Saturday, December 12, 2009

IndeDebut 2010

*Many thanks to author Lori Calabrese for creation of this article for IndeDebut 2010. Visit her website at

Chances are you’ve heard of the Class of 2k10 and its predecessors. The Class of 2K was founded by Greg Fishbone in 2007 under the principal that authors can band together to make the publication journey a pleasant one. However, if you’re an author whose publisher is not listed in Children’s Writers & Illustrators Market, you’re not eligible for online marketing groups like Class of 2K10 or Authors Now! Hence, Amy Allgeyer Cook came up with the wonderful idea of Inde-Debut 2010.

Inde-Debut 2010 is a group of first-time authors who’ve joined together to spread the word about their books that hail from small presses and I’m proud to call myself a member. At a time when the book world continues to struggle economically, like other businesses, there are many small publishers redefining the business and allowing great stories to be shared.

Business Week reports, “Without the marketing muscle or resources of the large houses, small publishers have innovated in order to succesfully bring their authors to market. For one, they have created alliances with like-minded independent bookstores with fiercely loyal customers. Small houses also defray costs by publishing their book catalogs online and publicizing new releases and author events through e-mail blasts and blogs.”

The odds of getting published by a “major” publishing house are dwindling because of a failing economy. However, the odds of attracting a small publisher are improving. Inde-Debut 2010 is aware that not all small presses are created equal, which is why they caution authors to do their homework and sift through publishers to find the one right for them.

Inde-Debut 2010 books are being published by a spectrum of Small Presses across America and range from Picture Books to Middle Grade to Young Adult. Inde-Debut 2010 is proud to support these small presses that are championing new voices, focusing on niche markets, creating whole businesses by reissuing out-of-print classics, and maintaining the tradition of printing literary fiction.

Please visit Inde-Debut 2010 online at the official Inde-Debut 2010 website and join them at Facebook and Twitter.


"Live, Learn, Teach"

Sunday, November 29, 2009

If You Give a Mouse Some Milk

Happy December, Readers!

Two weeks ago, my fifth-graders finished their read aloud projects. The goal? To practice a favorite picture book out loud until they knew it forward, backward, and upside down. Then, present it to their classmates in their best reader voice with props and questions for the audience--all the things the teacher normally gets to do.

The books of Laura Numeroff, author of such favorites as If You Give a Mouse a Cookie and If You Give a Moose a Muffin, of course received several instances of airtime. A student of mine became so inspired, he put together an homage of his own. I should note that this student works with this family on an active dairy farm each day, so you'll clearly see the tie in. With mice in mind as we approach the release of Mice Don't Taste Like Chicken, enjoy this cute tale (or tail?) from a fifth-grade author we'll call A.W.

If You Give A Mouse Some Milk

by A.W.

If you give a mouse some milk,

he will want to know how it was made.

When you tell him that it was made by cows,

he will want to go see some.

When you ask your mom to drive you,

he will want to grab his note pad to take notes.

When you get to the farm,

the farmer will take him to see the cows.

On the way to the cows he will see the chickens

and want to go feed them.

When he is done feeding the chickens,

he will see the barn and run in.

When he sees the cows,

he will want to make his own clay cow.

When he is done making the clay cow,

he will see a sink in the barn.

When he sees the sink,

he will want a drink of milk.

And chances are, when he asks for a drink of milk,

he will want to go to a different farm and see a different cow.


"Live, Learn, Teach"

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Blog Talk Interview w/Laurie Zieber- Robin Falls Kids- 11-23-09


On November 23, 2009, I had the opportunity to interview with Laurie Zieber, a blog talk radio host who works in conjunction with Robin Falls Kids. Robin Falls is a series of blog talk shows featuring authors and illustrators as well as a new magazine intended for a youth audience. For more information, visit

To listen to the interview, click on this blog's title, which will take you to the interview site.

Happy listening!

"Live, Learn, Teach"

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Why Birds Sing

This year I once again have a talented group of fifth grade writers. During a recent creative writing task, the students were asked to imagine an alternative explanation for why birds sing (rather than a scientific explanation). This one specifically caught my eye. I hope you enjoy it.

Why Birds Sing

I believe birds sing because they are like Martin Luther King, Jr. They have something to say that will change the world.

Seagulls sing to change the deep blue sea from pollution. The doves make a difference by making world peace. Owls sing to warn people on the street at night so people don't get hurt. Sparrows make people happy in the morning by singing a joyful song to wake them up. The eagle waits its whole life to prepare for defending our country from any group trying to take America's independence and inspire people about our country by singing "The Star Spangled Banner." The storks sing softly to babies to lull them to sleep. Penguins sing to protest against too much factory smoke and car fuel. Roadrunners sing enthusiastic songs to encourage running marathons to earn money for good causes.

