Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Convenience Store Imp

An H C Andersen tale newly told by Troy Howell
On the top floor of a convenience store, right under the roof, lived a college student who loved literature. He tended to read more than eat. On the bottom floor lived the grocer,  who tended his store. Somewhere in between lived an imp, who tended to eat more than anything, and loved sweets in particular. Candy, cakes, cookies—it didn’t matter, as long as it was sweet. He would steal into the store at night and snack himself silly.
So the imp approved of the grocer.
One evening, the student came down the stairs to buy light bulbs and cheese, and the imp was watching. The student greeted the grocer’s wife, who switched from gabbing to gawking, for she had the gifts of both gab and gawk. As the grocer was wrapping the cheese, the student noticed the wrapper was not a wrapper at all, but a page from a poetry book.

“What a shame!” he said. “This page should not have been torn!”

“Here’s more,” said the grocer, producing a battered book. “It’s perfect for wrapping cheese.”

“Sir!” said the student. “You’re a good grocer, but you know less about poetry than that recycle bin!”
The grocer laughted it off. "You can have the book for a price."

“Give me the book for the cheese, then. I’d rather feed the soul than the stomach.”

The exchangewas made, the student returned to his loft, and under the stairs the imp stamped. Who does the student think he is? To insult the grocer and snub the recycle bin!
That night when the household slept, the imp crept out. He borrowed the tongue of the grocer’s wife, who snored with her mouth open wide and had no need of it then. The imp placed the tongue on the recycle bin, asking, “Do you know poetry?”

“Know poetry!” cried the tongue. “Huh! It’s the blurb they stick at the end of a page to fill in the
blanks! Blah, blah, blah! That’s what it is! I’ve got more in me than that arrogant kid!”

"Just as I thought," said the imp.

He put the tongue on the coffee grinder and it chattered nonstop. He put it on the cash register and the dairy case, and each one repeated what the recycle bin had said. The word was unanimous: Poetry filled in the blanks.

“Ha!” muttered the imp. “I’ll show that sorry student!” And he rushed up the stairs.

Light was shining from under the student’s door. The imp peered through the keyhole and— Glory! The room was luminous! There sat the student, bent over the book, and from its pages grew a wonderful tree, full of sunrays and spirits who sang enchanting songs. The imp could hardly believe his eyes, could hardly believe his ears. Never had he seen such a sight, never had he heard such singing!

He stood on tiptoe until his limbs went numb, far into the night, until the student closed the book
and climbed into bed.
The light was out, but the vision glowed in the imp’s mind. He approved of the student now. “I never would have imagined!” he whispered. “This is the place for me! I must move into the loft!”
He crept back down the stairs, wondering how to do it. But then his stomach growled, and his sweet tooth ached, and he knew it couldn’t be. The student had little food, and nothing sweet at all.

He returned just in time to save the tongue from wagging itself limp, for it was back on the
recycle bin, babbling the news backward. And from that time on, all the merchandise had the same opinions as the bin.

But from that time on, the imp got no pleasure from gossip. Whenever the light shone from under the student’s door, he’d peer intothe keyhole, amazed.At times he would cry and would not know why.  He would smile, he would sigh. He felt as if a mighty sea rolled before him, basking in sunlight, shifting under clouds. It warmed him and comforted him; it made him feel both strong and small.
Winter came, and still he would peer, though the wind in the stairs shook his bones. When he could stand the cold no longer, back down he would go, shivering but happy.

Christmas came and there were plenty of sweet things to eat, so the imp liked the grocer again.

But on New Year’s Eve he woke in a heat. What commotion there was outside! Shouts and sirens and smoke! Fire! A building was burning! Whose was it? Theirs? He couldn’t tell for sure.

But one thing was sure: Each person would save what each treasured the most. The grocer leaped out of bed and grabbed his accounts. The grocer’s wife took off her earrings and plunged them into her gown. The imp darted upstairs and into the loft, where the student stood calmly at the window, gazing at the fire next door.

The imp found the book of poems, snatched it away, and climbed onto the roof. There he sat, sheltering this marvelous work.

Now he knew what he treasured the most.

The firemen came, the flames were put out, and still he gripped the book.

But then his stomach began to churn, and his sweet tooth began to yearn. Sugar! Sugar! He hung his head, got down from his perch, returned the book, and slumped down the stairs.

