It's been a long time since I've blogged on my website. But I really have been doing things: personal things like moving from California to Florida, building a new home, helping with a new grandbaby and his older sister, my son's wedding, plus book things, like Skyping from Alabama to India, visiting my homestate of Kansas and other places for author visits, getting 3 starred reviews for my newest book LOST. FOUND. (Hooray!) It's been trying...and fun.
I'll be blogging a bit more here - shorter blogs, blogs that aren't perfect, still not too regular, but if you'd like to follow my words on the internet regularly as well as the words in my books, I'm a Blogette over at Children's Book Academy where I blog monthly, the second Friday of each month. Here's my most recent one, "What's Your Point? (your point-of-view, that is ).Here's the general link for the Blogettes. Lots of wonderful writing insights.
Wanted to share fun news about world traveler Lily, as in Prancing, Dancing Lily.Â Just got notice of this excellent review from the UK, a nation that also loves LILY. It only seems appropriate as Prince Charles keeps Ayrshires (the same breed as Lily) at his farm.Â http://www.educationalappstore.com/app/prancing-dancing-lily-an-interactive-storybook-by-marsha-diane-arnold
The holidays are coming and LILY is such a happy gift, before - to keep the kids entertained, or after - to keep everyone in a jolly mood. Always thanks toÂ John Manders, the illustrator who brought Lily to life in the picture book, as well asÂ Fat Red Couch, Inc., amazing app developers.
Tomorrow I Skype for the third year with the great community at Walter Jackson Elementary, Alabama for their PUMPKIN RUN day, in celebration of my book The Pumpkin Runner.Â I hope to be with them in the next year or two to run that mile or 5 miles (planned wider community event) with them. Happy Pumpkin Run day, everyone!
Oh, Stacy Nyikos, creative maven, I could not say no to you. Thus, I find myself writing about process on Memorial Day weekend! Truly, it’s not so bad, not at all like the Spanish Inquisition Stacy compared it to.
I feel as if I’m part of a family tree: a tagging, blog hopping family tree. Before Stacy came Annemarie O’Brien who I met years ago when I spoke at Reading The World. Stacy wrote the blogÂ before me.Â Annemarie's blogcame before that.
I’ve only met Stacy and Anne in person a couple of times, but we’ve stayed connected as kindred writing spirits often do. I shall do my duty and answer the four writing process questions, but will I tag? Stay tuned.
What am I currently working on?
One of the best things I’ve done for myself as a writer is apply for Jane Yolen’s Picture Book Boot Camp. I was one of 9 lucky authors who spent a long March weekend at Jane’s home, learning from the master. We had the opportunity for Jane to look at and critique two of our stories. I shared an original tall tale, Slobberchops and a story of a book, Booker.
I just finished revising Slobberchops, mindful of Jane’s input, and my agent has sent it on its way. Booker is up for revision next.
Along with that, I’m revising a chapter book, Mugwart and Abigail. The manuscript’s been rejected a few times, but my writer’s group, the amazing Cliffhangers, won’t allow me to let it go. They are in love with my characters. So with their help, I shall improve that plot and try again.
I’m also in the gathering phase for a novel. I can stay in the gathering phase for a very long time so must be careful, otherwise, I will gather forever and never get to the kitchen (my desk) to cook up the dish.
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
From comments by the media, editors, teachers, librarians, and kids, I believe my stories are known for two things. They have strong characters who readers fall in love with, and they are stories “with heart.” (If you'd like me to share how I write those strong characters, check out my Children's Book Academy course, Writing Wonderful Character-Driven Picture Books.)
My eleven published books and four forth-coming ones are very different from one another. They range from inspirational to laugh-out-loud funny. Indeed, my readers have told me they’re surprised when they learn I wrote all of the books. They’re so different they seem to be by different authors. But aren’t there many different authors, many different faces, inside each of us? I love exploring different subjects and different characters. Variety is the spice of life, after all.
One of the nicest compliments I’ve ever received was from Jane Yolen. After reading my two manuscripts, she said, “Your work is very different.” I thought she meant the two manuscripts were different from one another and responded thus. She replied, “No, that’s not what I mean. Your stories are different.” Isn’t that what we all long for? Stories that are unique. Stories that are different. Stories that are ours alone.
Why do I write what I write?
