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George Eastman Brought Photography to the People

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George Eastman Brought Photography to the People

Last May, there were nine different wildfires in San Diego. Two of the largest fires were just a few miles from our home. Even though we did not have to evacuate, I decided to err on the side of caution and gather up important documents in case we did. I grabbed the deed to the house, our birth certificates and the like, but what I worried about most were old family photos - the only picture that I have of my great-great parents, baby pictures of my mom and dad, and of course, my own baby pictures - all of which were taken before digital cameras were available. These pictures are precious to me.

Photographs not only document lives, they preserve memories. And no one understood that better than George Eastman, the subject of Lynda Pflueger's non-fiction biography for children, George Eastman: Bringing Photography to the People.

Most people know Eastman as the visionary who transformed photography from an expensive hobby of a few devotees into a relatively inexpensive and immensely popular pastime. Pflueger's biography digs deeper and introduces us to a multi-faceted Renaissance man.

In the same spirit, I asked Lynda to tell us a bit about herself and her project. A long-time member of SCBWI, I got to know Lynda better when she and I enrolled in a drawing class at UCSD Extension.

MW:   What made you want to write for children?

LP:  I started writing for children when my daughter was growing up. It was hard to find good biographies for her to read. That is when I started researching people to write about. I sent a short biography of Thomas Nast, the political cartoonist, to Highlights Magazine. The article was rejected but the editor wrote me a personal note and encouraged me to continue writing. then, I joined SCBWI and found my tribe.

MW:  What inspired you to write about George Eastman?

LP:  I was given a Kodak camera when I was a teenager. I never thought about who invented it. All I knew was that I liked taking snapshots. Many years later, I visited by family in Rochester, New York and toured the George Eastman House. From the docent I learned that George Eastman invented the word "Kodak" and it became his company's trademark. Then I went upstairs and viewed a display of Brownie cameras. The display mentioned a big camera give away that George Eastman sponsored. I remembered my grandmother telling me she had been given a Brownie camera, from her local camera shop, when she was twelve years old. I was hooked.

MW:  Are you an avid photographer or do you have a special interest in photography?

LP: I like taking snapshots of my family and recording my travels with photographs. But, I am really an amateur photographer.

MW:  How does one make a non-fiction topic exciting and engaging for young readers?

LP:  I pretend that I have a 10 year old sitting beside me while I am researching a book. I try to find information that piques their interest or would make them want to know more. And, of course, I am always asking my favorite question and theirs, "Why?"

MW: What are some of your favorite biographies?

LP:  My three favorite biographies are: "We Are One: The Story of Bayard Rustin" by Larry Dane Brimner, "Thomas Jefferson: Man on the Mountain" by Natalie S. Bober, and "Franklin and Eleanor" by Cheryl Harness.

MW:  What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

LP:  Read, Read, Read! Join the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and find your local chapter. If there isn't one, start one.

MW:  What can we expect next from you?

LP:  I am researching a book about Lady Bird Johnson's whistle stop tour of the South in 1963. Plus, I am interested in writing about her husband. I think history has overlooked the importance of his presidency concerning civil rights.

MW:  Thank you, Lynda.

Lynda will be celebrating the release of her book, George Eastman: Bringing Photography to the People, tonight, September 29, from 6:30 – 8:30 p.m. at Hera Hub, 5205 Avenida Encinas, Suite A, Carlsbad, CA, 92008.

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Agent's Day Talk

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Agent's Day Talk

Last weekend, I was invited to SCBWI's Agent’s Day in Orange County to share the story behind my debut picture book, PIRATE’S LULLABY: MUTINY AT BEDTIME (Doubleday, August 25, 2015), illustrated by Tim Bowers. I entitled my talk, How I Became a Pirate and Landed a Book Deal, for several reasons. Obviously, the book has a pirate theme, but the story behind my story involves....

...a whole lot of water

Flood, May 2012

Flood, May 2012

...a case of Bell’s Palsy

"Let's be pirate princesses," said my daughter.