He favored the grocer after all.

art & text © 2012 by Troy Howell

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Current Events

At a recent meeting of our writers group, one member commented, "I really don't like assigning my writing to any particular category, such as YA, middle grade, etc., because I'd like my writing to reach everyone." Wouldn't we all? It's probably impossible to get your book into the market without labeling it something, but there's good news! Books written for the young reader appeal to a very wide range of the reading public, as reported in this article from Publishers Weekly (9-13-12): "More than half the consumers of books classified for young adults aren’t all that young. According to a new study, fully 55% of buyers of works that publishers designate for kids aged 12 to 17 -- known as YA books -- are 18 or older, with the largest segment aged 30 to 44, a group that alone accounted for 28% of YA sales. And adults aren’t just purchasing for others -- when asked about the intended recipient, they report that 78% of the time they are purchasing books for their own reading. The insights are courtesy of Understanding the Children’s Book Consumer in the Digital Age, an ongoing biannual study from Bowker Market Research that explores the changing nature of publishing for kids. “The investigation into who is reading YA books began when we noticed a disparity between the number of YA e-books being purchased and the relatively low number of kids who claim to read e-books,” said Kelly Gallagher, v-p of Bowker Market Research. “The extent and age breakout of adult consumers of these works was surprising. And while the trend is influenced to some extent by the popularity of The Hunger Games, our data shows it’s a much larger phenomenon than readership of this single series.” Indeed, 30% of respondents reported they were reading works in the Hunger Games series. But the remaining 70% of readers reported a vast variety of titles (over 220), only two of which commanded more than five percent of overall sales – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and Breaking Dawn. “Although bestsellers lead, there’s a long tail of rich reading that has interesting implications for the publishers of YA books in terms of discovery and consumer relationships,” said project editor Kristen McLean. The trend is good news for publishers, as these adult consumers of YA books are among the most coveted demographic of book consumers overall. Additional insights from the Bowker study show these readers are: • Early adopters: More than 40% read e-books, equivalent to the highest adoption rates of adult genres of mystery and romance • Committed: 71% say that if an e-book of their desired title was unavailable, they would buy the print book instead • Loyal: Enjoying the author's previous books has a moderate or major influence over the book choice for more than two-thirds of the respondents • Socially active: Although more than half of respondents reported having "no interest" in participating in a reading group, these readers are very active in social networks and often get recommendations from friends. Understanding the Children’s Book Consumer in the Digital Age is sponsored in the U.S. by Little Brown for Young Readers, Random House, HarperCollins, Scholastic, Disney, Penguin, DK, and Macmillan. To order a copy, contact Bowker Market Research at"

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

My Favorite Christmas Gift

As we get into the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, I find December to be the hardest month to sit down and write. I am like an elf juggling candy canes in a blizzard. There you have it. A brief and very accurate simile of my December lifestyle. (And, yes, I already have a picture book story churning on this.) As I contemplated the necessity to update my blog with something inspirational about writing, I totally drew a blank. So I opted instead, to share something I hope others find inspirational. Last year, my then 7 year-old daughter came home on a mission. She was downright giddy over a special gift exchange in her class. As the Cane Juggler, I frantically rooted through her backpack to find the specifics. I needed a due date. I needed a monetary limit. I needed details. I found nothing. As my little one began pulling paper and glue from our craft closet, I confronted her. “What do I need to do or buy for this gift exchange?” She smiled and responded, “You don’t need to do or buy anything. I’ve got it covered.” So, for the next few hours, she plotted and planned her gift. I gradually pulled more details from her and found out that the exchange was an impromptu idea between her and a few friends. As a Recovering Helicopter Mom, I refrained from offering to buy a toy from Target, and let her make a present. After every piece was in place, she called me over to look at her creation. It. Was. Beautiful. So beautiful, I wanted it. I wanted it so much that I tried unsuccessfully to offer up the Target toy at that point. She loved that I loved it, but delicately reminded me that she did not make it for me, she made it for her friend. Although I’m sure I probably chewed off a significant portion of my tongue, I said no more. The following day, my daughter had me drive her to school so her present wouldn’t be damaged. I asked her the name of the child it was intended for and she innocently told me. I secretly contemplated contacting the child’s Mom to reacquire the present. How could that little girl possibly appreciate this gift as much as I did? Yet, I knew it was not meant for me, so I snapped one picture and painfully let it go. Later that afternoon, my daughter stepped off the bus and ran over to hug me. I asked, “How was the gift exchange?” She smiled and responded, “Well, no one else brought a gift in.” For a brief moment, I became really excited, thinking I would have that gift after all. But my daughter continued to tell me that although her gift was the only present, she still gave it to her friend. My daughter also told me that she told all her friends she made her present as a reminder of the true meaning of Christmas. Although I do not have it in my possession, her homemade nativity will always be my favorite Christmas gift. Please check out the picture of it below.
Deb Dudley A.K.A. The Cane Juggler (Originally posted on Deb's blog,

