow's blog post:  Fieldnote #1 by Steven Withrow —Susan M. Sherman: Connecting Backwards and Forwards