The Pyrenees---Southern France

The Pyrenees---Southern France

Friday, March 24, 2017

Rejected--With Lots of Feedback, and Back-of-the Book Blurb #53

I recently submitted an article to NCTE's (National Council of Teachers of English) journal for middle school teachers. (It was my first time to submit to them.) It was an article about doing NaNoWriMo with my students. The piece was not accepted, but look at the incredible feedback I got: 

Reviewer #1: I enjoyed reading this article. The challenge of writing everyday with a word count goal is one I think I would have a hard time meeting. And, I would really like to know more about your students' response to the challenge. I have a few suggestions for revisions that I think would make your piece richer and more useful for other teachers.

First, it's a little hard to know whose story this is. I think it may be really yours and the students'. To give it more depth, I think you need to provide more detail about some very important parts of the story. I would shorten up the beginning 3 paragraphs so you can get to the experience with your sixth, seventh, and eighth grade students. I would also get more quickly to the NaNoWriMo unit. Making these revisions would give you more space to explore how you and the students learned about writing, the choices you made as writers, and what you and students learned about composing in a more detailed way. For example, I'm one of those people who had to look up the Tulsa riots to remind myself about the circumstances, and you addressed how reading about it or looking old newspapers gave you new ideas for not only your writing but also as a catalyst you shared with your students. And, I wondered about the students: Did your conversations with them provide new ways of thinking about their own writing? How? The sample comments from your students are a good start. 

The experience with NaNoWriMo was intended to help students become more fluent and confident writers not so driven by form. That you shared the experience with them is a practice that has long been held as important to the teaching of writing. This challenge added a new twist, I think, to the concept in that it was not only daily but also focused on writing a significant amount every day. I'm not quite sure yet about the significance of what you learned about yourself as a writer or "how tightly-knit [your] community had become."

I'll end with a couple of last thoughts. You have a really pleasant writing voice. You hold yourself up to a writer's mirror and assess yourself with honesty and hope. What you need to do now is hone this story and make every word count--you don't have that many to use! 

Reviewer #2: I think it would be powerful to start the article with what you were noticing in your classroom with your current students. Try beginning with paragraph 3 on page 1. Starting with your own Nano experience and then moving in to comparing your old and new school distracts from the point of this article: what happens when teachers write with their students. Focusing in on this experience from the beginning will strengthen your point. I found the first two paragraphs distracting and am not sure how they support the overall idea.

I'd also like more explicit reflection on how a teacher writing with students changed the experience for the students. I love that you used student voices. The quotes are powerful. But now expand on those. If I, or any teacher, am going to try this out in my own room I need to know why I should. In the abstract you ask how writing with students might impact the teacher...but I'm wondering if you might talk more about how it impacts students.

The article as a whole is mostly narrative. I would encourage you to weave in some research on teachers as writers. More reflection and more explicit explanation about how each interaction with a student caused a change in his/her thinking about writing might be another thing to try. You talk about moving around the room, sitting by different writers, and give snippets of conversations you had. How did that kind of teaching, as opposed to not writing with them, change the students view/understanding of writing?


Wow! Of course, I'm disappointed they didn't fall in love with it and snap it up. However, I am so appreciative of the feedback. Maybe I'll get closer to an acceptance the next time I submit to them.

And now, onto this week's book blurb :


Look at the photo below. That is the cover of your book. You choose the genre. An informational book on historic neon signs? A crime story about gamblers in a flashy desert city? You decide.

Write an enticing blurb--150 words or less. (The title doesn't count in the word count.) Blurbs are those enticing bits that prod you into buying the book. Sometimes they're on the back cover of the book. Sometimes they're on the inside front cover. What they always try to do is lure you into purchasing the book.

Lisa Ricard Claro was the original creator of this writing challenge. However, she's been busy for the last few years. She's gotten published a three-novel series, and currently, is taking over the Korean children's book market. Watch out! She has sharp elbows and even sharper ideas. If you get in her way when she's on a writing roll (or if she step in her path when she's on her way to see the movie Beauty and the Beast) she might just jab you with those deadly elbows.

Include your blurb in a blog post. Include a link to this post. Also, link your post to Mr. Linky. Mr. Linky is easy. If you've never done it, you'll be impressed with how simple he is. And then, check out the other blurb(s). It's interesting to see the different directions writers take, given the same photo.

Here's the book cover, along with my blurb:



photo by pixabay
Viva Las Vegas


Elvis Presley’s alive. He’s not a hunka-hunka burnin’ love anymore but he does eat hunks of bread, deep-fried and still burnin’ hot. He might choose to wear :blue suede shoes but why bother? He can’t see his feet these days. And when he dances in his own kitchen, alone, his belly jiggles so much, it resembles a milk shake that’s getting all shook up in the blender.