Monday, November 26, 2012

JRW Conference Redux

My experiences at the James River Writers Conference this fall (Oct 19 - 21) have truly been a gift that keeps on giving. The pre-conference intensive led by Kristen-Paige Madonia (, who presented a class on "First Words," is a good example. She advised the participants via email that it would be a "discussion that considers the creative elements likely to engage an editor or discourage them from continuing to read a submission..." She asked us to prepare the first page that we planned to send with our submission according to standard submission format guidelines: double-spaced with one inch margins and 12-point font, title and content beginning half-way down the page. I prepared my first page and ran a word count: 100, give or take. Whoa! How was I going to captivate an editor/agent with only 100 words? Exactly the point Ms. Madonia made in her class. On average, 100 words is all you have to fascinate/excite/seduce your submission target into asking to read more. As she promised, the class was enjoyable, supportive and loaded with constructive criticism. I've since revised my first page three or four times. Some of the changes are small, sometimes large. So far I 've made no changes that require a rewrite of the entire first chapter, but the introduction to my novel gets stronger each time. Each succeeding version improves and polishes; I am learning how to make my first 100 words sparkle and shine. And the silver lining to all this work? My writing in general is sure to improve. So look hard at your first 100 words, then look again, and again. The wily charms of Mata Hari or Cleopatra will pale beside your utterly irresistible first page!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

RCW author Brian Rock in River City Richmond magazine

I am so grateful to have my group of friends, cowriters, and therapists known as Richmond Children's Writers. They help keep me focused, motivated, and (almost) sane! This Thanksgiving I am also thankful for a ncie write up I received from River City Richmond magazine (pg 14) in their Nov/Dec issue. They feature me and my latest picture book, WITH ALL MY HEART (ironically in a section titled, "Writer's Block"!) I'm also thankful for the cozy cocktail recipes, but that's another story!
Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Opening Worlds at VAASL

Troy Howell and Lana Krumwiede spent a couple of days with Virginia school librarians last week. Here's a shout out to all the librarians who work hard to get good books to young readers.

You're awesome!

Lana and Troy gave a presentation about the value of Fantasy and Science Fiction for diverse learners. You can read a transcript of their presentation over at Lana's blog: 

Monday, November 5, 2012

Literary Agents: What You Should Know About Them

You've got your novel ready. You have written, rewritten, revised, edited, lost sleep, written and written some more. Beta-reader after beta-reader has torn it apart and you have made the appropriate changes. Is your manuscript perfect? Probably not, but it's as good as it's going to get.

Now what?

You are either going to self-publish or try to get picked up and published traditionally. If you are planning to get picked up traditionally, most likely you are going to try to get an agent to represent you.

What kind of agent do I want?

How do I get one?

Will they even know I exist?

I want to share with you some of the experiences I have had over the last few months as I have a) been researching agents and b) interacting with agents at local writing conferences I have attended.

The very best way to sum up the whole process of trying to get an agent was said by Rachel Dugas, a literary agent for Talcott-Notch, who said these wise words at Hampton Roads Writers Conference in September, "Trying to get an agent is like speed dating."

Say whuuuu?

I can tell you she meant it figuratively, because the moment you send an agent flowers, you have taken a step backward:-)

No, what she meant was that, just as in speed dating, when you are trying to find an agent it's all about making the right connection with the right agent. There is not just one agent out there for every writer.

I repeat, it's important to make connections with the right agent. And believe it or not, those same agents are out looking to make the same connection with you.

"Are agents really interested in making a connection with me?" you ask.


Question: How do you think agents make a living?

Answer: By building long-term, professional relationships with writers they feel they can represent.

That means YOU! That means right now, this minute, there is an agent out there who wants to work with you, now you just have to find them (which, I admit, is the tricky part).

But the first thing you have to remember is that they are people, just like you and me. Just like you want to find the right agent to represent your book - your baby - they want to find that story that they can fall in love with and they can share with the world.

You don't have to be scared when you talk to them and you don't have to be nervous and you don't have to hope that it's a once-in-a-lifetime.

You DO have to be professional and you DO have to do your homework. If a particular agent isn't right for you, more often than not they are going to give you positive feedback to help you improve your work so it's even better for the next agent that you approach.

