Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Last Entry--Sasquatch Spotted on Saturn?

 Today, I am desperate for one more entry in my PiBoIdMo notebook. (I like to think of it as an idea notebook for middle-grade/YA novels.) One final book idea to go and my list will be complete. The 30 ideas in 30 days challenge for Picture Book Idea Month has been an incredible journey. The days are flying fast, but this morning I came to a screeching halt. The blank entry stared at me and snickered. Was that a sneer?!
I slammed my notebook shut. Take that! I went to checking e-mails. On the front of Yahoo's homepage, I scanned over the Top Ten list of breaking stories. Lists. I love lists. I make lists for the grocery store, for my day, for just about anything in life.
The Top Ten list looked at me and smiled, and I stared blankly back. One at a time, the random bits of information popped off the page. 
#3    Big Foot/new DNA found
#5    Family of 5 die in a house fire in rural Ohio in a 130 year old farm home.
#8    Some famous actress gets manslaughter
#10  Huge Saturn Vortex found
      If there's not a story there (or two), then I've got my head stuck in the sand. Can't you just see Big Foot running loose on a farm while teaming up with a Hollywood has-been? Then their brains get sucked into Saturn's huge Vortex! Oh, how will they ever make it out alive?
     OK, but really something could possibly work in that myriad of messy ideas. Ever read Monster by Frank Peretti? Fantastic Sasquatch book where Big Foots are genectically engineered and accidentally let loose into the forests of the Northwest.
    Christmas is coming and, there is bound to be a list in your hand some time this season. And if you are a writer, I dare you to look through the Top Ten breaking stories. You might be surprised. There's a wealth of book ideas just ripe for the picking. Happy Listing!

Friday, November 16, 2012


     I just drank another medium mocha cappuccino, in other words, creativity in a cup! November is NaNoWriMo or National Novel Writing Month. When I taught fifth grade several years ago, my class participated in NaNoWriMo. My students were excited to write their own novels and then share them with the class.
     Although I didn't actually sign up this year for NaNoWriMo, I did participate. I also joined PiBoIdMo. Are you laughing yet?! It stands for Picture Book Idea Month. Those crazy writers! you are probably saying about now. Even though my passion for writing is geared toward middle-school age, I found myself intrigued with all the wonderful authors and illustrators that posted so far this month. With my notebook in hand, I jotted down wonderful ideas for middle grade fiction novels and more ideas for advanced picture-book biographies of great Americans.
     One of the aritcles posted discussed stealing ideas from your children or from someone else's children. Hey, we gotta do what it takes! When several ladies from my critique group suggested we exchange middle grade fiction novels, I was thrilled!  I grabbed my ideas and wrote furiously the entire month of October.
     I had just finished a conversation with my oldest son, when a flash back from this past summer hit me, BAM! My head spun, making me dizzy. I just cranked out a 20,000-word novel. I fight it for a few seconds. I argue with myself, but I give in--the new idea is powerful, exciting, and hopefully never been done before. I grab my computer and start cranking out another novel. (The book idea is in Top Secret mode right now. Sorry!)
    One week later, my novel is finished and my nails are nibbled to nubs. Actually, I only chew on one nail. Thanks to NaNoWriMo and PiBoIdMo for the inspiration. And a special thanks to my oldest son, S. Austin Hawes, (Isn't that a cool name?;-) for the spark that ignited this brand new novel.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

A Yellow Tree Surprise!

     The autumn afternoon brightens my paper. I try to pen the colorful scene in my backyard, but the  rusty red leaves keep falling on my paper. Two yellow trees in the distance, late to lose their leaves, display the perfect fall attire. The twin trees are such a nice surprise. I love discovering a surprise in a story. I also enjoy hanging onto suspense in a mystery. Combine those two elements, and now you're talking! Autumn is the perfect season for surprise and suspense.
     Researching other writers and thier development of these two elements is a whole lot fun. Who doesn' t love a good adventure or mystery? Remember reading Mark Twain's novel, Tom Sawyer? My youngest son is reading the classic for English. No one does it better than Mark Twain. His simple town with a simple mystery creates a ton of suspense and surprise. That simple town based on his childhood home is really Hannibal, Missouri, where I reside.
I pass Cardiff Hill where Widow Douglas lives in the novel. I can still see Injun Joe seeking revenge in the dead of night, and Huck Finn hunkering down scared to death.The Mark Twain cave south of town depicted Tom and Becky lost deep in the labrynth of connected tunnels. Then Injun Joe jumps out of the shadows, surprise!
    Chase and I made puppets (for his English class, of course) of the characters in Tom Sawyer. Injun Joe even looks scary dressed up in felt on a popsicle stick! Try looking for the two elements of surprise and suspense the next time you read a classic novel or a current book hot off the press.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Fantastic Fridays