As opposed to a romance novel or a murder mystery? Well, I don’t read either of those, so doubt I’d be a good candidate for writing one.
I write books for children because I find the best of these books to show the essence of life in a simple, beautiful manner. Information and story is distilled into a pure form. They hold up a lantern in a sometimes dark world and say, “Look here. This way lies goodness and love and hope.”
How does my individual writing process work?
Process? We’re supposed to have a process?
My process usually involves wandering around in a fog for days or months or longer.
Confession time. I do not write every day. I do not even write every week, unless you count posting on Facebook and writing blogs about things like writing process. This “not writing” is not something I recommend, especially for writers. Do as I say, not as I do. Practicing your writing daily is likely the best way to become really good at it.
When I do get serious about writing or have a deadline, I very much enjoy sitting at my desk in my imaginary world. I write three to four hours a day during these periods.
During both my non-writing days and my on task writing days, I always am gathering. I gather phrases, words, ideas, things that could lead to a story or things I could use in a story. Usually, these are placed in Evernote (I love Evernote!) or Scrivener, less and less in Word.
I don’t outline. My characters lead me through my story. I follow them with faith. But there are two things I constantly do as I write. I visualize my story, to see my characters and the images that become the story.The second thing I do is read my story aloud, constantly, whether it’s a picture book, a chapter book, or a novel. I listen to the rhythm, the song of the story.
As I mentioned, Stacy compared writing about process and getting tagged to the Inquisition. Well, the Inquisition stops here. You will not see me tagging one more writer to write about process.
However, I will call you ALL to action. You have important work to do. You have a story to share, a novel to write, a truth to tell. Don’t worry too much about your process. As Nike says, “Just do it.”
Well, our writing group has actually been around for quite some time, but last month we decided to take a name. From this day forth, we shall be known as The Cliffhangers! Photos to follow, most likely of us hanging onto a cliff somewhere.
Currently, our Cliffhangers include moi, Deborah Davis, Dashka Slater, Rachel Rodriguez, Liz Scarpelli, and Alisha Niehaus Berger.
This amazing support group is fun, brilliant, and shares things like this from Deborah Davis:
"You are a brilliant PB writer. I am wildly jealous of your ability to distill big concepts into lovely, child-friendly, sweet (but not saccharine-y) stories. (Not to mention your ability to write entire new story drafts in one day. Big novelist sigh.)"
Not sure where Deborah got the idea I can write an entire story draft in one day. In truth, it usually takes me years! Still, I will take this praise because I believe we all need such praise every so often.
It is so important in your critique groups to always share positive comments before sharing how you think a story could be made stronger. I'm grateful my Cliffhangers are experts in this as well as experts at "hanging on."
I just finished my blog for Angie Karcher's upcoming month of rhyme, RhyPiBoMo. I was honored to be included as one of the Golden Quill bloggers, which will include such luminaries as Lee Bennett Hopkins, Deborah Underwood, and Karma Wilson.ÂÂ
Writing blogs and speeches is an honor/task I have mixed feelings about. They take me away from my writing. Still it's always nice to be asked and when I am finished, I've always learned something new.
I'm excited to read all the lessons Angie will give us in April and so many poets' wise words.
Yes, it's fun to be a Golden Quill blogger! My blog will be the last on May 2nd. So much to share, Angie stretched us into May.
This is an early sharing for my fans, who have waited so patiently for another picture book from me. Now there will be 4 coming out in 2015 and 2016! 4 manuscripts sold in 2013 to top editors in NYC, Boston, and London! I'm all over the map and "over the moon". Thank you all for your patience.
This fourth manuscript is the story of Emma who watches her family prepare for a new baby's birth, but doesn't know what to do herself to welcome him, until she realizes the baby can hear sounds. We'll watch Emma share her favorite sounds through the seasons with the baby growing inside her mother. And what a watching it will be with lovely illustrations by popular British illustrator Sophie Allsopp. I'm so happy Tamarind, Random House, UK has chosen her to partner with us in this birth.
Kate O'Sullivan has been one of my dream editors for a long while. When Kate bought my friend and former critique partner, Deborah Underwood's THE QUIET BOOK, I heard Deborah talk about how wonderful it was to work with Kate, then I saw THE QUIET BOOK reach the NY Times Best Seller List, then a series of quiet...and loud...books with stuffed animals appeared. My dream of working with Kate grew stronger.