Do you have a creative explanation for why birds sing? I'd love to hear it.


"Live, Learn, Teach"

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Rutgers One-on-One Plus Conference


On Saturday October 17 I had the unique opportunity to attend the 40th annual Rutgers University One-on-One Plus conference sponsored by the Rutgers University Council on Children's Literature. I was one of approximately 70 writers/illustrators accepted for this day-long, intensive experience.

The day began with a writer "strategy" session in which we poured through the packets of information given to us to identify those editors, agents, and authors we planned to meet throughout the day. We also heard from a "success story"--an author who attended in past years and received publication for her picture book as a result.

After a brief speech by the conference founder, Vivian Grey, I met my mentor for the day, two-time Newbery Honor Award winning fiction and nonfiction author Jim Murphy. We spent the next 45 minutes discussing my current nonfiction manuscript, Gray Matters, and how to refine it for future publication. Mr. Murphy is a wealth of knowledge. From simple tips about voice to more refined tips about nonfiction citations, I absorbed everything he had to say.

Next, all attendees gathered for a literary agent panel discussion followed by lunch that allowed us to mingle with agents and editors. I enjoyed a wonderful conversation with Shauna Fay, editor from Penguin Young Readers.

Our third session involved a five-on-five meeting with five mentees and five mentors at one table. This table included Carolyn Yoder, editor of Calkins Creek, a U.S. History imprint of Boyds Mills Press, as well as Ammi-Joan Paquette, an associate agent with Erin Murphy Literary Agency.

To close the day, we gathered for an incredible presentation from Judy Freeman--librarian, author, and one heck of a performer. Judy shares her passion for children's literature through song, poetry, movement, and plain old fun.

Overall, I left Rutgers with a sense of writing purpose and an invigoration that this craft is what brings me joy--a joy I want to share with my readers.

"Live, Learn, Teach"

Monday, October 5, 2009

Two Unforgettable Fans


This past weekend I had the opportunity to promote Mice Don't Taste Like Chicken at Scranton, Pennsylvania's 3rd annual "Pages and Places" festival. Located amid a beautiful courthouse square, this event featured workshops, promotional tents, and live author readings.

My reading began soon after lunch. Poor readers before me spoke to a slim crowd. Some even spoke to no one but the tents set up before them. As my time approached, I made it a point to gather listeners up and down the row. One group of boys that seemed to be the age of my reading audience happened to walk toward the square with their father. I said, "Hey guys, I'm doing a reading here in a minute from my book, Mice Don't Taste Like Chicken. I think you'll like it. The two boys laughed and agreed they'd come. One even called to me, "Will there be real mice there?"

The crowd grew and I shared my two excerpts, complete with a visual of a fake mouse dangled above my mouth. Afterward, the two boys (whose names I've learned are Gavin and Alec) approached me with excitement. "Can we have your autograph?" they asked. I told them to come down to my table and I'd do just that.

After I provided my autograph on a large bookmark, I stepped aside of them for a moment to hand another bookmark to some passing children. Alec, who wore a "I'd Rather Be Reading Bukowski" t-shirt, asked me, "Do you want me to help you pass these out?" I, of course, agreed and he rushed to the sidewalk to hand one to all passersby.

Both boys left with enormous smiles and an excitement about the book's release. I'll never forget these boys. Not because they wanted my autograph or anything self-absorbed like that. I'll remember them because they are the audience I seek to reach with Mice Don't Taste Like Chicken. The young boys who are often the reluctant readers. The ones who struggle to pick up a book and sustain enjoyment.

I once had an agent tell me that books to young, male reluctant readers is not of interest to the publishing industry. Maybe the numbers say so, but the look in the eyes of Gavin and Alec tell another story.

"Live, Learn, Teach"

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Mice Don't Levitate- Do They?


Mice are the brunt of human experiments every day. If I was a mouse, this story might be the last straw.

Scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory discovered a way to levitate mice using a superconductive magnet. Their goal is to simulate an astronaut's weightlessness and to study possible bone loss in extended space missions. Our furry friends are placed over a magnet in a specially constructed cage. The magnet is so powerful it can levitate the water in their bodies and in turn levitate them. Researcher Yuanming Liu said this about the first levitated mouse, "It actually kicked around and started to spin. Without friction, it could spin faster and faster."

Fiction author Douglas Adams, in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, said these same mice are the most intelligent beings on Earth. In fact, he said, they created this giant supercomputer named the Earth to figure out the meaning of the life, the universe, and everything. Turns out we are the experiment. Next time you find yourself floating and spinning uncontrollably, don't be surprised :) It's just the mice exacting their revenge.