As I mentioned, in the past six weeks I have talked to a total of five literary agents (and one editor) and every single one of them was approachable, willing to answer questions, and wonderful to work with. They were regular, everyday people that I was able to have a professional conversation with.

You can too!

To find out more about the agents that are out there, try some of the sites listed below:

To find out more about some of the conferences that may be in your area where you can talk to an agent face-to-face, try some of these resources:

by Chris Sorensen

Friday, November 2, 2012

Giving Thanks

This fall marks my one year anniversary with RCW.   As we kick off the month of November, I decided to devote my first official RCW blog entry to this very special group of people.  They continue to provide me with priceless support, guidance and motivation.    As I see their successes, they inspire me.  As I read their pieces, they move me.  As I share my work, they help me.  THANK YOU to the members of RCW for walking with me on my journey to publication and giving me the confidence and the courage to keep writing. 
A portion of this message was originally posted on the TWP blog on 10/1/12.
Deb Dudley

Friday, October 26, 2012

Lana's Halloween Book Picks

There are so many terrific Halloween books to choose from, but I'm going out on a spooky tree limb and sharing my favorites, one for the younger crowd, one for middle grades, and one for young adults.

I love And Then Comes Halloween, by Tom Brenner, because it captures the anticipation of Halloween, the feel of this time of year and all the sensory richness of October. The lovely lyrical language evokes all the things I love about Halloween.

It may seem odd, but my middle-grade pick is also a picture book. Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich, by Adam Rex, is a hilarious book that had my 11-year-old daughter in stitches. The humor in this book is really more suitable for for the 8-years-old and up reader. You absolutely MUST read this aloud and sing the little ditties for maximum monstrous fun!

And now for young adult readers. I just finished Maggie Stiefvater's The Raven Boys and I loved it! This book has just the right amount of spookiness for me, not so much gory or frightening as deliciously eerie. Not to mention the amazing characters, the skillful mood, and a plot that's good and twisty. Maggie is an incredible writer (have you read The Scorpio Races?) and this book shows it.

Happy Halloween reading!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

PIGGIES is on StoryCub!

Brian's picture book, PIGGIES, is now a video/podcast available from StoryCub!
PIGGIES is the book that answers the age old question, what would make a piggy go, "Wee! Wee! Wee!" all the way home.
And the best part is you can download the video as an itunes podcast for FREE. Just be sure to leave a nice comment and rating - or no roast beef!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Brian Rock reads at Happy Camper Fest

Our own Brian Rock will be reading from his three children's books, DON'T PLAY WITH YOUR FOOD!, PIGGIES, and WITH ALL MY HEART, at Happy Camper Fest at the Turning Basin in downtown Richmond this Saturday from 1-2pm. Come on down and enjoy the beautiful fall weather and stop by and say "hi!"

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Lana's Book Launch Party!

Our own Lana Krumwiede hosted a book launch party for her terrific middle grade novel, FREAKLING, this past Saturday at bbgb's in the Fan district of Richmond. Since her book's main character, Taemon, is forced to use slight of hand on occasion, Lana hired a magician to wow the crowd with some pretty amazing tricks. Lana then answered questions from the standing room only audience and even gave a few clues about her next book. She took time to autograph copies and even provided cupcakes decorated with mini Freakling cover edible toppers!
Here are a few pics from the festivities!

Congratulations Lana!
We couldn't be prouder of you!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Brian Rock: My Fave Spooky Read

My absolute favorite book about Halloween is Ray Bradbury’s The Halloween Tree. I have always loved Halloween and from my first exposure to fellow Richmonder, Edgar Allen Poe, I have always been drawn to tales of the supernatural. This book combines both elements as seven boys race through time and space to save the life of their very ill friend. In the course of their adventures with the mysterious Moundshroud, they learn the very roots of the Halloween celebration – past the original Hallowed ‘eve of the Catholic church, past the Mexican Dia del Muerta, past the Celtic New Year, past even the Roman fall festivals, all the way back to ancient Egypt and beyond. This is that rare blend of cultural and historical facts woven seamlessly with excellent story telling. This book precisely captures the mood of my favorite part of my favorite season.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

More Breaking News!

Our own Lana Krumwiede is going to tweet! On Monday, October 15th, from noon to 1:00 p.m. EDT, Lana Krumwiede, author of Freakling, will be available through Twitter to talk about her book and all things writing related.

Lana is one of the many conference speakers who will be in Richmond for
James River Writers' 10th annual conference on October 20-21. 
Visit the James River Writers website for details (see link above).