When he goes shopping (which he does rarely), people have a little less conversation and make a lot more snide remarks. Don’t be cruel, he insists inside his head… but he never says it out loud.


He doesn’t live out loud, either. Elvis is forced to wear disguises and live like a recluse.


Presley decides enough is enough. He’s 82 now, people were fooled into thinking he died almost forty years ago, so it’s time to reveal the truth…


… in Las Vegas. (150 words)

And here is next week's photo, if you would like to let your ideas percolate:


photo by pixabay












Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Today's Young People

There's lots of talk about the youth of today. How they're self-centered. How they're shallow.

However, do we challenge them enough? Do we give them opportunities to think of others? Do ensure they have the guidance and the chance to do something selfless?

My middle-schoolers are working on resolutions for Civitas. Civitas is an organization here in St. Louis that--every year--hosts several mock-general assemblies of the United Nations. Earlier in the school year students did research, chose a country, and then studied what problems they're grappling with.



Our resolutions
All 20 resolutions from my students cannot be discussed, as there will be two other schools meeting on the same day as we do. Therefore, two resolutions have been chosen: Ghana's resolution and Australia's resolution. (Go to the link right under the photo--from last year--to see the resolutions that are "live" so far.)

The students will present the resolution. The representatives from the other countries will take notes, and then have a chance to voice their concerns and suggestions. Then, each one will be voted on.

This is a free program, and has gotten my students so excited about real world problems. Who knows? Some day, they might actually become a member of the United Nations...







Friday, March 17, 2017

Support and Celebration, Along With Back-of-the-Book Blurb Friday # 52

A few days ago, Lynn wrote a post about pie. She asked what her followers favorite pie was, and mentioned we'd be having pie (at our critique meeting this past Wednesday) to celebrate me making it into the Listen to Your Mother show.

I didn't reply. I knew that even if I said, "My favorite pie is Norma Rae's raisin and French fig," (a made-up pie) she'd surf the internet and then failing to find it, would improvise. Lynn is like that. She'll find out what our favorite pie/cake/candy/entree is, file it away, and then--voila--she prepares it when it's our birthday or some other special occasion.

Lynn's also a master baker. She makes her melt-in-your-mouth pie crusts from scratch.

On Wednesday, I was hoping for coconut pie. I hate coconut, which meant I could easily resist eating a piece. 

What I found (instead of coconut creme pie) was irresistible. Lynn made my grandmother's chocolate chiffon pie. It was sponge-y. It was decadent and it was spectacular. She had gotten the recipe from me years ago and--of course--had not misplaced it.





(Perhaps you can't see them in this photo, but the sign of a great chocolate chiffon pie are the tiny air pockets, which come from the whipped egg whites that are folded into the chocolate mixture. It makes a light and frothy filling. I was at least glad to hear that Lynn doubts her "folding" ability when it comes to baking because I do, too. I always wonder if I am indeed folding, or if I'm merely stirring in a screwy way, resulting in a heavier pie.)

What my critique partners know is that my story would not have been accepted as a Listen to Your Mother piece in its original form. It's a story about my son, and I worded some details that made the reader think that, well... well, the way I wrote it, it seemed like my son and I had an unnatural (and illegal) relationship. If I hadn't gotten a great deal of much-needed constructive criticism, after I auditioned, the show's producers would have called the DFS child abuse hotline on me.

Thankfully, I got the support and help I needed before the audition happened. And when we met this past Wednesday, we found we had a more important reason to celebrate: Kim has a new grandson. (Kim's daughter has been trying to start a family, she and her husband waded through piles of paperwork and created a video and two-and-a-half weeks after their story went "live" on the site, she got a call... and a baby boy.) Congratulations, Kim!

And now--onto that book blurb stuff... 

Look at the photo below. That is the cover of your book. You choose the genre. An informational book on car mini Mariachi bands? A crime story about little boys who form a gang of robbers? You decide.

Write an enticing blurb--150 words or less. (The title doesn't count in the word count.) Blurbs are those enticing bits that prod you into buying the book. Sometimes they're on the back cover of the book. Sometimes they're on the inside front cover. What they always try to do is lure you into purchasing the book.

Lisa Ricard Claro was the original creator of this writing challenge. However, she's been busy for the last few years. A three-book publishing deal. Another novel (or two) in the works. Building up her editing business...

Include your blurb in a blog post. Include a link to this post. Also, link your post to Mr. Linky. Mr. Linky is easy. If you've never done it, you'll be impressed with how simple he is. And then, check out the other blurb(s). It's interesting to see the different directions writers take, given the same photo.

Here's the book cover, along with my blurb:

photo by pixabay


Getting Rich to Get Candy

Juan and Carlos loved candy, and they loved Sour Patch Kids candy the best. When they’d do their chores or make good grades in school, they’d beg for the makes-your-mouth-pucker stuff, but their parents believed in only nature’s candy: fruit. In the Gonzalez house, it was all healthy, nutritious food, all the time.

