Author Archives: jahatama@yahoo.com

After the Writing Conference – Just One Thing

Asilomar Conference Grounds, © L. M. Quraishi, 2017

If you’ve just gotten yourself to a writing conference, you are already on the right track. You probably already have the mindset and the practices in place that will help you accomplish your writing goals. Rather than returning from such an event feeling like you have to change everything, choose JUST ONE THING to add or change. Every conference is a rebirth, and the first thing every newborn needs to do is rest, and suckle. Set your writing aside for a day or two, inhabit your life and allow it to fill you, the way life does.

The Post-Conference Gem: Think about it right now. What is the one piece of advice, or the one idea, that struck you most during the conference? Consider that to be your message and your mission.

Gem in hand? Set it on an altar on your writing space. Mine looks like this, both tool and reminder that every minute counts; when I make my writing time sacred, I create the space for my craft to gain momentum.

Timer cube, © L. M. Quraishi, 2017

The Post-Conference List: After a dreamy weekend spent at the SCBWI Golden Gate Conference in Asilomar, even with the clear gem of WRITING TIME in hand, I still needed a plan to transition myself back to regular life, and back to my writing. So I did what writers do: I made a list. If you’re like me, you want writing to be your whole life, and a list will help you pretend it can be. But here’s the caveat: You have to remember to treat your list like a map, not an expectation. Go ahead – list all the things you want to add to or change or do in your writing life. Then, choose JUST ONE THING to start. And don’t begin the day after the conference. Take some time to bask in the luminous glow of community, to bank the coals of inspiration, to tend the lantern of your ambition.

Three weeks later, here’s my list, as always separated into the categories I always use to think about my writing life. Community. Craft. Draft/Revise. Career. Practice.

Community

  • Thank your organizers! SCBWI organizers are volunteers, making it happen for all of us. Offer feedback and gratitude.
  • Look at the business cards you collected. Read the names and notes you (hopefully) made on the back of each card to remind you about the people you’ll only get to see every once in a while, but who are on this journey with you. Try the World Card App for scanning and collecting contact info.
  • Connect with people. Let people know what meeting them meant to you. Follow your new contacts on Twitter and Facebook. Look up their blogs and like a post. There’s nothing more encouraging to writers than connecting with a new reader.
  • Meet with your critique group. Debrief your experience with writers who know your writing and know you. If you had a critique during the conference, find out what your partners think about the feedback you received. You will all learn from this. If you don’t have a critique group yet, reach out to a few people you liked from the conference to see if you can get something started.

Craft

  • Read. Start with the books written or created by presenters and colleagues at the conference. What craft lessons can you extend from the conference by closely examining the language and structure of each book? Keep a reading journal about what you’ve learned. Take your study to the next level by writing a review, a great way to offer something back to those who shared their expertise at the conference.
  • Review your notes. I like to type my conference notes into a Scrivener file, often including photos of presenters pulled from the web so I can remember those I’ve met and what they had to say. Remember that conference presentations and handouts are copyrighted material, and can only be shared with permission.

Draft/Revise

  • Journal. What did you learn from the conference? What struck you the most deeply? What are your hopes and goals?
  • Write in your project logs. Talk to your stories and characters. If you heard a tip at the conference that spoke to a writing dilemma you’ve been facing with a particular project, tell your characters about the new plan. List goals and revision strategies you’d like to apply to each project.
  • Compost. If you got feedback from a 1:1 critique at the conference, give yourself some time to absorb its possibilities before attacking your manuscript. Put that project in the drawer for 2-4 weeks and work on something completely different.

Career

  • Research. Investigate the agents and editors you met at the conference. Follow them on social media, learn about their lists.
  • Submit. But not immediately. Agents and editors want your best work, not your fastest work. They are busy people, too; after a conference, they also have to unpack and pay the pet-sitter and sift the unsorted mail. Let your manuscripts compost for 2-4 weeks, work on your cover letters, research thoroughly before taking advantage of those post-conference submission opportunities.