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Breaking News!

Our own Lana Krumwiede, author of Freakling and JRW conference speaker (Oct. 19 - 20), will appear on WTVR-6's show, Virginia This Morning on October 15.  Virginia This Morning airs from 9:00 to 10:00 a.m. JRW Chair Maya Smart will appear with Lana. Tune in, everyone!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Halloween Memory

Believe it or not, my favorite Halloween memory was the year I didn't go door to door to load up on treats. It was the year that I, my sister and a friend, dressed up as the Three Musketeers. (All of us read voraciously.)  We were nine or ten, one foot still in the childhood world of pretend but also growing up and delighted to be taking on the role of the gallant, swash-buckling heroes of old France. Never mind we were girls;  the three Musketeers were some of our favorite literary characters. We had capes and fake swords and boots; the hats were wonderful, complete with flowing feathers and wide brims. We went to a costume party and had a great time. We didn't even mind not going door-to-door, gathering treats!

What memory/memories do you have of favorite literary characters from childhood? What is your favorite Halloween memory/book or tradition? Leave a comment and share yours!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Writing Prompts Don't Have To Be Words

Alternative appearances: Lith Prints and Polaroid Transfer Images
I recently visited Marianne McKee's exhibit of 28 monochromatic prints at the Richmond Public Library. I had intended to pause briefly before each small photograph. But I found myself stopping for long minutes, drawn in by the ancient doorways, windswept moors and  craggy shorelines of the Hebrides, horses and sheep from the rural Virginia and  sculptures of bears, lions and rabbits enlivened by the intimacy of these delicate images.

Marianne has carefully manipulated the lith and Polaroid transfer processes for maximum effect, resulting in pictures that are evocative and haunting. I was drawn in, curious about the stories within  and just outside the frame of each photograph. Who took care of the sheep and cows, fed the cats, walked the hills, ran down to the ocean?

The inspiration for creating stories was unexpected and a delight. I was reminded that our muses come from anywhere and everywhere and sometimes our most powerful writing prompts are not the written word.

Marianne's work is at the Richmond Public Library- Dooley Hall, 101 E. Franklin Street, Richmond, VA from Sept 7 to Oct 2, 2012.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

A Happening at bbgb

Inspired by Lana Krumwiede, bbgb (3100 Kensington Ave.) hosted a gathering of writers and lovers of children's books on Saturday, September 15, from 3:00 to 5:00 p.m.
Co-owner Jenesse Evertson gave a short presentation, highlighting the following trends in publishing for children/YA:

The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls
bbgb is pleased to see the return of the scary story that is squarely in the realm of impossibility. In this context, Claire Legrand's book (Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers) really delivers. Lately, the borderline between reality and make-believe has become blurred in children's books. Could the events in the story really happen or not? This can be confusing for young readers. bbgb loves this book because it's scary, but safe scary because it's something that could never happen.

Every Day
Want a book that will make you cry but completely blow you away? That is how Jenesse describes Every Day (Knopf Books for Young Readers), a book about a soul who wakes up in a different body every day. A veteran of collaborations, David Leviathan wrote this book on his own.

Glory Be
Strong voices are becoming more and more prominent in books for kids and this book exemplifies the emergence of the southern voice in children's literature. A strong voice connects the reader with the character right away. Glory Be (Scholastic Press) is a debut novel by Augusta Scattergood, a 60-something--year-old, new author. Gives us all hope!

What's new in graphic novels? Anya's Ghost by Vera Brosgol (First Second) and Drama by Raina Telgemeier (GRAPHIX)  are examples, featuring solid stories and good characterization. Graphic novels are especially valuable for kids who like to jump around the page when they read. This format also helps kids learn to integrate visual and written elements to create the meaning of the story.
bbgb has changed the way they stock books. They have a permanent collection that will always be available in the store: classics plus newer books that they absolutely love. They also have a collection that changes constantly--new titles to try, great finds from other countries, etc. 

Lana Krumwiede was there to enjoy the talk and mingle with old friends and make new ones. She will launch her debut novel, Freakling (Candlewick) on October 13 at bbgb. All are invited! (For a full list of Lana's coming events visit
Also spotted in the audience was Brian Rock ( who launched his picture book With All My Heart (Tiger Tales) on Sept 1, 2012. Next for Brian is The Deductive Detective (Sylvan Dell) scheduled for April 2013. Congratulations, Brian!