The boys dreamed of the sugary stuff… so they came up with a plan to make some money so they could buy their own candy.

Picking a spot on the street near their home, Juan and Carlos set up their own miniature musical venue. They borrowed some accordions their uncle had up in his attic, and started playing.

Will they be able to teach themselves how to play the buttonbox? Will they learn to squeeze some pleasant tunes out of the squeezebox? Or will they start making the most money from people who beg them to stop? (150 words)


And for Val, who likes to work ahead, here is the photo for next week.

photo by pixabay







Friday, March 10, 2017

Another Bake-Off, Some Big News and Back-of-the-Book Blurb Friday # 51


Yesterday my middle-schoolers had another bake-off. In case you missed the earlier fascinating post on this activity, here's the low-down:

The students chose a cupcake challenge this time. (Earlier, it was microwave brownies.) Each student chose an added ingredient and wrote it down on a slip of paper. The slips were put in a bowl, and then were drawn, one at a time. The next week (this club meets once a week during our homeroom time) the groups worked on their strategies. How would they cool down the heat of ghost pepper powder in their cupcake? How would they mask the salmon (again, in a cupcake). On the third meeting, they chopped and squeezed and whisked... and then were judged.

Some of the combos (yes, that means that all of them were featured in the same cupcake) included:

  • tuna, bacon and Spam
  • lime juice, Ranch dressing and fresh spinach
  • ghost pepper powder, canned salmon and A-1 sauce
Several teachers and cafeteria workers asked the same question: What's the point?

On the day of the bake-off the kids give up their PE class, their lunch (they eat while they work), their recess and their homeroom time. During this time, there were 15 students blending (frosting) and mincing (chives) and crushing (Toxic Waste candy. They learned time management skills, because at 1:00, the judging took place. They had to work as a team, or their cupcakes wouldn't get ready in time. They had to utilized some research skills (what will neutralize the heat of ghost pepper powder?) and had to decide on some strategies, such as
  • frizzling up the Spam in bacon grease (making it more palatable to people
  • bringing sugar-free, ready-to-eat jello for their opponent (the girl who contributed the jello figured the group that got it would assume they'd get a box of Jello powder. She figured--and rightly so--the team that drew Jello would not be happy with small cartons of the jiggly stuff
  • blending chocolate frosting with the A-1 sauce for a cupcake dipping sauce
There were some surprising results. The Spam/bacon/tuna cupcake took 2nd place.(Due to the Spam, it was the one I dreaded the most.) The ghost pepper/salmon/A-1 sauce one was the #1 pick. One team served theirs with half a straw inserted into the cupcake. The unfortunate guest judges (seminary students) looked at the straws, puzzled looks on their faces, and I had to whisper, "It's not a joke. You'll need the straws." (The lime juice and the fresh spinach made their cakes a runny mess. They had plenty of baking time but never... really... set.)

As far as the big news, I got word this week that I snagged a spot in the Listen to Your Mother St. Louis show. On Tuesday I'll give you more details about the show and tickets, but needless to say, I'm excited. 

And now, what you're frothing at the mouth about: book blurb stuff.


Look at the photo below. That is the cover of your book. You choose the genre. An informational book on car repair? A thriller about a business owner who's fed up with the hoopty parked in front of his shop? You decide.

Write an enticing blurb--150 words or less. (The title doesn't count in the word count.) Blurbs are those enticing bits that prod you into buying the book. Sometimes they're on the back cover of the book. Sometimes they're on the inside front cover. What they always try to do is lure you into purchasing the book.

Lisa Ricard Claro was the original creator of this writing challenge. However, she's been busy for the last few years. A three-book publishing deal. Another novel (or two) in the works. Battling with Cathy C. Hall over the Korean children's book market. You get the picture. She ain't got time for this stuff.

Include your blurb in a blog post. Include a link to this post. Also, link your post to Mr. Linky. Mr. Linky is easy. If you've never done it, you'll be impressed with how simple he is. And then, check out the other blurb(s). It's interesting to see the different directions writers take, given the same photo.

Here's the book cover, along with my blurb:


photo by pixabay.com



Larry’s Love


Larry has a zoo… a zoo on wheels.


You want a petting zoo at your kid’s birthday party? Larry’s your guy. He’ll deliver a goat, a mini-donkey and a pig or two—in his car.


Oh, don’t go thinking that Larry’s critters will get tethered up in your yard for the party. Nope. With Vagabond Zoo, children get to experience a mosh pit of fun. The farm animals roam and climb around in Larry’s car. During birthday celebrations, kids—one at a time—clamber into the car so they can get stepped and nibbled on to their heart’s content.