Writing Practice

  • Evaluate. What’s working about your writing life? What would you like to eliminate, change or add? When you’re at a conference, it’s easy to feel like everyone else is doing it right. But what matters is what’s right for YOU.
  • Choose JUST ONE THING to focus on next. Let a list be your guide, not your dictator. What action on this list (or off it) spoke to you with the greatest urgency? Highlight that item, and make that the ONE THING you will do.

Got a list or a gem? I’d love to hear about it. May your writing thrive.

Weather Update: Storystorm is Coming

That’s right, I’m registered! This will be my fourth year participating in the online online writers’ event of the year, formerly known as PiBoIdMo. Originally invented as a way for picture book writers to participate in the November NaNoWriMo frenzy, the event was conceived in 2008 when successful children’s book author Tara Lazar challenged a group of her friends to come up with one new picture book idea a day for one month. Her blog supports participating writers with daily posts from professionals in the field, offering ideas about getting ideas, recording ideas, chasing ideas, developing ideas, taming ideas…By the end of the month, you’ll feel like the Newt Scamander of picture book ideas.

But the fun doesn’t stop there. Prizes are available on nearly a daily basis when people check in, and again at the end of the month for people who complete the challenge with 30 new ideas. Now, we’re in for even more fun. Tara has moved the event from November to January, which means we’ll end up with ONE EXTRA IDEA, and also means that novelists can also more easily participate. She’s also expanding the challenge to include ANY kind of writer, not just picture book writers and illustrators, although I see her calendar of guest bloggers is still packed with picture book luminaries. Best of all, this event is still completely FREE! Thank you, Tara, for giving so generously to our community. Especially for those of us still honing our craft, meeting our colleagues, and looking for that first contract, this means a LOT.

The Storystorm challenge is both social and personal. Participants do not share ideas, we just keep track of them ourselves, and at the end of the month report on the honor system whether or not we met our goal. Speaking personally, this practice of focusing on ideas for one month in the company of other writers with a sense of accountability drives my craft for the entire year. This is where I get my ideas, this is where I learn to get ideas, and these are the ideas that shape my next year of writing.

Registration is open now. Check out past PiBoIdMo posts to get an idea of the creative wealth you’ll be invited to savor (scroll down for a link to guest bloggers from past years). Ask to join the Facebook group to meet the wonderful writers and illustrators who will jumpstart your own practice with their momentum. Storystorm starts next week, and my umbrella is upside down, ready to catch all those ideas.

Windows/Mirrors Book Review: Each Kindness

© 2016, Logo by L. M. Quraishi

This bi-weekly #Windows/Mirrors series of book reviews, inspired by the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement, offers children’s books created by or about people of diversity.

“And every day after that…I looked away and didn’t smile back.”

Each Kindness, by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by E. B. Lewis, Nancy Paulsen Books (An Imprint of Penguin Group), 2012, winner of a Coretta Scott King Honor and the Jane Addams Peace Award

This atypical story about unkindness at school centers on the bully and not the bullied.

Read this book because the narrator’s journey from complicit cruelty to regret at missed opportunities will open the eyes and hearts of children, allowing them to examine their own treatment of peers critically, and yet with compassion.

Writers will enjoy the way every word counts, builds and repeats, creating a vortex around the lonely eye of the storm, where the new girl waits to be loved.

Artists will savor E. B. White’s watercolor palette of light and the way he uses expression and perspective to reveal the tensions and center of the story. From the new girl’s downcast eyes or hopeful smile, to a classmate’s sneer or the main character’s scowl, children’s faces draw a painful story to our attention and into our hearts.

Add this book to your collection because we live in a time where each kindness matters.

More books by Jacqueline Woodson:

 

More books illustrated by E. B. Lewis:

“Every little thing we do goes out, like a ripple, into the world.”

 

Time to Listen Tuesday: Jacqueline Woodson

This interview of Jacqueline Woodson for the September/October 2016 issue of Poets & Writers magazine highlights the deliberate and courageous choices she has made as an artist to tell the “invisible” story.

A Great Good: An Interview with Jacqueline Woodson

Windows/Mirrors Book Review: Harvesting Hope – The Story of César Chávez

© 2016, Logo by L. M. Quraishi

© 2016, Logo by L. M. Quraishi

This weekly #Windows/Mirrors series of book reviews, inspired by the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement, offers children’s books created by or about people of diversity.

I am so proud of the American people at this time in history. It seems that nothing can silence the dialogue we want to have about equity, oppression, privilege and inclusion. Although at times we may find it difficult or impossible to find common ground in our conversations with each other, we are talking and we are listening.

Join the conversation! Read a diverse book to a child in your life, and tell us what you talked about. Head over to #TimeToListenTuesday to read a perspective you might not normally seek. Leave a comment and tell me what you think. Thanks for reading!

“Nearly every crop caused torment.”

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Harvesting Hope: The Story of César Chávez, by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by Yuyi Morales, Scholastic, 2003, Pura Belpré Honor Book

Highlighting the fierce spirit and warm purpose of César Chávez, this book tells the story of his life from childhood to death, highlighting the birth of La Causa, the 1965 march to Sacramento, and the signing of the first contract for farmworkers in American history.

Read this book because it will evoke a deep empathy for the struggles of migrant workers to put food on America’s tables, and live with dignity and prosperity. From the mockery and punishment that César Chávez endured for speaking Spanish in school to the hunger strikes that changed the fortunes of huge produce companies, the story of César’s vision and determination will inspire all of us to fully inhabit our own power for change.

Writers will enjoy the language that quietly reveals the evolution of César from a beloved child to a fierce fighter for the rights of his fellow farmworkers. As a child, “César thought the whole world belonged to his family” when they still owned their ranch in Arizona. Later it becomes clear that this personal point of reference helped César develop his sense of injustice, first realizing that “farm chores on someone else’s farm instead of his own felt like a form of slavery,” then developing his conviction that “farmwork did not have to be so miserable.”

Artists will enjoy the warm palette and hopeful brushstrokes of Yuji Morales’ luminous artwork, as well as the thoughtful details of every spread. On a page where César’s mother cautions him against physical violence, her dress flows like the land beneath her child, embracing and connecting. When the family loses their ranch to drought, a stubborn horse and looming bulldozer in the background allude to the much larger conflict between family farms and industrial farming. The rounded body shapes in a spread describing the backbreaking conditions of farmworkers evoke Diego Rivera, and on a page where César begins recruiting people to join his fight “one by one,” a single farmworker makes eye contact with him from across the field as she hefts a flat of strawberries.

Add this book to your collection because like its title, this book grows hope that as individuals and as a people, we can make changes in our world for equity and humanity.

More books by Kathleen Krull:

More books by Yuyi Morales:

“In a fight for justice, he told everyone, truth was a better weapon than violence.”

 

 

The Crossover: A Windows/Mirrors Book Review

“If my hair were a tree, I’d climb it.”

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The Crossover, by Kwame Alexander, Houghton Mifflin, 2015

Rhythm, meaning, heart – all the elements of great poetry, employed to tell a story from a compelling point of view. Two young African American twins struggle with identity, competition, puberty and loss.

Read this book because it’s the real deal, taking on big topics like first love, brotherly love, injury and forgiveness, and especially health, illness and death.

Writers will enjoy the satisfying playfulness of the language, rhythm and onomatopoeia perfectly placed to convey emotion and energy and the ups and downs of growing up.

Add this book to your collection because there are not enough basketball-bouncing, brothers trouncing, soul-sifting, heart-uplifting stories for African American teens out there, and certainly not ones written in flawless verse.