 Gigi Amateau will launch her new novel Come August Come Freedom (Candlewick) at the Poe House, Thursday, Sept. 20, at 6:30 p.m. Visit Gigi at

Troy Howell (, illustrator and author, was on hand to meet and greet, as was Meg Medina (, winner of the 2012 Ezra Jack Keats New Writers Award for Tia Isa Wants a Car. THey were joined by Anne Westrick ( whose debut novel, Brotherhood, (Viking/Penguin) will come out in fall, 2013. Deb Dudley, Marianne McKee, Libby McNamee, Chris Sorensen, Roxanne Lane and many others also gathered at the bookstore to talk about books, talk about writing and catch up with each other. An informative, lively time for all!
Visit bbgb at for coming events and notice of future gatherings.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Ruckus Reading Tips

Check out Brian's reading tip on the Ruckus Reader page!
Feel free to chip in and suggest you own tips at the site!
Apparently he submitted the tip a while ago, because his daughter Delaney is now 7!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Box

Recently I had the delightful experience of contributing to an art project by writing a short poem that will never be read. I will let my friend, Sarah Masters, who created this piece, tell you about this unusual project in her own words.

Sarah writes: This is the story of how this piece, Collected Stories, came to be. One day my friend Rob offered to take me to a couple of interesting used furniture and stuff places up Route 1 heading north out of Richmond. Our first stop was “Class and Trash” which is always over-full with furniture, household goods, and assorted curiosities. We both noticed this box, because it had such an interesting shape; but neither of us could imagine what it was ever intended for. That day I bought a couple of things that had potential for use in future assemblages – but not the box. The curious piece stayed on my mind the rest of the day, so the next morning I went back to buy it. At the time I was in the midst of working on a group of 3-dimensional pieces, so I immediately began cleaning the box up and smoothing out the rough inside. But I had no notion how I might use the box in a piece. Over time I sketched out several ideas, but none seemed quite right. As I began the work for this show at Caldwell Arts Center, I began once again to consider how I might use the box. I had just finished the piece Promise in which I had used some layered writing on Lokta paper, and I thought about the possibility of using the same kind of layered paper in the box. For this piece I wanted to fold the paper accordion-style; this was influenced by a Japanese accordion sketchbook I had recently finished (as a left-handed project) and also by an amaryllis pod which split to reveal paper-like seeds layered in the pod like some sort of gills. In the past I have used quoted poems and, in Promise, some of my own poems in the writing – whatever seemed relevant to the piece. This one called for something different: a collective voice - true stories from the people around me. I set about composing an e-mail with a request for a true short story or anecdote (NOT a creative writing piece). Within an hour of sending out the message, the first story came in, and after the first day, six stories had arrived. People have been so generous with their stories and time, and they have been very supportive of the project. As soon as the stories began coming in, the piece became more than I had imagined it would be. I don’t know why this surprised me. One predictable aspect of making art is that each piece has a life of its own, and the maker is generally not the one in control. As soon as a piece is begun, it goes off in some unforeseen direction. The job of the artist, I believe, is to respond to what is happening – in a sort of dialogue with the work itself. With the box my focus had been on making the object. But the process of collecting and transcribing stories immediately became extremely important to the piece, and curiously so, since I am the only one who will read the stories. People have trusted me with their stories, these small fragments of their lives, and I have a responsibility to honor both that trust and the gifted story in my making. The stories themselves and the gifting of the stories change me. And, it seems, the project has also affected the participants. Many have thanked me for the invitation to write for different reasons: they were grateful for the motivation, they had been meaning to write this story, the writing was a welcome break from the daily routine, the writing brought clarity to their story, or the writing provided the opportunity to share a story that would be safe here - something that could not be shared more publicly. There is an aspect of exchange in this process that is akin to ideas expressed in Lewis Hyde’s book The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World. For a gift to have value and to stay alive, it must be passed on, kept in motion, not quantified. Hyde supports his ideas by looking at the notion of the gift through time and across cultures before he begins a consideration of the creative gift. What has happened and is happening with this piece seems to fit his thesis well. Further elaboration would require an essay of its own. Many aspects of this piece are multi-layered. In its format it is a combination of object/sculpture, assemblage, collaboration, and conceptual art. It is made from the literal (physical) layering of stories combined with more figurative sorts of layering. The contributed stories have been written and layered two sheets together. They are layered again as they are torn in strips, then glued and stitched, and finally folded into the box. There are layers within the stories themselves: layers of narrative, meaning, feeling, symbol, and characters. From story to story there are links and overlaps of subject or theme. There is a layer of the story of the box itself: the unknown story of the box’s origin and the one that is being written and continued now in the making of the piece. These layers and stories together speak of our connections to one another in ways that are elemental and quite profound. While it is unlikely that the viewer will be aware of all that I am describing, it is these things that allow a found box to be transformed into MORE. Sarah Masters June 2012

