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Highlights Foundation

Breaking into Writing Children’s Books:  A Beginner’s Guide Targeted to Latinx authors

By Latino Life, The Writing Life
** UPDATED: NOV 4:  This post was pre-scheduled for today. I apologize for its publication today, when there is so much post-election uncertainty. It went out before I could stop it.**   The question I get asked most often as a children’s book author is how to break in. This is especially true when the question comes from aspiring Latinx authors. Here is a quick checklist of to-dos if your heart is set on writing stories that celebrate Latinx children and families. Nail down your craft Nothing replaces the craft. A big part of this simply boils down to your talent with words and with how well you can sense how to tell a story.  But you can do things to improve your work, mainly in two ways: reading and writing. Here’s starter book set for reading. Writing Picture Books* by Ann Whitford Paul The Writers Guide to Crafting Stories for Children* by Nancy Lamb Magic Words: Writing Great Books for Children and Young Adults* by Cheryl Klein Latino/a Childrens and Young Adult Writers on the Art of Storytelling* by Frederick Luis Aldama, University of Pittsburgh Press As for writing, I recommend a daily or weekly habit of coming to the page, whether you do that on your own or whether you sign up for writing class in your community. If you’re very serious, you can choose to invest in a low residency Master of Fine Arts program. I’ve been teaching at Hamline in St. Paul, Minnesota but there are others programs,...
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Taking a Creative Breath in Upstate New York

By Self-care, The Writing Life, Travel
I have a strict policy of traveling with only carry-on luggage. But this week, I boarded  a plane with my trusted backpack and a suitcase the size of a small coffin. That’s because I discovered that fat sweaters don’t like cramped quarters – and neither do imaginations. I’ll be needing both for my trip to the Finger Lakes Region of New York, where I’ll be doing a residency at the Rowland Writers Retreat, now in its second year. For ten glorious days, I’ll be living and writing with women whose careers are inspirations to me. This generous residency is fully funded by Pleasant Rowland, founder of American Girl, and by the Rowland Reading Foundation. It's by invitation and it's free for authors, except for the cost of getting to Aurora. My only obligation will be to use the precious time to work on projects that I’ve been thinking about. I will not cook a meal or walk a dog or answer emails or sign-scan-fax anything whatsoever. In short, it will be a godsend, for which I am profoundly grateful. When the invitation came, my first thought was, unbelievably, to decline. There are a million reasons to stay home. Hadn’t I traveled too much for work? Wasn’t this just an indulgence? Couldn’t I write perfectly well in my home space? Not to mention Tía Isa at the nursing home; who would sponge bathe her or change her diapers on Sundays when the staff is thin? And there was the dog walking,...
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Travel like an author

By Appearances, Self-care, The Writing Life, Travel
It’s been eleven years since I started my life in publishing, and in that time, one of the biggest changes has been the amount of travel I do. There was a time in my life when I traveled for vacations – and most of those locations were within driving distance. Fast forward a decade, and now I’m often on the road every week, particularly during heavy conference times in the spring and fall. Between now and the end of November, I'll visit about a dozen cities. It’s joyous because of the interesting people I meet and the communities I get to learn about.  In 2020, for example, I'll go to Shanghai and Hawaii for author visits, places I could only have dreamed about earlier. But despite those plusses, business travel can also be a grind. Crowded airports, canceled flights, strange hotel rooms and time away from your family and routines are tough on the mind and body when you have to do it long-term. How to survive? I’ve invested in TSA Precheck to minimize the hassle of screening lines, and I can safely say that the cushy Delta Skylounge has been worth the investment for the free food and comfort that it provides when I've had it up-to-here on a frustrating travel day. But there are also smaller purchases I’ve made along the way that have made life easier. For all you bookish travelers out there, here’s my survival kit. Luggage Travel Pro Luggage* Invest in one good piece of...
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Let’s Go Write in the Woods

By Appearances, The Writing Life, Writing Workshops
How do we survive as people, as artists and as publishing professionals?  If you have three days in September, I’m extending an invitation to join me in the woods to figure it out. With the lovely Alison Green Myers who makes every Highlights Workshop amazing I will lead a workshop at the Highlights Foundation with illustrator Carolyn Dee Flores and art director Ellice Lee. If you’ve never been to this beautiful place, picture rolling hills and cabins, all the ice cream you can eat and a chance to think and write for three days with people who, like you, are working to become professional, self-sustaining writers. I’ve been to Highlights before, sometimes as a special guest, once as a writing fellow, other times leading workshops. Over the years, I’ve worked with all kinds of folks, from scholars trying to write academic papers on subjects no one was covering, to teachers, like Ernesto Cisneros, whose upcoming debut novel, Efrén Divided, we worked on together in two rocking chairs in front of his cabin. What we both remember most is his reaction to hearing his words read aloud for the first time, that moment when he thought he might actually see this through to publication. An evening reading from one of my past times at Highlights There are selfish motives for me, too. The truth is that while I’ve given advice, I’ve also received beautiful gifts of inspiration and practical help in return. For example, a few years ago Andi Michelson created a reusable Velcro...
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Peace, Quiet & Writing: An invitation to the woods

By Appearances, The Writing Life

For a few days after Labor Day, I’ll make the trek back up to rural Pennsylvania to the campus of the Highlights Foundation, where they’ve begun an artist-in-residence program. The inaugural writers are Jerry and Eileen Spinnelli, Suzanne Bloom, and me. You know Highlights, of course, from their magazine and the years you probably spent doing the hidden picture search at the dentist office. (It has been the favorite magazine feature since 1946.) But, what I learned a few years ago is that they have a beautiful campus where writers come to workshop and compose away from all the distractions of their daily lives. I’ve been there twice:  once as a guest author with Kathy Erskine and Rich Wallace. The second time (sort of) last spring as part of the faculty for SCBWI Pennsylvania, which rented the space for its annual meeting. When I was approached in June, it took all of five seconds to say sí, como no, even though I’d already closed my calendar to anything new until 2017. Who could resist? The idea is that I hide away in the beautiful mountains, where my biggest personal worries will be reduced to ticks and which ice cream to choose as a snack. Other people will cook to feed me. I will not walk a dog, throw in laundry or respond to email. At night, I will look at the stars through a telescope in the Lodge and listen to bullfrogs. The rest is a blissful four days of writing…

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