Other books by Kwame Alexander include:

Read more about The Crossover here:

At the 2015 SCBWI LA Conference, Kwame’s keynote presentation features this advice to writers and basketball players and boys alike:

“Hustle dig

Grind push

Run fast

Change pivot

Chase pull

Aim shoot

Work smart

Live smarter

Play hard

Practice harder.”

 

 

Time to Listen Tuesday:

Creative Commons image via clipartist.net

Creative Commons image via clipartist.net

If the only images of brown people you saw in the books you read as a child were of the Gingerbread Man (a character always on the run and destined to be eaten), how would that affect your self-image, sense of identity, and understanding of the world? Six luminaries in the field of publishing for children reflect on how the availability of diverse books affected them as children and what changes they recommend in the field.

“All hands on deck! Teachers. Parents. Editors, Writers. Reviewers. Distributors. Bookstores. Literacy organizations. Youth organizations. All hands on deck!” – Wade Hudson

We Need Diverse Books NOW!

I’ll be spending the next few weeks reading and rereading this important round table discussion about diversifying children’s literature, hosted by the PEN Equity Project. Here are some thoughts from the participants to get you started. Link to full article here.

“I didn’t need to read a book to understand that I should be worried about my position in America. But I did need books to neutralize the feeling.” –Fatima Shaik

“I acquired what I now think of as the cheerful privilege of the white reader—the belief that all books existed purely for my enjoyment, with the easy pleasure of reading and judging them based on emotional reaction rather than representation.” – Cheryl Klein

“I remember how angry I was…when I was first exposed to Black writers such as Richard Wright, Gwendolyn Brooks, Ralph Ellison, and Langston Hughes. I should have known about these important cultural carriers and witnesses [before college].” – Wade Hudson

“That journey of loss and recovery—a kind of reclamation which was both emotional and political—is something I carry with me every day I sit down to write and as I move through the publishing world. It informs my outspokenness, my determination to bring radical change to an industry that remains entrenched in a very particular white cultural mindset toward the creation of literature.” – Daniel José Older

“As our nation continues to become even more diverse and the world becomes even more interconnected, what we write just might help children embrace this diversity so that as they become older, they can become informed, responsible, and active citizens in our democracy, and participants in the larger world in which we live.”  – Robie Harris

“There’s something that’s so magical and important about seeing yourself in a more specific way, whether it be race, or religion, or sexual orientation, or geography, or socioeconomic background, or disability, especially when you don’t often/ever see yourself represented anywhere else.” – Alvina Ling

“My question to you and to all those reading this discussion: What does it mean to be courageous in this time of change?”  – Daniel José Older

 

Windows and Mirrors Book Review: The Lost Celt

© 2016, Logo by L. M. Quraishi

© 2016, Logo by L. M. Quraishi

“The Celt relaxes his fists. Something changes because his eyes aren’t fierce anymore. They’re a warm, bright blue like two penny-sized chunks of sky stuck in a face as weathered as our redwood deck, and he looks like he wants to cry.”

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The Lost Celt
, by A.E. ConranGosling Press, an imprint of Goosebottom Books, 2016

Fourth Graders Mikey and Kyler are convinced that they’ve seen a real live Celtic warrior transported to the present as part of a secret defense project. If they track him down, they’re sure to reveal the secrets of time-travel once and for all, and write the best Veteran’s Day report in the history of fourth grade while they’re at it. Instead, they discover a different secret: the invisible effects of war on veterans of all generations and their families and the transcendent power of friendship.

Read this book because of its complex exploration of what it means to be a warrior for young boys obsessed with “war games.” A. E. Conran, who grew up in England listening to the stories of older generations who lived through the World Wars on home soil, both honors the contribution warriors make to our world and also illuminates the burdens they bear on our behalf. Rich with family relationships across the generations, real with mixed-race families and absent parents, this book elevates the allure of a mystery (the cover is printed in Hardy Boys blue and yellow) with the diversity and depth of its world.