Sarah's piece, "Collected Stories" can be seen at The Caldwell Arts Council Exhibition in Lenoir, N.C.:

Visit Sarah at:

Friday, August 24, 2012

"Beasts of the Southern Wild"

"Beasts" has not been widely distributed, but I was able to see this film in July at the Westhampton Theater here in Richmond, VA. Although, generally speaking, film is about visuals, this movie is packed with lessons that can be applied to the craft of writing for children. Told from the viewpoint of six-year-old Hushpuppy, "Beasts" describes her impoverished, hard-scrabble life on an island off the southern delta. Abandoned by her mother years before and comforted only by her pets and her vibrant imagination, Hushpuppy lives side by side, in separate shacks, with her alcoholic father, Wink, who is dying. Daunting circumstances at any age. A lethal storm thunders in from the sea and Hushpuppy imagines all her fears transformed into beasts, liberated from the melting ice caps, come to confront her. The translation of the imaginary language of a child's mind to the visual language of film is rarely as fluent as it is here. The blending of fable, myth and reality is a master class for all who love and write stories for and about children of any age. "Beasts of the Southern Wild" won the Caméra d'Or award at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival after competing in the Un Certain Regard section. It also won the Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, where it premiered. The film went on to earn the Los Angeles Film Festival's Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature and the Seattle International Film Festival's Golden Space Needle Award for Best Director.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

CBI features Brian's New Book

For those of you looking for writer's resources, Children's Book Insider is a good place to start. The members of CBI, affectionately called "fighting bookworms" by founder Jon Bard, exchange tips, critiques and support online. The site also offers articles from published authors on topics like how to get good story ideas, how to create and release an ebook, how to find an agent, etc. They even list submission opportunities in their monthly newsletters. But even more importantly, they have just featured Brian's new book, WITH ALL MY HEART, as their current featured member book!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Catching up...

Congratulations to our own Lana Krumwiede who is teaching this week at Richmond Young Writers (July 12 - 20). We know all the young writers (ages 12 - 17) in her class will have a lot of fun and be inspired to be very creative! Speaking of Richmond Young Writers, regretfully they did not win the i.e.* Start-up Competition, an initiative of the Greater Richmond Chamber. But we congratulate the group on competing successfully with 143 companies, putting them among the 13 finalists who competed for the top prize at the end of June. Visit Richmond Young Writers at to find a list of programs offered this summer. There's still lots to do!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Summer Reading List Strategies

Terry Doherty of The Reading Tub has just shared a few tips in her latest newsletter for helping children with their summer reading lists. Her three step program to summer reading success is as follows:

1. Let them pick. Let them decide what material they want to read, and when. Maybe they like to get stuff done in the morning, maybe at lunch ... pick a time that works. By letting your reader read something they like (magazines and manuals count!) , keeps those skills polished.

2. Set the limits. You should set a minimum time, both per reading session and how many days a week. Most school districts have guidelines. For example, ours is 90 minutes per week. That still allows plenty of time for summer fun.

3. Divide and conquer. Just because the process sounds easy and fair to us, doesn't meent that it will be interpreted that way. Our suggestion is take that agreed upon time and split it in half. Your reader can start with their favorite and then do the required reading or vice versa.

To sign up for Terry's newsletter or to read reviews of the latest children's books, please visit The Reading Tub. (And while you're there, recommend one of our books for review!)

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Kim Norman goes wee wee wee to NY Times

Our dear friend and occasional mentor, Kim Norman, has just had her book, I KNOW A WEE PIGGY, featured in the New York Times Sunday book review! Based on the "I Know An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Spider" story, Kim's little piggy wallows instead of swallows. Check out the feature on the New York Times online. Congratulations Kim! We hope your little piggy goes wee, wee, wee to the bestseller list!

Friday, June 29, 2012

Great Summer Reads for Kids and Young Adults

Roller Coaster, by Marla Frazee
This picture book captures the roller coaster experience perfectly! I have used it in writing workshops for elementary school students as a model for using emotion and sensory detail to write about an experience.

Kid Vs. Squid, by Greg Van Eekhout
This wild, wacky book is the perfect beach read for seven- to ten-year-olds who love adventure and humor.