"Live, Learn, Teach"

Monday, September 7, 2009

Retention Comes in a Plethora of Ways


While I plug away at the second round of edits for Mice Don't Taste Like Chicken, I'm also improving my vocabulary along the way as I study for the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) that I'll take on October 31. The pages and pages of suggested vocabulary words from my study booklet are overwhelming. I have to resort to any means possible to get these terms to stick.

A popular stop has been pop culture like TV and music. Here are some examples of the odd connections in my mind.

1. Nostrum- "quack medicine--no real medical value": I'm a huge Seinfeld fan. In a few episodes, Kramer acts as doctors named Dr. Van Nostrand and Dr. Van Nostrum. I think of Kramer as the 'quack' doctor, so this word is no problem.

2. Mellifluous- "sweet sounding": Also a Seinfeld reference. During an episode where Elaine sets up George with a woman, George comes into Jerry's apartment thrilled about a phone conversation with her. He tells Jerry that her voice is 'mellifluous."

3. Encomium- "a formal expression of high praise": In high school I listened almost exclusively to Led Zeppelin. In 1995 a Led Zeppelin tribute album released with cover songs by popular bands of the time. The title? 'Encomium'

4. Obsequious- "obedient": They Might be Giants is a strange band--a strange band whose CDs I own One of their songs called "Turn Around" has the lyrics "It was the same obsequious manner, that was the reason I'd had him killed." Random I know, but effective for memory.

5. Plethora- "overabundance, excess": Classic moment from the comedy The Three Amigos. I've attached the video for your viewing pleasure.

6. Effrontery- "arrogance": Sorry readers, but I'm not a fan of Zac Efron. Seems pretty arrogant to me.

7. Edacious- "voracious; devouring": Edward Cullen from the Twilight series is a voracious vampire devouring what he must hunt (besides Bella).

The point of this rambling? For all those who preach the dangers of TV, movies, and music on the literacy and language development of students, it's more important to know that learning comes from anywhere. You only need to keep your eyes and mind open.

"Live, Learn, Teach"

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Letter to the Real Mr. Cross


I placed a letter in the mail today.  A letter for a very special man--the real life Mr. Cross and the inspiration for Mice Don't Taste Like Chicken.  I've included the letter below but removed certain names for privacy sake.  It felt right to me that my reading audience know just what this book, and more important, this teacher means to me.

August 16, 2009

Dear Mr. *******,


It’s been almost two decades since you’ve seen my face, but I hope you remember me.  I was a member of your 6th grade class during the 1991-1992 school year at ********* Elementary School.  Maybe you recall “movie snacks”, your flying glasses, or Ted’s dead pets (and two shirts)?  This letter has many purposes, but the main one is to communicate how you influenced my life seventeen years ago.

I’ve always enjoyed school but never to the level I did during my year in your classroom.  Believe me, it wasn’t just the reptiles.  Your passion for reading, your wealth of knowledge, and the range of experiences you offered us changed my perception of learning forever.  You unknowingly modeled the teacher I would later strive to become.

I now teach fifth-grade in Central Bucks School District in Doylestown, PA. I also hold a Masters degree in Leadership and Liberal Studies from Duquesne University.  To this day, my class’ first read aloud book is Interstellar Pig by William Sleator and I, like you did, strive to offer unique experiences for my students that change their perception of learning forever.

On top of my teaching career, I’ve become a published author with the release of my first novel, O.Y.L., in the fall of 2008.  Which brings me to my reason for writing.  I attended a writing workshop as a member of the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group in the winter of 2008.  The presenter, Ann Russek, titled the workshop “Tator Tots and Technique.”  She explored the many ways writers can bring their childhood school experiences to life.  A seed for a story arose after multiple writing exercises.  That seed, now titled Mice Don’t Taste Like Chicken, will become a published reality in the summer of 2010 through P.M. Moon Publishers.

The story is about you.  In fact, it’s about all the characters in our room that year, including our scaly friends.  Fiction weaves the story, but the real experience you provided is responsible for the manuscript construction.  It’s my dedication to a phenomenal teacher.

I could say so much more, but I’ll keep this letter brief.  My hope is that you will permit me to dedicate the book to you and perhaps accept an invitation to Pennsylvania for the book release party when the time comes (FYI…I’m thinking of holding it at the Reptile House of the Philadelphia Zoo J).   In the meantime, please feel free to contact me and be on the lookout for

Deepest thanks,

"Live, Learn, Teach"

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Teens Rewrite Mice Don't Taste Like Chicken

Yesterday, I conducted a workshop at Lower Macungie Library in Macungie, PA.  With the assistance of ten talented young ladies (including Erin Stephens, Children's Librarian extraordinaire), we rewrote a portion of Mice Don't Taste Like Chicken. To prepare, I briefed the crew in CRAFT vs. CRAP.  Writing is a craft.  "An artful placement of word with intention"as author Lester Laminack says.  We discussed CReating Artful Focused Technique (CRAFT) vs. Chaotic, Random Awful unPlanned (or their acronym for CRAP).