However, Larry’s business is putting a damper on his social life. Women aren’t impressed by his car. The paint job. The interior that’s been destroyed by Billy the Goat. The smell of the “garden gold” the animals leave on the seats.

Will love be the victor? Or will Larry’s love for his critters win? (150 words)

Author's note: When I chose this photo a week ago, I had no idea what I'd write about. However, the internet address (which I didn't see until I worked on this on Thursday night) painted on the side of the car instantly inspired me.


And for those who'd like a sneak peek at next week's photo, here it is:


photo by pixabay.com


Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Every Dog Has His Day



      Okay, this isn't the dog I meant to write about, but Karmer (from Istanbul, Turkey) has a wonderful day every day. Well, he will have better days once he finds a forever home, but even now, while he's still waiting for a permanent source of love, he's enjoying life. (Love a Golden Rescue thinks he's a Lab/Lab mix.)

     He walks like a dream... way better than our dog.




      No, this is the dog I planned on writing about today. Radar, who's almost 3, passed his obedience class last night. My husband and I both consider it a March Miracle. Radar followed all of the commands he was given in a satisfactory manner. Either that, or the instructors were tired of seeing his happy-butt, and they gave him the certificate so he'd leave.

      When our pup first started this six-week class, the instructors said, "He's such a happy boy." We didn't have to read between the lines. We knew what they really meant. They meant, 'Your dog is one wild and crazy dog.'

      So, if you start something and assume you're going to fail, you just might end being pleasantly surprised.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

B-Ball, Fried Fish and Back-of-the-Book Blurb # 50

This week was a busy one. Late nights all five days this work week. Two of those nights were spent on the sidelines of a basketball tournament. Our 7th and 8th graders took part in the Shamrock Tournament, a basketball tournament that's been going on for 52 years. 

Both games (on Tuesday and Thursday) were nail-biters. I told a couple of the boys on the team, "You owe me a new box of hair dye, 'cause this game made my hair even grayer." It was back and forth, full of hopeful hearts and some disappointments. The boys won on Tuesday, but lost on Thursday, which made me think of writing (or life, really).

You can't let your disappointment impact your future. There were times that the boys got frustrated over a ref's call, or when they missed a shot. Their coach would have to get them back on the right track. Our writer friends do that. When we get despondent over a lack of a publishing contract or when our work gets rejected, other writers are there to encourage us, so we keep submitting. (You never know when that next "yes" from an editor will come along.)

Last night was my school's first fish fry of the season. I worked for a couple of hours serving up green beans, french fries and shrimp. It started out slow, but then grew to a crazy-long line. It ended up being like the childhood game "Telephone." The first person serving would get the order, serve the fish, tell the pasta person what to serve (red or white pasta) and give the tray to the pasta person. They would serve up the pasta and tell me what to put on the tray. I'd serve up the sides I was responsible for, and give it to the final person, letting them know if they were getting cole slaw or clam chowder. Last night, like most experiences, I connected again with my writing life.

You have to listen carefully. There are times when our writer friends give us some feedback. Some advice. We have to listen carefully, even if the advice might involve lots of work, and even when it's not something we want to hear. However, taking the time to digest the critique or the suggestion might result in a change that results in a piece getting published.

And now, onto book blurb stuff that I'm a day late with:

Look at the photo below. That is the cover of your book. You choose the genre. An informational book on farm animals? A romance between a cow and a handsome bull who's full of bull? You decide.

Write an enticing blurb--150 words or less. (The title doesn't count in the word count.) Blurbs are those enticing bits that prod you into buying the book. Sometimes they're on the back cover of the book. Sometimes they're on the inside front cover. What they always try to do is lure you into purchasing the book.

Lisa Ricard Claro was the original creator of this writing challenge. However, she's been busy for the last few years. A three-book publishing deal. Another novel (or two) in

Include your blurb in a blog post. Include a link to this post. Also, link your post to Mr. Linky. Mr. Linky is easy. If you've never done it, you'll be impressed with how simple he is. And then, check out the other blurb(s). It's interesting to see the different directions writers take, given the same photo.

Here's the book cover, along with my blurb:





The Milk of Human Kindness:  A Mother’s Plea

Bess E. was the top cow in the field. The chief moooover and shaker.
She’d been in the pasture long enough to know something was up. Their calves would hang, not leaving since the milk was free, then they’d disappear. The babies would start getting a bit chubby, big trucks would rumble in, the crying cowlets would get shoved into the truck--never to be seen again.
Bess E. was determined to find out where all those calves were going. She put on her earring, twitched her tail around to get the dust off her flanks, and after trampling down part of the fence, headed on a journey.
What she finds out shocks her… and drives her to go back so she can warn the rest of her cow colleagues.
As she trots home, she keeps thinking, We need to go on strike. No more breeding until things change. (149 words)  



And for the writer (and I'm talkin' bout you, Val) who likes to work ahead, here is the photo for next week: