The Facebook Writing Exercise

Don’t waste all those free narratives right at your fingertips. They’re just waiting for you to weave them into a story.

Here’s how it goes:

1) First, cut and paste a screenful of status updates from your friends into your word processing program.

2) Then, get rid of all but the juiciest, most interesting ones.

3) Imagine a storyline in which these updates belong to your protagonist. Example below.

Names have been changed to protect the innocent, and permissions have been granted to publish these.

Here’s what I started with:

Ted Johnson might need some tequila. Some debt collecting agency calls me several times a day, looking for various Johnsons who don’t exist here. Today they are insisting my name must be Tequila Johnson.

Holly Schuster is up and operating off of 3 hours of sleep…but I got most of my work done…will be crashing this afternoon, for sure!

Tyler Hall talked for a long time with both of my sisters tonight, cried at a sad story on Biggest Loser, and baked a cake: what great (and free) therapy after a tiring day!

Samantha Rivera is making blueberry muffins and drinking coffee through a straw!!! (Yes, still!)

Here’s the beginning of my story:

She was up and operating after only 3 hours of sleep, having talked for a long time with both of her sisters  the night before. They couldn’t tell her what to do about the collections agency calling several times a day, looking for Stan.  What she felt like drinking was tequila, but the only thing at the office was stale coffee, cool enough to drink through a straw.

*This is a jumping off point to get your brain running—–not a suggestion to fictionalize your friends’ lives. Use more status updates to keep your story going, if you need them. Get writing!

Slowpoke Update and Skype Author Chat

Slowpoke has gotten a couple more positive reviews, from Booklist :

“Pearce’s succinct text will amuse emerging readers with her only slightly exaggerated references to the hectic pace of modern life. Ritchie’s fluid, cartoon-style illustrations are equally adept at conveying the story’s speedy absurdities…and its more relaxing moments”

and from School Library Journal (scroll down after clicking on the link).

Also, I just found out that Slowpoke now has an Accelerated Reader test (you have to enter the title into the search feature to see it).

Last week, I did a Skype author chat with Carver Elementary School in Florence, SC. It was really fun. The students are third-graders and had all read Slowpoke ahead of time. Their teachers helped them compile questions about the writing process. I missed being able to interact in person with the kids, but it was a good experience. The learning goes both ways with these kinds of things, and it’s always great to hear from readers. I’d like to do more of them in the future. For tips on hosting a Skype author chat, check out this article. If your school wants to host me, please contact bettyasmith (at) bellsouth (dot) net and put “author visit” in the subject line.

The picture above is me on the big screen in Carver’s library. Special thanks to librarian Debra Heimbrook for working with me on this inaugural Skype chat.

Writing Exercise: Language Barrier

The other day I was speaking in German to another parent at my son’s kindergarten. It’s a great place for me to try out my language skills because the people are friendly and patient.

I was making (admittedly boring) small talk, trying to tell her that I had been shopping for dishwasher detergent tablets, but I didn’t know the word, so I made do. I said I had been shopping for “plate soap” or teller seife. Of course this got me a friendly laugh, but she knew what I was talking about and then taught me the right word(geschirr- reiniger tabs).

It got me thinking, though. Trying to communicate in another language makes you think of new ways to get your point across. The important thing is making yourself understood. It’s  similar  to when I’m speaking with someone who doesn’t know a lot of English. I can’t always use my “English major” words. I have to use simple, direct words, and using a limited pallette can lead to interesting things.

So here’s the writing exercise:

Take a section of text, from your own writing or from a book, and rewrite for someone who doesn’t know a lot of English words. Another way to think of it is to turn the text into an easy reader. The idea is to think about the words in a new way. Shades of meaning will be lost, but you might gain a new perspective.

Here’s my attempt at “translating” the first paragraph of Dicken’s Our Mutual Friend. First, the original text:

In these times of ours, though concerning the exact year there is no      need to be precise, a boat of dirty and disreputable appearance, with two figures in it, floated on the Thames, between Southwark Bridge which is of iron, and London bridge which is of stone, as an autumn evening was closing in.

The figures in this boat were those of a strong man with ragged grizzled hair and a sun-browned face, and a dark girl of nineteen or twenty, sufficiently like him to be recognizable as his daughter.

Here’s my “translation”:

One fall night there was an ugly, dirty boat floating on the Thames River. The boat was between two bridges, one of metal and one of stone.

One person in the boat was a strong, rough-looking man with a tan face. The other was a young woman with dark hair. She looked like him. She must be his daughter.

Variation: Re-name everything in your kitchen according to the same rules. For example, the microwave could be renamed the quick-cooking box. Interestingly, the German word for refrigerator is Kühlschrank, which literally translates to “cool closet.”

The Frankfurt Report

Every year Frankfurt, Germany hosts the largest international book fair (Buch Messe) in the world. Last week, I took the train down to Frankfurt to see what all the excitement is about.

In the picture above, taken by Sarah Johnson, my gracious host and guide, I’m in the Boyds Mills Press booth, where Slowpoke was displayed (way down in the corner to my left). Yeah, my expression is strange. Just to my right the BMP foreign rights rep was having a meeting, so I guess I was feeling a little silly posing for a shot right beside them.