The Scorpio Races, by Maggie Stiefvater
Okay, technically this book takes place in November, but it does involve beaches and ocean. This book has a unique story concept, cool folktale elements, and absolutely gorgeous writing. The fabulous Maggie Stiefvater lives in Virginia, in case you didn't know.

Ship Breaker, by Paolo Bacigalupi
A gritty, raw, post-apocalyptic adventure set in a futuristic version of the American Gulf Coast region, where grounded oil tankers are being broken down for parts. Very compelling!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Congratulations to Richmond Young Writers!

And a big THANK YOU to all who voted for them in the Greater Richmond Chamber ‘s i.e.* inaugural startup competition. Lana wrote about this group and the competition in her May 30 post (see below). In case you missed it, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported in their Tuesday edition (Business section, 6/12/12) that Richmond Young Writers is among the 15 finalists. They are going for a $10,000 prize and six months of free space. A panel of veteran entrepreneurs will hear a presentation from each finalist who will describe their organization and business plan. Each finalist must also demonstrate that their start-up is located or will locate in the Richmond area and has been in business for less than a year. The Richmond Chamber will announce the winner on June 21 at the Richmond Center Stage downtown. Bravo Richmond Young Writers! We’re rootin’ for ya!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Reflections on my first BEA

I had the great fortune to be invited by my publisher, Tiger Tales, to represent them at this year's Book Expo America in New York. The Book Expo or BEA is an annual trade show for publishers. It is where they all gather under one (ginormous) roof to showcase their new and forthcoming titles to potential buyers, reviewers, bloggers and fans. In short it is the annual Super Bowl for book geeks like me. In between row after row after row of publishers' kiosks, I rubbed elbows with publishers, authors, book buyers, and a larger than life Captain Underpants character. As an author, it would have been easy to feel intimidated by the vast number of books that were represented there; but I chose instead to draw on the excitement of so many people who were so passionate about books and consequently, I had an absolutely wonderful time.
The highlights of the event for me were:
  •  Meeting the publishing staff at Tiger Tales who made me feel wanted and welcomed.
  • Autopraphing WITH ALL MY HEART for well over 100 people.
  • Seeing Lana's forthcoming title FREAKLING on display at the Candlewick booth.
  • Enjoying a dinner party with the Tiger Tales family at a charming Greek restaurant.
  • Watching my daughter, Delaney, get so excited about books.
  • Meeting so many wonderful book lovers.
  • And of course meeting MO WILLEMS!!!
Even though I was a relatively new and unknown author in a very big pond; for a few hours I got to feel like a rock star! Of course this week I'm back to yard work and taking out the trash, but the memories remain! I will cherish the memories of my first BEA for years to come, and I want to publicly thank my wonderful publishing team at Tiger Tales for making it happen!
To see more pics from BEA, visit my site at Brian Rock Writes For Children

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

To Make a Long Story Short: Writing a Synopsis That Sells

I recently completed my first middle grade novel and am writing my submission documents (query letter, outline, synopsis). So I was delighted to attend the panel on writing a synopsis presented last Thursday, May 31, at the Children’s Museum by James River Writers, hosted by Bill Blume. Panelists were Michelle Brower, agent with the Folio Agency and Stacy Hawkins Adams, author and columnist. It was well worth my time. My post today summarizes their presentation. Both Brower and Adams agreed that a synopsis is a professional document rather than a creative one and should show the movement of your book without a lot of detail. This means your synopsis should be no more than three pages long, should use a professional font (e.g., Times New Roman, 12 pt.) and should be double-spaced. The synopsis is a longer version of the text you envision on the back cover of your book and should be written in third person, even if you write your book in first person. Use your writer’s voice and proceed as if you are writing a short story, with a beginning, middle and end. Yes, include the ending! An agent reads your synopsis to find out what happens in your book. If your book has humor, suspense or other story-building elements, be sure to include those, too. Focus on your main character, hooking the reader with the first sentence and include how this main character changes from the beginning to the end of your book. Don’t recycle sentences from your book or from your query in your synopsis. Each document should be unique. A particularly useful idea is that the synopsis should be written before you write your first chapter because it then serves as an outline for writing the book. This may not fit with your writing style but if it is, give it a try. I’m going to keep that last point in mind in writing my next novel. I will use the tips and instructions I learned from this presentation in writing the synopsis for my current novel. I am confident their advice will give me a strong, ready-to-go synopsis when I send out my queries. Keep these points in mind and you will have ‘a synopsis that sells,’ too!