Now that dream is becoming a reality. On October 3rd,in Publishers Marketplace New Deal's today was: Author of PRANCING DANCING LILY Marsha Diane Arnold's WAITING FOR SNOW, the story of impatient Badger who cannot wait one more minute for it to snow, to Kate O'Sullivan at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Children's, by Karen Grencik at Red Fox Literary (World). I get goosebumps just reading this!!
I've been blessed this year with 3 contracts offered by 2 of the best children's editors in the world,Â Neal PorterÂ andÂ Kate O'Sullivan. Thanks to my agent,Â Karen Grencik, Neal, Kate, my writer's groups, and the Universe.
And thank you to my patient fans who've waited such a long time for another book. We're hoping that LOST. FOUND. with Neal Porter Books appears on the scene in January 2016 and WAITING FOR SNOW later that year.
On May 30, 2013 an announcement was made in Publishers Marketplace about a deal that is dear to my heart: Author of THE PUMPKIN RUNNER Marsha Diane Arnold's LOST. FOUND., the story of a red scarf which is alternately treasured and lost, appreciated and forgotten, to Neal Porter at Neal Porter Books, in a pre-empt, in a two-book deal, by Karen Grencik at Red Fox Literary (World).
I am rejoicing. I am so lucky my agent Karen Grencik stood by me through thick and thin and so lucky that Neal Porter loved my story. This is the same brilliant publisher Neal Porter whose book A Sick Day for Amos McGee won the Caldecott and whose new book if you want to see a whale is causing a sensation.
Hope to be able to tell all of you soon when we'll be seeing Lost. Found. in stores. And yes, it was a 2 book deal, but we're not sure what the second book will be yet. I can't wait to know! :)
If you want to hear the rest of the story and about my long wait between book deals I've written a post for the Picture Book Academy about the 7-year drought.
Holy Cow! That's how I feel sometimes about my Prancing Dancing Lily. That spunky Ayrshire cow has brought me so many new friends and so much fun. She's angelic.
A recent delight was being interviewed by Progressive Dairyman My father, who was a dairy farmer in Kansas, would have loved these interviews. Progressive Dairyman is the source of dairy information for dairymen throughout the United States and they publish four magazines on the subject.
Emily Caldwell, East Coast Editor, loved that my Lily book and app are about a dairy cow and she especially loved that Lily helps kids learn about cows and dairy farming. So the interviewing began.
Progressive Dairyman is serious about getting the information out in different versions.
I love the app video where Emily interviewed myself and my app producer, Fat Red Couch's CEO, Nicole Lundeen. She inserted not only images from Lily's books and school visits, but photos of my father's dairy farm when I was a child. Join the Lily fun here.
There's also a print article written by Jen Bradly about the farm that inspired Lily and the many ways Lily has interacted with kids in schools. There's even a photo of a conga line with cows...well, kid cows.
But my favorite is probably the article in Progressive Dairyman's print magazine because with the ads, which include cow photos, it reminds me of the magazines my father got in the mail when I was a kid on the farm.
Thanks Progressive Dairyman for bringing me back to my farm girl roots.
Recently, I had the pleasure of doing two writing funshops with Tamara Ice's fabulous 5th grade class. Good writing was done and we had such fun, but the fun didn't stop in class. Letters soon arrived in the mail with thank yous, suggestions, kudos, and questions.
Thanks 5th graders! Some of your letters are works of art. Wow!
One of you mentioned you make up good concepts but have trouble with descriptions. You'll get better at descriptions as you practice, but the fact that you make up great concepts is awesome. That can be the most difficult part of writing. Good for you!
I'll try to answer a few of your questions here:
1) Do you go to other schools or just ours?
One of the fun parts of being a writer is that we're asked to visit schools to give presentations and funshops. I've traveled all over the United States and even outside the United States visiting schools. But I especially love visiting Apple Blossom because my children went to school there and because of all of you.
2) Have you ever started a story and never finished it?
Yes! I do that all the time and it sounds like you, the person who wrote the question, do too. Sometimes I get stuck and can't think of the right plot or the right ending. There are so many stories I want to write, so sometimes when I'm stuck, I simply move on to another story.
