January 25, 2010

LAUREN TARSHIS -- Top 6-1/2 List

Lauren Tarshis is the first person to participate in Wild About Word's Top 6-1/2 List. This occasional feature will share wit and wisdom from editors, agents, award-winning authors, etc.

Lauren Tarshis is the author of Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree, winner of the SCBWI Golden Kite Honor Award for Fiction, as well as the sequel, Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell In Love. Coming soon is her new high-interest historical fiction series for young readers, "I Survived," featuring boys who survived some of history's most thrilling and terrifying disasters, including the sinking of the Titanic and the Shark Attacks of 1916. Lauren is also the editor of Storyworks Magazine, a delightful literature and language arts magazine for elementary school students.

Lauren has generously shared her Top 6 1/2 List of what makes a good short story.

"I think really it's the same elements that make for a successful novel, but it needs to be established more quickly." -- Lauren Tarshis


1. Create a character we can care about.
2. Come up with a problem that is clearly defined.
3. It's essential that there is something your character needs to gain or stands to lose.
4. The plot must enable this to happen.
5. You must have a clear and concise writing style (for kids).
6. You also need to have a very clear voice.
6 1/2. An echo. "I've been lucky to have worked with such wonderful writers over my years at Storyworks, and we have published dozens of truly delightful stories. In the end, my favorite stories have something I'll call "an echo," which is that feeling that lingers in your mind and heart for days after reading it."

Lauren, thank you for sharing your Top 6-1/2 List of what makes a good short story!

January 22, 2010


There will be a brand new feature here at Wild About Words, but more on that later . . .

First, TWO inspiring things:

1) Reading about Rebecca Stead winning the Newbery Medal for her novel When You Reach Me and Jerry Pinkney winning the Caldecott Medal for The Lion & The Mouse reminded me how much I love creating books for children. You can read about how the winners felt when they received the phone call here. You can watch the winners on the Today Show here.

2) This is Robert Dow, head of the Palm Beach County's Teacher Union. He has acute leukemia. His speech in this video is about teachers and children in Palm Beach County. And it's one of the best speeches I've ever heard.

Now, about that brand new feature . . . Check this blog early next week to read the first Top 6 1/2 List with a special surprise guest.

See you then!

January 18, 2010

Two Years Ago . . .

I was sitting in the audience in Philadelphia, listening to the Newbery Award winner being announced.

It was a thrilling moment because for children's book authors, winning the Newbery Medal is akin to receiving a golden ticket. Book sales skyrocket, speaking requests flood in and your book gets into the hands of many, many more readers.

This year, I felt just as excited, even though I read the list of winners on my home computer. A complete list of winners can be found here.

Hearty CONGRATULATIONS to the winners!!!

January 15, 2010

Three Things . . .

The news has been so sad lately that I came up with three things I'm looking forward to in order to cheer up a bit. Here they are:

1. On Monday, the Newbery Award and many other awards for children's literature/illustration will be announced at the ALA Conference in Boston.

2. Our son's basketball game. I love watching and cheering loudly during the games, especially since hubby is the coach. I've cheered a lot lately because they are undefeated so far.

3. Our lovely niece is visiting next week. Can't wait to take her to area parks, the bookstore, etc. and talk about her adventures as a student at a funky art school in Philadelphia.

What three things are YOU looking forward to this weekend and beyond?

January 12, 2010

Good-bye, Lady

"Can we take her back?" I asked Hubby. Our new dog, Lady, from the humane society required two walks a day and followed me everywhere.

"We'll get used to her," he said. "Let's give it some time."

Even then I knew. I knew we'd grow to love her. I knew that someday (way in the future) when she left us, we'd be heartbroken.

Oldest son and I were not dog people . . . yet.

That first night, a ferocious thunder storm terrified Lady. In her panic, she leaped into oldest son's bed. We woke to his shrieking. But Lady was so gentle and sweet, he learned to love her . . . and all dogs.

I grew to enjoy our walks. I learned that Lady liked to chase squirrels . . . and she was fast. I learned that the sight of another dog turned our sweet pooch into, um, CUJO. No doggie parks for you!

Lady ran to the door, tail wagging, when Hubby's car pulled into the driveway. She nearly jumped out of her fur when hubby donned baseball cap and sneakers, because that meant she was going for a walk with him. In the evening, when Hubby lay on the floor watching TV, she plopped next to him, resting her head on his chest. They were the best of buddies.

Once we figured her out and she figured us out, she really was the perfect pet for us. She kept me company while I wrote. She got hubby and I out for walks together in the evenings and on weekends. By some miracle, she was the only dog on the planet that didn't kick up hubby's allergies. And she never barked unless someone was at the door. Or, well, that CUJO thing she did when within ten feet of any dog larger than the size of a cotton ball. (Nobody's perfect.)

The holidays this year were awesome with Lady. She loved her goofy lobster toy that Santa brought.

And unlike last holiday, she didn't get into any boxes this year.

This past Friday, I had a lot to do, but I took Lady for a walk in the morning, past the ducks and egrets and herons that populated a nearby pond. I fed her breakfast and ran off to a meeting. Back home, I threw a toy for her to chase and got to work. Youngest son came home from school, petted Lady and got on the computer. Hubby came home, and I told him to feed the pets before I ran out to help with the concession stand at oldest son's school show.

I was selling sodas and candy when Hubby called to tell me Lady had an accident on the floor. "She's lying down and won't come over," he said. "Maybe she feels bad about her accident, but I'm afraid to leave her and come to the show."

I was watching the school show when I got a text from Hubby: "Call right away." Within minutes, I was in the car, rushing toward the emergency animal hospital, swiping tears off my cheeks and muttering, "Not my dog."

Turns out, Hubby and youngest son had to carry Lady into the hospital because she tried to walk, but collapsed. The vet told us her blood levels were out of whack. "Frankly, I'm surprised with levels like these that she's still alive."

By the time we went back to see her, she had no control over her muscles and her head jerked. I petted her fur and whispered in her ear that I loved her. I told her she was a good girl. Hubby petted her.

We went to the waiting room to prepare for a tough decision, but a moment later, Lady made it for us. A vet ran out and told us she'd stopped breathing.

Who knew a house could feel so empty? It's weird to work at my desk without hearing her snuffling nearby. It's odd to hear the doorbell ring and no bark afterward. We keep expecting to see her in the yard or waiting for us when we come home or following us into the garage when we get the cat's food. It's hard to peel a banana and not have Lady at my feet, looking up at me with those eyes, waiting for a piece.

We miss you, girl. You are irreplaceable.

And a fond farewell to Miep Gies, the wonderful "ordinary" woman who helped hide Anne Frank, her family and four other people for 25 months during the Nazi occupation. This woman is also responsible for saving Anne's diary after the Nazis discovered the family. She died today, at age 100.

January 7, 2010


In 2009, I read/listened to 64 books. (Adult titles are noted with an asterisk.)

I don't usually include picture books that I've read, but I must share one delightful picture book I read again and again this year: A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever by Marla Frazee. I'm a big fan of Marla Frazee's work, especially her fabulous illustrations for Mrs. Biddlebox. In A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever, she captures the spirit of young children beautifully. What a fun read!

Books that I dipped into or didn't finish aren't on the list.

And I discovered that when I don't watch TV, I get a lot more reading accomplished. Hmm. Imagine that.

I'd LOVE to hear about your favorite books from 2009. And what's on your bookshelf for 2010 so far?

Now, onto the list:

1. Roscoe Riley Rules #1 Never Glue Your Friends to Chairs -- Katherine Applegate (Illustrated by Brian Biggs)
2. *The Middle Place -- Kelly Corrigan
3. where i live -- Eileen Spinelli (Illustrated by Matt Phelan)
4. Good Enough -- Paula Yoo
5. *Tears of the Desert - A Memoir of Survival in Darfur -- Halima Bashir with Damien Lewis
6. Ivy and Bean -- Annie Barrows (Illustrated by Sophie Blackall)
7. Loser -- Jerry Spinelli
8. Rules -- Cynthia Lord
9. *Bliss to You (Trixie's Guide to a Happy Life) -- Trixie Koontz, Dog (as told to Dean Koontz)
10. Violette Raines Almost Got Struck by Lightning -- Danette Haworth
11. Hate That Cat -- Sharon Creech
12. Day of Tears -- Julius Lester
13. Project Mulberry -- Linda Sue Park
14. Stanley, Flat Again -- Jeff Brown
15. *The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid: A Memoir -- Bill Bryson (CD)
16. Flat Stanley -- Jeff Brown
17. First Boy -- Gary D. Schmidt
18. The Wednesday Wars -- Gardy D. Schmidt (CD) Read by Joel Johnstone
19. *I Feel Bad About My Neck And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman -- Nora Ephron
20. *The Book That Changed My Life (71 Remarkable Writers Celebrate the Books that Matter Most to Them) -- Edited by Roxanne J. Coady and Joy Johannessen
21. *Invitation to the World -- Richard Peck
22. Trouble -- Gary D. Schmidt (CD) Read by Jason Culp
23. *Handle with Care -- Jodi Picoult
24. wintergirls -- Laurie Halse Anderson
25. Mudville -- Kurtis Scaletta
26. *Writing the Breakout Novel -- Donald Maass
27. *The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing -- Melissa Bank
28. Savvy -- Ingrid Law
29. What I Saw and How I Lied -- Judy Blundell
30. *The Gingerbread Girl -- Stephen King (CD) Read by Mare Winningham
31. *The Help -- Kathryn Stockett
32. The Chosen One -- Carol Lynch Williams
33. *Plot and Structure -- James Scott Bell
34. The Moon of the Alligators -- Jean Craighead George
35. *The House on Mango Street -- Sandra Cisneros
36. Because I Am Furniture -- Thalia Chaltas
37. When You Reach Me -- Rebecca Stead
38. Ramona Quimby, Age 8 -- Beverly Cleary
39. Love, Aubrey -- Suzanne Lafleur
40. Goofball Malone, Ace Detective, Follow That Flea -- Stephen Mooser
41. Carter Finally Gets It -- Brent Crawford
42. Sixteen Years in Sixteen Seconds: The Sammy Lee Story -- Paula Yoo (Illustrated by Dom Lee)
43. The Abracadabra Kid: A Writer's Life -- Sid Fleischman
44. Smiles to Go -- Jerry Spinelli
45. Runaway -- Wendelin Van Draanen
46. Angry Management -- Chris Crutcher
47. The Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs -- Betty Birney (CD) read by Joseph Buttler)
48. *Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight -- Alexandra Fuller
49. Holes -- Louis Sachar
50. *Alexander and the Wonderful, Marvelous, Excellent, Terrific Ninety Days: An Almost Completely Honest Account of What Happened to Our Family When Our Youngest Son . . . Came to Live With Us for Three Months -- Judith Viorst
51. *How I Write -- Secrets of a Bestselling Author -- Janet Evanovich with Ina Yalof
52. * From a Buick 8 -- Stephen King (CD)
53. Stargirl -- Jerry Spinelli
54. *The Writing Life -- Annie Dillard
55. Make Lemonade -- Virginia Euwer Wolff (CD) Ready by Heather Alicia Simms
56. True Believer -- Virginia Euwer Wolff
57. I Can't Keep My Own Secrets (Six-Word Memoirs by Teens Famous and Obscure) -- Edited by Smith Magazine
58. This Full House -- Virginia Euwer Wolff
59. The Magician's Elephant -- Kate DiCamillo
60. Claudette Colvin Twice Toward Justice -- Phillip Hoose
61. *Post Secret (Confessions on Life, Death and God) -- Frank Warren
62. Jumped -- Rita Williams-Garcia
63. *Anybody Can Write -- A Playful Approach -- Roberta Jean Bryant
64. Marcelo in the Real World -- Francisco X. Stork

January 6, 2010

This Is Too Punny . . .

I'm doing pun research. Some are so funny, I have to share. (My apologies to the authors of these gems as there were no names mentioned.)

Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.

Two silk worms had a race. They ended up in a tie.

When the TV repairman got married, the reception was excellent.

Why was the ink drop sad? Because her dad was in the pen and she didn't know how long the sentence would be.

I can hear you groaning from here. Have a PUNDERFUL day!

January 3, 2010

The Gang's All Here . . . Well, Almost . . .

There are a group of people who are very important to me. My Sunday group. We meet once a month at someone's home to critique each other's work. But we do much more than that. We celebrate each other's successes (both professional and personal) and support each other when things go wonky. We also eat delicious food, make each other laugh and solve the world's problems in only a few hours.

(Our holiday gathering -- Me, Jazzy Jill, Lovely Linda, Sensational Sylvia and Positively Peter)

(Capable Carole)

(Debonair Dan, demonstrating how to use a lariat -- in my house!)

(Knowledgeable Kieran and Positively Peter, exchanging gifts and a few laughs)

I've know most of these people for a decade. They lift my spirits every time I'm with them. And I'm grateful for the ways we enrich each other's lives and care about each other. Love you guys!

January 1, 2010

Happy New Month!

That's write. A decade is too overwhelming to think about. Even a year is a looooong time, so I've decided to celebrate the month.

So . . . Happy New Month!

As a writer, I've discovered that breaking things down into month-sized chunks is effective. I mean, I never, ever thought I could write a novel in a month, but thanks to NANOWRIMO, I did. So did Sara Gruen, by the way, when she wrote her amazing Water for Elephants.

So, last month, I set myself writing goals. And here's what I accomplished:

1. Wrote a 2,500 word article for the 2011 Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market about creating quirky characters.
2. Wrote another article of similar length that I hope to sell on spec.
3. Applied for a writing residency. Fingers crossed!
4. Wrote an essay for the "Three Books" feature on npr.org on spec. Again, fingers crossed.
5. Created a batch of poems for my terrific editor at Blue Mountain Arts.
6. Finally came up with a short story for a children's magazine, whose editor has been very patiently waiting.


This month, I hope to revise my novel and update my Web site.

What do you plan to accomplish/discover/create/learn/celebrate this month?