Writers will enjoy the way Conran perfectly crafts her middle grade voice. The central role of Mikey’s relationships—with his mom who requires that he “breathe toothpaste on her” to prove he’s brushed his teeth, and his Grandpa who makes him ”chocolate-spread sandwich[es] the size of [his] military history book”—ring true for a fourth grade boy still connected to his family but old enough to sneak out after dark for the adventure of a lifetime. Conran gets every detail of voice right, from Mikey’s gullibility to his desire to impress a kind teacher with his Veteran’s Day report to his confusion about a class bully.

Add this book to your collection because there are not many books for children on post-traumatic stress that tell soldiers’ stories with so much compassion and depth. Conran delivers a sensitive examination of this intergenerational and societal problem in a gripping adventure story.

Read more about debut author A. E. Conran here:

Buy the book here:

“It’s a hard battle to get back to normal.”

Time to Listen Tuesday: Relando Thompkins-Jones

Photo by durera_toujours, Creative Commons via Flickr

Photo by durera_toujours, Creative Commons via Flickr

Every once in a while I stumble on a blog so thought-provoking and essential that it renews my gratitude for the age of information in which we live. This article by Relando Thompkins-Jones from his blog Notes from an Aspiring Humanitarian, perfectly continues the dialogue Ellen Oh and Libby Bray began, about how critical it is for each and every one of us to make space to listen to those less privileged than ourselves.

On Power & Privilege Denial, and “Hurt Feelings” in Social Justice Work

“Denying the power and privilege we hold can be a way of protecting ourselves from internalizing the reality and gravity of our active and passive participation in oppressive systems…”

“Instead of actively focusing on how we participate in oppression, responding defensively can be an attempt at manipulating marginalized people into making us feel better about ourselves and taking care of our feelings first before we’re able to listen; ultimately derailing any critical dialogue that would have taken place.”

“Feeling “attacked” or “hurt” in the moment from our place of privilege, whatever that may be, fails to compare to the everyday lived experiences of the people who are on the receiving end of the oppression we benefit from.”

Read on! Link to the full article here.

Windows and Mirrors Book Review: Watch the Sky

© 2016, Logo by L. M. Quraishi

© 2016, Logo by L. M. Quraishi

“Jory’s stepfather “was fickle with explanations. Sometimes he shared them. Sometimes he didn’t. But he had no problem giving orders, mostly camouflaged as suggestions.”

Watch the SkyWatch the Sky, by Kirsten Hubbard, Disney-Hyperion, 2015

“Remember: you can’t trust anyone but your family.” Caleb rescued Jory’s agoraphobic mom from an ugly confrontation in the restaurant where she was forced to work after his dad left them. For a while, Caleb offers a sense of safety to the entire family. But now that Jory’s in the fifth grade, he’s starting to doubt the direction of his stepdad’s leadership. Especially since the “signs” have initiated a secretive night-time schedule of digging for the entire family. Worried that the Officials will find out about the little sister he’s not supposed to have, confused about the friendship offered by his peers, Jory’s questions threaten the foundation of trust that has anchored his family for the last few years. But when he realizes what loyalty to his family will really mean, he’s faced with hard truths and new choices.

Read this book because the spare language leads straight into the characters’ inner lives, revealing their fears and doubts as well as their strengths and loyalties. Hubbard flawlessly filters the story through Jory’s ten-year old perspective, illuminating the world as he sees and understands it, creating page-turning tension as his awareness unfolds.

Add this book to your collection because “Jory’s family was a different kind of different.” Middle-grade children are busy building perspective on their families. Developing healthy boundaries depends on the kind of insight that Jory earns in his story; readers puzzling over their own family dynamics will learn from him.

Other books by Kirsten Hubbard include:

Trust. Jory tried to hang on to it—trust in one hand, son in the other–even after he glimpsed the chain saw.”