This book fair is all business. Whereas at librarian and teacher conferences  the booth folk are very chatty, here they are all booked from morning til night with business meetings. There are few authors or educator types or average joe book customers, and the books aren’t sold individually. The idea is to show them to foreign publishers who might want to buy the rights and re-publish in another country/ language.  Like this:

The hall for German publishers is a little different, with readings and cookbook demos and tv interviews going on all day. It had by far the most traffic of all the halls. Interestingly, the BMP booth was located in this hall, not with all the other American and British publishers in another hall.

American friends who had been before all told me to wear walking shoes. Now that I live in Germany, all my shoes are walking shoes. It was good advice, though. My shoes held up fine, but I was definitely sore from walking for hours and hours.

It was fascinating to see the books being written and published in countries all across the world. Even though I’m living overseas, I often still forget that the U.S. is just one market, just one place people make and read books, and English is just one language of many. The picture book artwork really stood out to me—-so many fresh and fabulous images.

Some of my favorite covers:

Signature : Patterns in Gond Art


Those top two covers are both from Kalandraka,  a Spanish language children’s publisher that produces gorgeous books. The third book is from Indian publisher Tara Books. They sell handmade, hand-printed versions of their books as well as “regular” ones. More info about Tara books at this blog post. The fourth cover above is from Swedish publisher Raben & Sjogren.

Below is a display of Steig Larrson’s book covers. The Swedish author’s trilogy has been translated and read all over the world, and each country has its own cover art. I’m currently reading book the second book in the trilogy, with the trade paperback British cover (which I have to say is not my favorite—the cover, that is—the book is awesome).

There were a lot of digital tools around at the fair. I find the whole digital publishing front intriguing, but I was struck by the overwhelming beauty of the actual books in contrast. Especially picture books. A screen just can’t compete with paper. I guess I’m a paper-lover, always have been.

Speaking of paper-loving, I also really enjoyed the booths full of German art books. I’m talking about hand-printed, limited edition books from independent presses. The ultimate rebellion against the digital age. Made me want to start cranking out my own again.

My Very First Easy Reader: WHY CAN’T I HAVE MY OWN WAY?

Unearthed recently from the ESP archives, this is my first easy reader, written sometime during my first grade year. I’m posting it today to celebrate the release of my new easy reader, Slowpoke! Enjoy.

"No, this one."

"I am." / "I am."

"This."/ "This." I believe that's a couple of dodge balls vs. a jump rope.

"You can't," (says the mom). "I will," (says the kid).

Slowpoke Available for Pre-Order!

Hi everyone

You can now pre-order my easy reader, Slowpoke, through amazon. Please do! It’s the story of a slow-moving girl whose fast-paced family gets fed up with her. Click here or on the picture above to get to the appropriate page.  The picture of the cover is not on amazon yet, but don’t let that deter you. I appreciate your support.

Slowpoke Has a Cover!

Now that it’s official, I can finally share with you the cover of my upcoming easy reader. That’s Fiona there in the middle, taking time to smell the roses. Slowpoke is the story of a slow-moving girl and her impatient family.

I still don’t have a pub date on it, but it looks like it’ll probably be Fall 2010. My daughter is just now learning to read, so it’s exciting to think that she may be able to read it herself by the time it comes out. I’ll keep you posted.

Interview on BookNAround

DSC_0020Thank you to my friend Kristen Knox, who interviewed me on her blog, BookNAround.  Kristen must be the most voracious reader I know—-take a look at her blog and you’ll see what I mean. If you want to know about any new book out there, chances are Kristen has already read it. She is a fellow member of the Charlotte chapter of the Women’s National Book Association.

AASL: Revving Up to Write Bibliography


The AASL conference was a fun blur of activity. I saw some dear old friends and met lots of new people, too. Thank you to everyone who attended my signings and concurrent session. Thanks especially to media specialist Debra Heimbrook, who presented along with me.

Debbie shared some books at the end of our session that she recommends for teaching and talking about writing. Since we didn’t get to include those in our online handout, I’m listing them here:

Brown, Marc. Arthur Writes a Story. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 1996.

Allen, Susan and Jane Lindaman.  Written Anything Good Lately?  Minneapolis, MN:  Millbrook Press, 2006.

Rylant, Cynthia.  In November.  New York: Harcourt, Inc., 2000.

Wong, Janet.  You Have to Write.  New York:  Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2002.

Clements, Andrew.  Frindle.  New York:  Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 1996.

Bruel, Nick. Who Is Melvin Bubble? New Milford, CT: Roaring Brook Press, 2006.

Anything in the Dear America series for writing letters, diaries, journals

Pictures from AASL to follow.

Writing Exercise: Missing Person

Notebook handwriting

Television gets a bad rap, but I have to admit, I actually love it—some of it, anyway. And it’s not a total creativity-killer. Case in point: this writing exercise.

I think I’ve watched way too much Without a Trace, because I sometimes find myself wondering—if I disappeared, what would the missing persons unit make of my calendar, credit history, notes left around the house, grocery list, last words to my neighbors, last facebook entry, trash can contents?

It’s easy to apply these questions to your characters to find out more about them. It reminds me of a scene from Breakfast at Tiffany’s where Holly Golightly hands over her accounting log to Sally Tomato, the gangster she visits in jail. Sally takes the log book, filled with notes on Holly’s expenses, and says to novelist Paul Varjak: “Someday…you take this book, turn it into a novel. Everything is there, just fill in the details.”