I reviewed the scene:  Best friends Drew and Jackson are cleaning the mouse cages in Mr. Cross' classroom during the first week of school.  Jackson is a smart aleck while Drew fights to remain responsible.  I facilitated, they created.  Here is the product:

            “This really sucks! Why exactly did Mr. Cross give us this job again?” Jackson said. He leaned against the table next to the mouse’s cage.

            “Well, we’re doing this for extra credit. Why do you have to be such a smart aleck?”

            “I didn’t want to do this stupid job. I’d rather be in gym class pumping basketballs for the rest of the day.” Jackson dashed to Mr. Cross’ chair and sat down. He swung his head back and swiveled around.  “You’re such a teacher’s pet, Drew.”

            Drew meandered over to the cage and removed the lid. He picked up a scooper and scooped up a wad of shavings.

            Jackson scooted the chair beside Drew. “I can’t believe you’re actually touching that!”

            “I’m not touching it!”

            Jackson grasped Drew’s wrist and sprinkled the shavings over his head. “Haha! Doodoo head!”

            Drew’s eyes squinted, his face reddened and he clenched his fists. Drew flung his arm across the table. Glass shattered. His eyes glistened with tears. The blood trickled down his hand.

            Jackson shrieked and sprinted across the room.  Mr. Cross appeared in the doorway. Jackson collided with him and fell to the floor.

Kudos to my fantastic crew of Danielle, Isabel, Hirra, Bethany, Veronica, Sarah, Madeleine, Fiona, and Maggie!  Bethany, we accomplished your goal of Drew's anger issues :)  Isabel...has your face regained its color yet?


"Live, Learn, Teach"

Monday, July 20, 2009

Hunting Prometheus

The Florida Everglades have been invaded.  The invaders:  an estimated 100,000 Burmese pythons native to the rainforests of Southeast Asia.  With no natural predators to speak of in Florida, these pythons consume rats, deer, and other native species.  In a rare case, an escaped pet python strangled a 2-year old girl in Central Florida.

But how did the invasion occur?  Enter, the pet owner.  Burmese pythons are not your average snake.  These massive creatures reach sizes exceeding 26-feet long and 200 lbs.  Pet owners purchase Burmese pythons without full knowledge of the care necessary, then later release the snakes into the wild because they can no longer manage the size and care of the snake.  Also, some Burmese pythons managed escape from pet stores after Hurricane Andrew ravaged the area in 1992. 

In my new middle grade fiction novel, Mice Don't Taste Like Chicken, Drew's teacher, Mr. Cross, owns a 13-foot Burmese python named Prometheus.  I experienced Prometheus firsthand as a sixth-grader in my own classroom.  He's the real deal--13 feet of solid snake muscle.  But my teacher purchased him knowing full well the care Prometheus required. Prometheus never injured a soul aside from the rats fed to him.

Florida officials began a hunt last week to eradicate Burmese pythons like Prometheus from the area to protect their native species.  Captured snakes will be euthanized on the spot and not returned to the pet trade.

for footage of a capture.

My question:  Is this fair?  Do you believe officials are justified in removing Burmese pythons from the Everglades?  Share your thoughts here.

"Live, Learn, Teach"

Friday, July 17, 2009

An Interview w/Whitney Childers- MDTLC Website Developer


Allow me to introduce Whitney Childers, the woman developing the Mice Don't Taste Like Chicken website and the one you'll all send fan mail to when you see how incredible the site is!  I asked Whitney to share her experiences with web development and she obliged.  Enjoy!

Tell us about Glee Media.

I started my own one-woman company this year after the demise of a magazine I worked for as an associate editor in Salt Lake City. I do everything from editing, writing, web design, photography, PR/communications work, writing coaching, etc. My goal is to specialize in working with nonprofits, artists, authors, small/local businesses and people like me who don’t have an infinite budget, but need to share their message.

How many years have you developed websites, and what inspired you to begin devoting yourself to the craft?

While working as an editor, part of my job over the years was to integrate the web with content generated by our newspaper. I started out updating web sites and then taught myself how to do them from the ground up — so doing this full time is relatively new. My strength is design and helping clients present a clear message in an accessible form. I wouldn’t ever term myself a “developer.” That stuff is for the real techno geniuses. I continue to learn new things every day and when I don’t know how to do something, I seek out the answer.

What is your process for developing a vision of what a website will look like?

Sitting down at the computer and staring! And, of course, the most important part of the vision is talking with the client, understanding what their vision is, and finding a way to meet those needs and make it look great. I constantly look at other sites, design, and art books to generate ideas. I tend to stay up late and the best ideas always come at about midnight.

What are some websites you admire and use as models?  Why?