3) Are you working on any new books?
I'm always thinking about new story ideas, but I don't write every day. This might be a good time to share that I just sold a picture book manuscript! It had been a very long time since I sold a book manuscript, so this is very exciting. Once again, it proves that perseverance pays off. Keep writing everyone!
4) What do you think of TV?
As you suggest, I also think TV watching should be limited. The person who asked this question seems to like science shows and I agree those are some of the best to watch. I actually enjoy watching television, but I try to just watch a couple of hours in the evening. I like to spend most of my time being with other people, doing yoga and line dancing, gardening and exploring nature, and visiting new places.
5) Why don't you write chapter books?
I have always loved the simple truths found in picture books. But I actually have written a chapter book manuscript; it has not been bought by a publisher yet. I'm starting another chapter book this month. The main character will be a 5th grader so I may need to ask your advice.
6) How long have you been writing and have you always known you wanted to be a writer?
I've been writing about 30 years. I started by writing a weekly newspaper column. That was very good writing practice. My first book was published in 1995. I didn't think about being a writer until I was grown and had children of my own. They actually inspired me to begin writing. I was a late bloomer, but all of you are early bloomers. If you want to write, just keep writing a little every day or every week. You will get better and better.
7) What does writing mean (really mean) to you?
What a great question. I don't think I've ever been asked this before. Writing is a way to connect with your readers. It's a way to express your ideas and your feelings and it's a way to share what's most important to you, through your stories.
I'm so glad you liked the Four-Line Poem and Alliteration Game. And I'm delighted you enjoyed working on viewpoint, inspired by the pet store dog, and writing about the Galapagos Islands and Roar of a Snore 2.
It's wonderful to hear how many of you are writing your own stories. I loved that some of you shared what you are writing about. Do keep using your imagination, exploring story ideas, and writing!
Marsha Diane Arnold
Part of the fun is connecting with my roots, dairy farm families. Here's one great dairy cow story and I will say it again: You can't make these kind of stories up! Upon request, I sent a PRANCING DANCING LILY book to the President of the Wisconsin Ayrshire Club for an auction to benefit a youth group. (Lily, as all fans know, is an Ayrshire.) Who won, you ask? LILY went for $125 to...wait for it...Lily, who looks to be about 10. The bidding stopped when she started bidding. Her family owns Holsteins, but last spring she asked for an Ayrshire to show and her family got her one. So LILY went to Lily, an Ayrshire lover in a family of Holstein lovers. As I said, you can't make these stories up.
Lily's mom, Becky Charapata, writes me that they think PRANCING DANCING LILY's story is perfect for Lily. I think so too. Have fun with your beautiful Ayrshire, Lily.
I'm so excited Prancing Dancing Lily is now available as a storybook app for iOS, Android, and Kindle. Grab your partner and download here!
I know my father would be excited and proud too. You see, my character Lily was inspired by his Ayrshire herd at Highland Ayr dairy farm. I grew up on a Kansas farm surrounded by chickens, wheat, and cows!
Lily already has some wonderful reviews, but the very first one I received was from the fourth graders at Walton Elementary/Middle School. Tina Riley, a dedicated, enthusiastic educator, arranged the viewing of the app and guided small groups to present their ideas and work on the review together. Cowabunga! What a super bunch. Here's what they say about Lily's app:
"A delightful bell cow, named Lily, travels around the world to find out what dance fits her hoof-kicking talent. Prancing, Dancing Lily will give you chills of excitement through spectacular features and animations page after page. We recommend this book app for anyone who likes to read or be read to! Our class gives it five out of five stars!"
So come join Lily on a dancing adventure around the world. Kick up your heels, learn some geography, make new friends, and enjoy Lily puzzles.
Prancing Dancing Lily is available digitally for iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad Mini, Android, Kindle Fire & HD devices.
To see the fun trailer and find all the links, click here:
Continuing with my Valentine to farmer's.
From Dad's notebooks, let's remember communicating with whistles: "Thinking back, and there is plenty to think back to - five brothers and two sisters, I remember Alvin and Leonard mostly being away from home, working for neighbors, usually farm work. If they worked within walking distance and were late getting home in the evening, we'd give the shrill whistle call. This was done by putting two fingers as a trangle on the tip of the tongue and blowing hard. These high notes would carry for miles and if the brother was on the way home, we'd get a whistle reply."