"Let's be pirate princesses," said my daughter.

...a little bit of luck and a lot of hard work.

At the conference, I encouraged my fellow writers to embrace the pirate’s life. I wasn’t suggesting that we all head for the open seas; instead, I wanted everyone to think and act like a pirate.

"Be yourself. Unless you can be a pirate. Then always be a pirate."

"Be yourself. Unless you can be a pirate. Then always be a pirate."

You see, pirates weren’t afraid of the unknown. If they were, they never would have sailed beyond the next horizon. The work was hard, the dangers many, the rewards few - yet the men (and women) who became pirates did so because they loved the adventure. They took pleasure in the journey and were spurred on by the promise of reward.

Being a pirate, though, was hard work. The bulk of one’s day involved doing general maintenance on the ship - patching sails, splicing worn ropes, swabbing the deck – tasks that needed to be done to ensure their vessel was seaworthy.  Quarters were cramped, food was scarce and you put your life at risky daily. And for what?  The mere possibility of reward and the odds were stacked against you.

Being a writer is a lot like being a pirate. Like pirates, writers need to put aside their fear of the unknown. They must work hard at their craft, weather rejection and compete for the much treasured opportunity of having a book published. Are the odds any better for writers? No, but like all pirates know, the journey is worth the effort.

So, me hearties, Be brave. Be bold. Be yourself. But be a pirate too. Take the risk. Conquer your fear. Set out for the unknown. You never know what treasure the future might hold. And oh, the adventures you can have along the way!

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SD Wildfires: The Things I Carried...#TBT

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SD Wildfires: The Things I Carried...#TBT

Last week, there were nine different wildfires in San Diego. Two of the largest fires were just a few miles from our home. Ever the Girl Scout, I decided to gather important documents and papers in case we received evacuation orders. In addition to birth certificates, Social Security cards and copies of our insurance policy, I packed up my baby book, old family pictures, my children's artwork, and keepsakes from my childhood such as this gem, which was written when I was in first grade.

The Little Christmas Tree 1.jpg

I'm relieved to say that we did not have to evacuate. The firefighters did an amazing job of putting out the fires.

As we unpacked and reorganized, I was surprised by two things: how much stuff we have (yikes!) and the choices I made. When faced with the prospect of losing everything, I reached for sentimental things that can't be easily replaced - things that conjure up memories of family, friends, and days gone by. 

We were lucky.

Others in San Diego were not. 

If you'd like to help with the relief effort, The American Red Cross and The Salvation Army are accepting donations. Make sure you indicate that you want your donation to be earmarked for San Diego County Fire Relief.

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Dreams Find A Way

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Dreams Find A Way

Were you one of those kids who always knew what you wanted to be when you grew up?  Not me!  I entertained a lot of possibilities – nurse, business woman, pharmacist – but I ended up becoming a teacher.  I don’t think that I ever wanted to teach per se, but teaching allowed me the opportunity to be close to books.

 I have my mother to thank for my love of books. She was an avid reader and we went to the library every week. Until I was six and able to write my name, I had to check out books on her library card. This meant there was a limit on the number of books I could check out. What a wonderful day it was when I finally got my own card!  I no longer had to share but could take out the maximum number allowed. 

A few months ago, Newbery Award winning author, Richard Peck, spoke at our SCBWI-San Diego meeting. 

“No one but a reader wants to become a writer,” said Peck.

I’m sure that he shared other tidbits about writing, but I’m embarrassed to admit that I don’t remember anything else. I was dumbstruck by what he said. I felt that he was speaking about me. Maybe being a writer is something that I’ve always secretly wanted. I certainly love books and admire authors. But I don’t think writing was every presented as a career opportunity.  Now that my first children’s picture book, A PIRATE’S LULLABY: MUTINY AT BEDTIME, will be published by Doubleday (Spring 2015), I guess it is!  