I admire different sites for different reasons. I love the NY Times because I don’t have to pay for stories, for example. I also regularly visit It’s a great resource to see what other designers are coming up with – from edgy to sweet.

Tell us about your favorite project you designed.

Of course it’s always the one I’m currently working on! I love working on my site – which is ironic because it isn’t live yet because I’m so busy with other work.

What are some highlights of working on the Mice Don’t Taste Like Chicken project?

The fact that animals, particularly reptiles, are so integrated in the story and design is what’s most interesting to me. I’ve spent hours looking at snake, gecko, turtle, and toad photos to find the right fit. Toads do creep me out a bit, but I’m coming around… Plus, it’s way more fun and fulfilling to work on a project that promotes good writing and creativity — especially for kids. 

When you’re not creating incredible websites, how do you spend your free time?

Incredible? I need to hire you as my publicist! Ok, well I have a spunky 2 year-old son, a great husband, and dedicated dog. We spend a lot of time in the mountains hiking, biking, camping, and skiing.

Any advice for readers interested in web development?

• Start simple.

• Prepare to always be learning — you never know everything.

• Listen to your clients.

• It always takes longer to do a project than you think it will.

If you have any questions, Whitney is happy to answer them.  Feel free to e mail her at  Look for, going live in August/September 2009.


"Live, Learn, Teach"

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Exclusive Excerpt-Blog Talk Radio


Visit to hear an exclusive excerpt of Mice Don't Taste Like Chicken.  After a few minor technical difficulties on their end, the interview went off without a hitch.  It includes multiple, talented authors.  Feel free to listen to the entire thing.

To access my portion, fast forward to 34:00.  Also, listen to questions from student readers at approximately 80:00.

Interview goal for next time:  Remove the "uhs" from my speech pattern :)

Enjoy!  I'd love if you left your comments!

"Live, Learn, Teach"

Sunday, June 28, 2009 Needs You!

On Wednesday I received the first draft of the Mice Don't Taste Like Chicken homepage.  My talented web designer, Whitney Childers of Glee Media, created a template crawling with animals, activities, and information.  I'm certain you'll be as excited as I am when the site goes live in August.

For now, needs your help.  This website is meant to be an experience for readers that will draw them back again and again.  The "Games and Activities" link will be your opportunity to interact with the characters and print off resources associated with the book.  The "Mr. Cross' Critters" link will allow you to research and learn more about the exotic creatures housed in Drew Harrington's classroom.  There will be sample chapters to read, a commercial of the book to watch, and much, much more.

What I'd like to know from you is, what do you want to see?  What would make you come back time and again?  

This question isn't just for young readers.  Teachers...what content will make it easiest for you to use this book with your students?

Parents...what would help you share the experience of this book with your child?

Your feedback and opinions are important to me!  Let's begin our conversation right here. Leave a response to this blog with your thoughts.  

Thanks for helping me make a website we can all be proud of!

"Live, Learn, Teach"

Saturday, June 13, 2009

What Do Mice Taste Like?

Devoted readers:

Today I hit a milestone in my journey to publication.  With the purchase of the domain name, I now have a place for my book to call home.  

The new title has caused quite a conversation over the past few weeks among my friends and colleagues.  Every time I bring it up, I get the response, "If mice don't taste like chicken, what do they taste like?"  Rest assured, no humans are dining on mice in the book (sorry to disappoint), but it begged a question.  I'm not one to shy away from researching an interesting topic, so here are a few thought-provoking (and disturbing) tidbits about mice as a delicacy.

1.  In Southeast Asia, a Ho Chi Minh City specialty is mouse.  The mice are native to the countryside rather than the city.  Some could even argue they are "organic."  While smaller than what an American might be used to, the author of the article I read mentioned they tasted surprisingly good barbecued or spiced with chunks of roasted garlic.

2.  The Tumbuka people of Eastern Zambia reserve the serving of mice as a special meal for guests, respected elders, or a special treat for the family.  The mouse, not to be mistaken for the house rat (which is considered a vermin and dirty in the Tumbuka culture), is a delicacy as it lives off roots, nuts, and berries in the wild.  There are over 14 types of mice the Tumbuka have identified as suitable for eating.  To prepare, mice are gutted, boiled in plain water for about an hour, salted, and then fire dried.  This should not be seen as savage but rather as this people's way of gaining valuable protein sources from a scarce supply.

3.  It is rumored that in parts of China there still exists a dish called "Three Screams."  Live "pinkies", or fetal mice, are served on a dish with accompanying hot flavoring.  The first scream is said to be uttered when the mouse is picked up by hand and dipped in the flavoring, the second scream when it is pierced by the tongs of the fork, and the third when bitten.  Let's hope this is just a rumor....