I could never whistle this way. You try it and I'll see if I can hear you.
Just had the most delightful Skype visit with students in Manning, South Carolina. Yes, Manning, the hometown of Peggy Parish, creator of Amelia Bedelia.
But what I want to share is the teacher's plea to continue skyping. The teacher, a natural who obviously does a fabulous job, has been told by authors that they don't like to Skype.
After my visit, she wrote some lovely words about me, but here's the important part: Please continue Skyping! Our students may never experience talking to a published author without this kind of opportunity as we are unable to afford the fees that are incurred when an author has to travel to be here. It is truly invaluable. I appreciate your willingness to participate in this type of experience to expose our students to the wonderful world of reading and writing. I am confident that we made a memory for them that will have an impact for years to come!
Come along, authors, let's make some memories.
Inspired by the Superbowl's Ram commercial and encouragement from hometown friends, I'm going to share some of my father's musings this month. A bit of a Valentine to farmers everywhere. I'm also thinking a lot about cows as my Prancing Dancing Lily book app will finally be out this month. Lily was inspired by my father's Ayrshire herd and lately I've been connecting with Ayrshire farmers on line and on Facebook. It feels, in a small way, like going home.
My father grew up in poverty during the depression, but he was always fascinated with learning, always full of wonder about life. He was an artist, starting as a boy and continuing all his life and he was a writer, doing more of that as he grew old, reflecting on the present and the past. I am lucky to have many of his notebooks.
So here are a few excerpts from my father's notebook, for the farmers.
Note: Floyd was his younger brother.
"Floyd and I would go after the cows at milking time. I remember the old cow shed that had part of the south end blown off which exposed the hay loft. We'd crawl up the ladder to the loft so we could see where the cows were located in the pasture to the south. On dewy mornings our bib overalls would be wet to the knees as we brought the cows in. We were always barefoot."
"We would lie on our bellies so as not to scare the cow that was calving. It was warm and comfortable as we lay on the buffalo grass as the sun was shining down on us. The grass had a good smell."
"We talked Swiss-German at home so it was rather diffictult when I started grade school. We walked the two miles to Cleveland for our elementary schooling. In bad weather Dad would take us to school with team and wagon. In the spring we'd always get an hour or so off from our studies to go daisy picking."
What a wondrous, gracious world that was. To always take time for daisy picking.
Elizabeth Stark lives in Sebastopol, where many magical creators reside. I found this video very well done and very helpful in determining what your process is.
As I've said many times, it's helpful to listen to the external authorities, but it's most important to listen to another authority - your inner authority. This video encourages that.
Proceed with your process!
Dr. Mira Reisberg and I invite you to start your New Year with some fabulous characters. And who doesn't love fabulous characters?!
Our online course, Writing Wonderful Character-Driven Picture Books, is ready for 2013. Through videos, essays and activities, this e-course teaches what makes certain pb characters so loved, how characters drive stories, story arcs, voice, ways to gain intimate knowledge of your characters, and more. We will guide you into writing your own fabulous character-driven books, making sure you have lots of fun along the way.
For the month of Jan we have a New Year’s special of 30% off. The course will be $104.30 with this link: http://tinyurl.com/b7q7pv8
Our January “Bring a friend special” is half off for only $74.50 for each person, with this link: http://tinyurl.com/aycp5eg
This special ends January 31st, but you have a whole year to take the course. You'll also have a keep-forever pdf of course content and interactive access to our own private Facebook group. Hooray!
To check out the course or sign up, visit: http://www.picturebookacademy.com/writing-character-driven-stories.html.
Hope to see you there.
In the January/February issue of THE HORN BOOK MAGAZINE, a new series of columns celebrating 75 years of the Caldecott Medal begins. K.T. Horning will be examining one winning book per decade. Here's the first. http://www.hbook.com/2013/01/choosing-books/review-of-the-week/review-of-the-man-from-the-land-of-fandango/
If you are just beginning to explore children's literature, you may not yet be familiar with the amazing HORN BOOK. Roger Sutton is the brilliant editor who speaks out for fine literature in a world with a copy cat mentality. Long live the HORN BOOK, the Caldecott, and fine literature.