Last Friday, my family and I had the chance to meet two local authors at their garden-themed book event at Yellow Book Road. Cindy Jenson-Eliott and Edith Hope Fine, read their books, Weeds Find a Way and Water, Weed and Wait to an enthusiastic crowd of children and parents.

Cindy’s book celebrates the unexpected beauty of weeds while Edith’s book pays homage to school gardens as a community building activity.

My daughter with Cindy Jenson-Elliott

It was a joy to watch Cindy and Edith read. My children and I also enjoyed the gardening activities that they planned. My daughter brought home a seed packet and dried fennel to replant.  I wrote a haiku poem.

Wind-sewn seeds aloft!

Sunbeams chase away the rain.

Beauty in the dirt.

On the car ride home, my family and I talked about what fun we had at the event.

My five year old daughter enjoyed meeting “Miss Cindy” and “Miss Edith”. 

“I want to be a "draw-er" (illustrator) when I grow up,” she said.

“Like Miss Salina?” I asked. (She met Salina Yoon at her book event at Barnes and Noble a few months ago)

“Yes,” she said. “And I want to write the words, too.  Like Miss Cindy and Miss Edith.” 

I knew that I was fortunate to be part of a writing community. SCBWI is filled with creative and enthusiastic men and women and the camaraderie is like nothing I’ve experienced before. But after last Friday’s event, it struck me that I should be grateful to my writing friends for something else - for being such wonderful role models for my daughter.  I want her to know that she can grow up to be anything she wants to be…including a draw-er (illustrator) and writer. It’s something that I didn’t know when I was a child. 

So thanks Salina, Cindy and Edith for planting the seed of a dream. I can’t wait to see how my daughter blooms and grows.

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Sleepytime Me by Edith Hope Fine

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Sleepytime Me by Edith Hope Fine

Bedtime. Just about every parenting book advises parents to establish a regular bedtime routine. Ours has been pretty much the same since our children were born - bath time, books, then bedtime. Recently, I noticed the dynamic changing a bit. My children still take a nightly bath and we still read books, but now that both of the kids can read, they want to read to us instead!  My five year old daughter still snuggles up on my lap, but my soon-to-be eight year old son no longer fits (although he occasionally tries). I think we must look something like this!

A scene from Elf (2003) featuring Will Ferrell and Bob Newhart

A scene from Elf (2003) featuring Will Ferrell and Bob Newhart

Although things have changed, bedtime is still a special part of our day.  My friend and colleague, Edith Hope Fine, has captured the joy, wonder, and beauty of bedtime in her latest book, Sleepytime Me (Random House, May 2014). I asked Edith to stop by to tell us about herself and her latest book.

Cover of Sleepytime Me

Cover of Sleepytime Me

What made you want to write for children?

I've been "reading" since I was maybe four and alphabet savvy. To my father's horror, I carefully spelled out, "N-O-R-T-H-E-R-N  T-I-S-S-U-E" and proclaimed, "Toilet paper!" I read voraciously as a kid and remember one bad night when I was at the end of my bed reading Nancy Drew in a patch of light from the hallway. Someone turned the light off. I think it took me half an hour to get brave enough to crawl up the bed and under the covers for safety. Tapping childhood memories and feelings, plus years of teaching and reading books aloud to my students and my own darlings, all led me to writing for children.

What inspired you to write Sleepytime Me?

There's nothing in the world like holding a baby or grand baby and reading aloud. I'd nailed a title, Yawn Around Town, and a rhythmic refrain, "Yawn around, yawn around the sleepytime town," back in the early 90's. I'd yawn while writing, a good sign for parents in a bedtime story, that's for sure. And we all know yawns are catching. (I yawned just now thinking about it--of course I'm an owl and it's close to midnight.) Sleepytime Me (oh-HO, I hadn't nailed the title) comes out from Random House this May. Yikes. Two decades. I gasped when I saw Christopher Denise's gorgeous illustrations. You can see samples at his website and on his blog. I'll be doing a "come in your p.j.s reading" at Yellow Book Road here in San Diego in May. Wear your fuzzy slippers.

My favorite image from Sleepytime Me from Christopher Denise's website

My favorite image from Sleepytime Me from Christopher Denise's website

Tell me about the revision process. Sleepytime Me has changed radically since its inception, no?

I love revision. Well, the end of revision. Yes, I tried a bunch of different ideas, from community helpers yawning to a yawn that showed on the page. What??!! None felt right. None worked. After starting with a manuscript of 1000+ words, I ended up with poetry and 132 words. Talk about paring.

What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

I taught writing for children with Judith Josephson through SDSU Extension for almost 20 years. There's so much to learn. I run the published members' group of our San Diego SCBWI (Society of Children's Writers and Illustrators) and somehow people find my name and ask me to meet them for coffee so I can tell them how to publish their book. The truth is that a person really wanting to write for children is doing her homework--reading in the field, talking with librarians, scouring bookstore bookshelves, joining SCBWI, entering writing contests, taking classes, and attending conferences. My best advice is don't just think about writing for kids. Start. Write. Write right now. Today. 

What can we expect next from you?

Besides the monthly Grammar Patrol column for eFrog Press, I have two big projects on my plate right now (besides the teetery stack of 20 different half-baked manuscripts waiting for me to turn up the oven). I'm writing an eBook for tyro-novice-rookie folks who ache to write for children--the things that took me two years to figure out, they can learn in two minutes. Jump, Froggies! will be out this spring through eFrog Press. 

The other is a student workbook to accompany my Cryptomania! Teleporting into Greek and Latin with the CryptoKids. As you know, I'm happy with my nose in a dictionary, thesaurus, or etymological dictionary, so the workbook has 100 extra roots in addition to the 200 basic Greek and Latin roots covered in the book. I pulled from my years of teaching to conjure up pages from which kids in grades 3–6 can learn cool roots that they'll use the rest of their lives--through high school and college and beyond. A huge undertaking, the pages have now been copy edited and are with the graphic designer and artist Kim Doner, who illustrated the book, for the spot art. Look at this adorable preview sketch of Alphy, the Microcyanosaurus in Greco-Roman garb! What a hoot.

Alphy, the Microcyanosaurus

Alphy, the Microcyanosaurus

Thank you, Edith!

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Take Your Child to A Bookstore Day with Salina Yoon

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Take Your Child to A Bookstore Day with Salina Yoon

December 7th is Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day. My daughter and I celebrated by visiting our local Barnes & Noble. It must have been our lucky day because we got to listen to author and illustrator, Salina Yoon, read during story time.

I’ve been a fan of Salina’s work for years. Her holiday board books are some of the very first books I bought for my children. One Halloween Night, Spooky’s First Halloween, and Five Silly Turkeys are family favorites. Salina’s lively and engaging illustrations enthralled my children when they were babies and my 7 and 4 year olds still enjoy reading them today. Sometimes they are part of our bedtime routine, but more often than not, my kids read them to me (!) to practice their reading.

Penguin_and_Pinecone.gif

Salina has created more than 100 board books during her career but her first picture book is Penguin and Pinecone.  My daughter received Salina’s sweet friendship story as a gift from her preschool teacher last Christmas and today, we got to hear it read by the author herself.

penguin-on-vacation.jpg

Salina reads beautifully and her young audience loved answering her questions about the story. After reading Penguin and Pinecone and the equally charming sequel, Penguin on Vacation, Salina even brought out her art supplies to teach the children how to draw her charming main character.  Click on the arrows to see the pictures.  The slideshow allows you to view each picture for a few seconds.

I think I enjoyed story time as much as the kids. Having just completed Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) last month, it was interesting to hear how the seed for Salina’s story became a picture book. Penguin and Pinecone, you see, was inspired by her son, an avid collector of found things…rocks, sticks, stones and yes, pinecones. Penguin’s story begins with his discovery of Pinecone but that is only the beginning. I don’t want to ruin the wonderful surprises in store for you by summarizing the plot, but Salina’s comments got me thinking about the 35 story ideas that I generated during PiBoIdMo.

Ideas are not stories, but the seeds from which stories grow. And writers, like gardeners, need to nurture their ideas once they’ve become first drafts. Is your manuscript too long?  Does it have plot problems? Time to weed and trim! Or maybe you need to introduce another idea? That’s called grafting. Is your idea withering on the vine? Brainstorm with other gardeners – your critique group, book coach, or agent. Just plain stuck? Put the manuscript away for a few months - the most beautiful blooms flourish in the spring after laying dormant all winter.

Your imagination is fertile. You've rolled up your sleeves and gotten your hands dirty.  Now that the seeds are planted, tend your ideas well. Water, weed, and wait. Writing is really rewriting and I can’t wait to see what blooms.

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Miss Sadie

I desperately needed a break from the revision of a story I've been working on so when I saw Susanna Leonard Hill's third annual Halloweensie writing contest invitation, I decided to throw my hat into the ring. The guidelines are simple:  write a 100 word Halloween story appropriate for children, using the words spookyblack cat, and cackle.   Here is my entry.

Miss Sadie

A bumbling witch named Miss Sadie

yearned to be wicked and mean.

When she tried to be spooky,

she came off quite kooky,

the clumsiest witch ever seen.

“Perhaps what I need to be scary

is something eerie and dark!”

So she found a black cat,

and a tall pointy hat,

and hid in a tree in the park.

“Trick or treaters, beware,” cackled Sadie,

“I’m here to give you a fright!”

Sadie laughed with such glee,

she fell out of the tree,

and “boo hoo-ed” on Halloween night.

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Always be yourself...

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Always be yourself...

 "Always be yourself.  Unless you can be a pirate, then be a pirate."

I’ve always been a reader, but now that I am a writer, I read in a different way.  Reading as a writer means you pay attention to different things.  You aren’t just reading for a good story.  You read with an eye for detail which leads to a deeper appreciation and understanding of craft.  Reading as a writer involves paying attention to how an author develops a character or plots such a good story that you stay up way past your bedtime to find out how it ends.

I love pictures books.  Always have, always will.  For the longest time, pictures books were the only thing I wanted to write. Lately, I’ve felt a yearning to attempt something longer, something more fully developed. 

I have the beginnings of two middle grade novels but my progress on them has stalled.  I could blame my inertia on a lack of time, but like my father always said, we all have 24 hours in a day.  If I’m really honest, what impedes me most is myself.  I find myself comparing my writing to the writing of those writers that I admire, writers that have been working on their craft for years.

I’m new to this writer’s life and I’m just beginning my journey into middle grade waters.  It’s not fair to compare.  I can’t write like them because I am not them. I can only write like myself.  I know that I have a middle grade in me.  Perhaps, what I need to do now is embrace the pirate’s life.  

You see, pirates weren’t afraid of the unknown. If they were, they never would have sailed beyond the next horizon. The work was hard, the dangers many, the rewards few - yet the men who became pirates did so because they loved the adventure. They took pleasure in the journey and were spurred on by the promise of reward.

Being a pirate, though, was hard work. The bulk of one’s day involved doing general maintenance on the ship - patching sails, splicing worn ropes, swabbing the deck – tasks that needed to be done to ensure their vessel was seaworthy.  Quarters were cramped, food was scarce and you put your life at risky daily. And for what?  The mere possibility of reward.

Being a writer is a lot like being a pirate.  Like pirates, writers need to put aside their fear of the unknown. They must work hard at their craft, weather rejection and compete for the much treasured opportunity of having a book published. Are the odds any better for writers?  No, but like all pirates know, the journey is worth the effort.

So, me hearties, join me as I throw caution to the wind.  Be brave. Be bold.  Be yourself. But be a pirate too.  Take the risk.  Conquer your fear.  Set out for the unknown.  You never know what treasure the future might hold.  And oh, the adventures you might have along the way!

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