4.  Finally, Joe Staton of the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University has an interesting paper called "Tastes Like Chicken?" in which he links certain animals and how they taste based on evolutionary theory.  Even he states, "Their relatives (referring to mice), so far as I have been able to determine, have either 'chicken-like' (in the case of rabbit) or 'beef-like' (in the case of muskrat) flavors."  He admits to never having tried mouse himself though.

While your appetite for food may be ruined, hopefully you're still starved for a great middle grade fiction book.
"Live, Learn, Teach"

Monday, June 1, 2009

More HUBs


I'm still on the HUB path.  Feel free to visit to read some of my articles.  Here's what's been published in the past few days.

I:  Interview With an Illustrator:  Vin Libassi

N:  N.P.O. Your Writing:  Giving Back

O:  One: An Interview With Amy Cook

P:  Pterylosis and Other Words We Often Misspell

Q:  Q-bert:  When Professional Edits Make You Want to Shout "@!#?@!"

S:  Student Writing:  Voices of Real Fifth-Graders

T:  Tator Tots and Technique


"Live, Learn, Teach"

Saturday, May 2, 2009

First to Third Person

"Hello, editor.  I've completed a series of changes to my 165 page, first-person novel.  I'd like to get your feedback."

"Change it to third person."

"Change what to third person?"

"All of it."

This is my editing challenge.  Remove more than the "he's, she's, and they's" to replace them with "I's."  Transform a manuscript told through the eyes of a young boy to a manuscript told through the eyes of a narrator focused on that young boy.  This means removal of assumptions by the main character, a broadening of the action around that character, and the substitution of more dialogue where inner monologue once ruled.

To give you an example of this task, here is a before and after picture of a portion of the manuscript.


What can I say about Tinkle Troy?  T.T. for short.  Troy has what he calls an “overactive bladder.”  What it really means is he can’t hold his pee.  Every year he flashes his official doctor’s note letting him leave class every twenty minutes or so.  I have a feeling the punches to the kidneys he gets at recess from some of Bridgeton’s perpetual grade-schoolers contribute to his control problem.  Somehow we end up in the same class every year. 

In second grade, Troy peed his pants thirty-two consecutive days in a row, thus his nickname.  The pants-peeing doesn’t happen anymore, but “Tinkle Troy” stuck.  Since we matured, we shortened it to T.T.  Even though Troy and I are classmates each year, I avoided sitting near him—until now.  I decided to keep my feet completely under my desk in case he sprung a leak.

Jackson arrived a few minutes, and we skipped the excited reunion seen between other friends in the room.  We saw each other all summer.  When he passed by, he nuggied my freshly buzzed head.  “I see T.T. will be joining us,” he said as he dropped his bag on his desk.  “Good thing I brought my umbrella.”

Seats filled quickly after that.  Talks of summer trips and sixth-grade hopes began.  We all scanned the room, linking the puzzle pieces of students to uncover what the picture of our class would look like.  Sasha Barnett and Cindy Cohen, Paris Hilton wannabes, both toted purses big enough to nest a Chihuahua.  A couple members of the Two-First-Names Crew, John Michael and Eric Scott.   Two newer Bridgeton students I recognized but never met because they spent every spare moment of their lives playing Yu-Gi-Oh together.  The forming picture looked more like a Picasso than a Van Gogh.


Jackson strode in with the sound of the morning bell and nuggied Drew’s buzzed head.  “I see T.T. will be joining us,” he said as he dropped his bag on the floor.  “Feet under desks at all times, in case he springs a leak.”

Drew swung his feet beneath his desk and smiled.  “Yeah, remember back in second grade when Troy peed his pants thirty-two days in a row?” he asked.

“The punches in the kidneys all these years on the playground can’t be helping T.T.’s bladder issues,” Jackson said.

Troy stood behind Jackson, an uneasy smile on his face.  “No more Tinkle Troy?” he asked. 

“What can I say?  We’ve matured,” Jackson said.

Troy unpacked in silence while Drew and Jackson continued their conversation.  “Did you see Sasha and Cindy are in the class, too?” Drew asked.

 “Purse-toting snobs,” Jackson said.  He followed them with his eyes.  After snapping out of it, he said, “Sitting next to Kim I see,” and motioned to Kim’s empty desk.

“Yeah, but she’s cool.  At least she doesn’t rub her popularity in your face like those two,” Drew said.

“Speak of the Devil,” Jackson said watching Kim approach the group.

Drew turned to look.  Kim smiled. “Hi, Drew.  Hey, Jackson.”

“You’re stuck with us,” Jackson said.

“Hey, Kim.”  Drew looked Kim up and down.  “Boy, you’re really tan.  Your skin’s nearly as dark as your hair,” he said.

Kim glanced down at her bare arm.  “Yeah, I just got back from vacation in the Bahamas.”

“Bahamas to Bridgeton.  Your dream, huh?” Jackson said.

“Doesn’t bother me.”  Kim dropped supplies on her desk and walked to her locker. 

John Michael and Eric Scott, a pair from the two-first-names crew walked by Jackson’s desk.  “Scott,” Jackson said, nodding.

“I’m John!” John Michael said.

“Michael,” Jackson said, nodding at the other.

“I’m Eric!” Eric Scott said.

Jackson cackled and slapped his desktop.  The two walked away in a huff.  “Who are those two?” Jackson asked, pointing to the back corner of the room at a pair of boys trading Yu-Gi-Oh cards.

“Don’t know.  I’ve seen them around, usually joined at the hip doing what they’re doing now, but never caught their names,” Drew said.

“Cute couple,” Jackson said.  “Anyway, can you believe Mr. Cross didn’t split us up?”

And so the editing process continues.  But as Lester Laminack says, "Revision is the journey of the writer."  I've found it an arduous but irreplaceable exercise.  It will all prove worth it when the final product hits the presses.

~Scott Heydt

"Live, Learn, Teach"

Monday, April 20, 2009

Google Alerts

Google alerts.  One of life's guilty pleasures.  Enjoy eating macaroni and cheese?  Set a Google Alert to inform you every time a website is updated with the hottest mac and cheese info. Interested in tracking Stephanie Meyer of Twilight fame?  (Notice I said tracking...not stalking) Create a Google Alert and keep up with all the Bella blogs and Cullen capers--along with all the other Stephanie Meyers out there in Internet land.

Or, if you're like me, you use Google Alerts to track your writing genre.  CROSS is a middle-grade fiction novel, so a year ago I created an alert with the keywords "middle grade fiction." Each day I received a digest of appearances of those words on the Web, some of which sparked my attention and others of which I deleted.  One day a digest appeared in my Inbox with information about a contest sponsored by PM Moon Publishers, LLC open to up and coming authors.  First prize--a publishing contract and a cash award.

With CROSS revised but rejected by a few agents already, I decided to submit, not knowing my chances.   I forwarded the manuscript via e-mail and, to be honest, forgot about it.  As they say, "a watched pot never boils."  But boil it did.  In March of this year, I received an e-mail from PM Moon stating I'd been awarded "Honorable Mention."

After all the cells highlighted blood red on my Excel spreadsheet to indicate an agents who passed on CROSS, someone finally believed in what I'd written.  Gosh, Google.  Is there anything you can't do? :)

"Live, Learn, Teach"

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Revision Begins

"Editing is housekeeping.  Revision is where the writer's journey truly takes place."  These words were spoken by Rafe Martin, beloved children's author and speaker, at an institute I attended for student writers in the North Penn School District (Lansdale, Pennsylvania).  His point is, the capitalization, punctuation, and grammatical corrections are the dusting and vacuuming of a house. Revision is when you take the two bedroom, 1 bathroom house and turn it into a mansion.  It's why writers put words to page.

With the first draft of CROSS complete in September '08, I submitted it to a respected colleague and experienced writer, Kathryn Craft.  Kathryn conducts her own business, Writing-Partner (, providing manuscript evaluation services.  Not only did she provide me with line-by-line commentary, but she also included a detailed, 8-page overview of potential alterations to the manuscript.  The journey of revising had begun.

Included with Kathryn's evaluation was this review, something she told me she rarely provides with any of her evaluations.

“This project is a gift to all of those who will read it.  Scott Heydt writes with a command born of unobstructed vision and crystalline voice.  Cross radiates with clarity.  It is my kind of book:  many laugh-out-louds, a few tears, and story arcs that ease the young reader beyond the threshold of the concrete into the realm of metaphoric thinking.  Drew is an instantly lovable protagonist who learns how to keep his anger from turning in on himself out of a burgeoning, multi-faceted respect: for a beloved teacher, for nature as represented by the classroom’s reptiles, for a sweet first romance, and for the type of buddy bonding we all yearn for.  People will remember reading it for years.”                 

~Mrs. Kathryn Craft, 

Humbling review, huh?  Here's the important message.  Every piece of writing needs revision.  Mine was certainly no different.  But Kathryn saw something special in CROSS.  Something resonating beyond the page.  This is the fuel I use each day to make the appropriate revisions so that readers can share in Drew's journey.


"Live, Learn, Teach"

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Cups to Chapters

I'm a habitual writer.  Vary my environment for brainstorming?  Sure.  How else will I fill my writer's notebook with the variety of seed ideas necessary for a strong story?  Vary my environment for writing, though?  Not unless I have to.

When I made the decision in Summer '08 to put fingers to keyboard in pursuit of bringing CROSS to life, I needed a stable environment to concentrate.  I chose a Starbucks only one mile away from my home as my writing haven.  It provided the seclusion and liquid invigoration I needed to spend hours each day toiling over the manuscript.

Over the course of many months, I exchanged drained cups of java for filled chapters of dialogue.  At various points, Drew, Jackson, Kim, Troy, Mr. Cross, and even Joe sat across the table.  Their characters spoke to me.  Drew and Jackson talked about the bonds of friendship between them and what it felt like for those bonds to be pierced, then re-mended.  Joe spewed his contempt for Drew in a way that exposed pent up rage from a troubled past.  Kim cooed over Drew but also held Troy's hand as he confessed the difficulties of growing up with a name like Tinkle Troy.  Finally, Mr. Cross shared his knowledge of his classroom critters while he petted Prometheus draped around his neck. maybe the coffee went to my head.  In all seriousness, though, writers must engage in dialogue with their characters.  A comfortable, reliable place to write allows those characters to visit frequently and chat over a warm cup of coffee.  Who will you sit down with today?

"Live, Learn, Teach"

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Tator Tots, Technique, and Inspiration

As a member of the Greater Lehigh Valley Writer's Group (GLVWG for short), I have the opportunity to gather with writing colleagues on a monthly basis for workshops.  On February 23, 2008, I attended a workshop entitled "Tator Tots, Technique, and Inspiration" presented by Ann Russek.  

"If you made it through elementary, middle, and high school, you have enough stories to last you a lifetime," Ann told us.  

Below are a few exercises conducted that day.  Each one played an integral part in the development of CROSS.  Sit down with your Writer's Notebook and try them out for yourself!

Exercise #1:  Going from Known to Unknown
1.  Create a brainstorming web with a grade from your school years in the center.  
2.  Extend the web with details you remember from that year.
3.  Continue extending the initial "sprouts" by delving deeper into that memory.

Here's an example of a chain of though extending from a web I created for "fifth-grade."

5th grade--Rope--Gym class--220 yd. dash--Rich P.

4.  To transition from known to unknown, take one of the items or names from the end of a sprout to begin a whole new web where you will delve deeper into that subject.  In my example, I took Rich P. and placed that name in the center of another web.

This allows you to dig into the unknown to find possible characters for stories you may initially have overlooked.  I used this method in CROSS to create the characters of Joe Riaz and Kim Etter.

Exercise #2:  Studying setting
1.  Imagine a setting from your school days.  Cafeteria is often a popular choice.  Instead of discussing trivial elements like the tables, chairs, lines, etc., try to dig deep to memories from your time in that setting.  Free write for five or ten minutes about that setting and your place in it.  

This exercise created the lunchroom scene in CROSS when Drew self-destructs from paranoia, fearing his best friend Jackson will crush his beloved chocolate-glazed miniature donuts.

Exercise #3:  Place your characters in extraordinary situations
1.  Brainstorm a list of 10-20 people (living or dead) you don't know but would like to know.
2.  Brainstorm a list of 5-10 names from your childhood.
3.  Circle one name on each list.
4.  Free write a scene in which these two people meet in a mini-mart.

This exercise allows you to discover qualities in real people you can transfer into your own characters.  It also aids in dialogue development for character interaction.

I really needed to play around with this kind exercise to develop Ryan's character in the novel.

What stories from school are hiding in your mind?  If you're brave and willing enough, feel free to post some of your results here.  Have fun!

"Live, Learn, Teach"

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Will the Real Mr. Cross Please Stand Up?

CROSS is a novel sixteen years in the making.  Percolating.  Ripening.  Until now.

Sixteen years ago I sat behind a student desk rather than standing in front of one.  My sixth-grade teacher, Glenn Crossley, dreamed of one day working in the San Diego Zoo's Reptile House.  Our classroom included reptiles tame and wild.  From Ozzie the tempermental Nile Monitor to Prometheus, the 13-foot Burmese python, our growth as young adults came not only from the careful tutelage of our teacher, but from the raw realities of the natural world. Feeding a cowering white rat to a starving snake or cleaning up the droppings of a lazy lizard is not something you learn in a textbook.

Sure, I remember the classroom fondly, but I remember the man behind the magic more.  Mr. Crossley is the reason I avidly read aloud to my students each day.  He's the reason I believe strongly in a male influence for young adults in elementary school.  He's a big reason I pursue my passions with such devotion.  Because, do you know where he is now?  In California.  Living near San Diego.  I'm not certain if his childhood dream became reality, but in my mind, it did.  

This fictional account of a year in the life of Drew Harrington, his best friend Jackson Harris, and the legend of Bridgeton Elementary, Mr. Cross, is an homage to the teacher I had and strive to emulate.  The greatest day for me will be placing a published copy of CROSS in his hands and saying, "Thank you."

~Scott Heydt
"Live, Learn, Teach"

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