     When Fridays roll around, I seriously don't know who is more excited about art class, me or my students! I was introduced to art at a young age. Staring at my mother's oil paintings hanging over the couch, I used to imagine I was sailing on her painted ship or holding that cute cuddly painted kitten. She let me peek into her art books showing me the correct way to sketch a tree or shade an object. I fell in love with art and with trees. I should have a bumper sticker that says, "I love to draw trees!" Just ask my art students. In the fall we tackle pointilism trees painting bright bold dots for leaves. Amy Carr, Candadian born artist, is an inspiration with her water color tree resist paintings. Next we try our hand at constructing a Gustav Klimt curly tree with metallic paints, not to mention all the fun things we do with leaves!

     I tend to think in terms of snapshots and color. My children think I'm crazy for stopping by the side of the road, "Look at that!" I pull out my camera and snap the perfect picture of a  trio of trees each dressed in their own fall color. "Mom's getting Willow Care for Christmas," they say. I'm pretty sane (I keep telling myself that;-).

    I have a wonderful group of 3rd-6th graders this year. It's important to make art fun and to make art a great learning experience for them. As a child, I was never without a pencil and paper in my hand. My addiction to writing words and drawing pictures first started with my Grandmother, Mary Curtis, a sassy, saucy, southern bred woman full of spunk and pizazz! To quiet me and my sister in church, she would reach deep into her purse. At first, I thought she was going to pull our a whip! She smiled kindly handing us tiny pencils and brand new shiny notepads. I fell in love.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Shh! Don't Tell My Kids.

     I never lived in a Mayberry RFD or on a Little House on the Praire. When I was growing up, our lack of quality or quantity of T.V. made us creative capable kids. Playing outdoors until the street lights flickered on, we dragged ourselves indoors. We begged our Mom, "Do we have to come inside?" With our hair tangled with dead leaves, faces covered in dirt, and hands full of stray animals, we would have stayed outside and played all night!
     I'm so thankful my boys have stayed so innocent in so many ways for so long. I love their carefree attitude about life, What's for dinner? Can so & so come over? How can I make money? Is my brother adopted?  If he says that one more time I'm gonna punch him in the face. With my whistle and black and white striped shirt, I play referee on all days ending in y.
     These days little tweenie-bopper girls (& even younger kids like 7 or 8 years old!) wear Justin B t-shirts and chat with friends about which boy they I'm seriously not that old, but when I was in ninth grade, I discovered boys existed. You can stop laughing now. Until I turned 13 or 14, I didn't know boys existed
      Today, kids need to be kids and boys just need to be boys. They need time to play, hike, participate in sports, beat each other up. Just kidding on that last one. So, I watch and observe children, especially my own. They have the greatest real life scenarios and friendships. Secretly, I write down snippets of their conversations and interactions between them and their friends. My observations have now turned into a full length middle-grade fiction novel. Oh, my! Just wait 'til they find out.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

No Writing Today!

The weekend. I convinced myself, when I woke up this morning, I would refrain from writing. After all, it's Sunday, and there is church and family and friends. My feet hit the floor and the first thing I grabbed was my favorite soft yellow hoodie. I cleansed my mind ready to tackle a fun-filled non-writing day. My eyes wandered down to the wording on my sweatshirt. The date 1885 in bold letters jumped out at me. I wonder what happened in that year?

Seeing old dates are like getting clues to a pirate's chest full of  hidden gold. No, I won't research today, I tell myself. Although I have a new picture book idea simmering in mind of a long ago inventor slash spy slash millionaire who met one very famous president....NOPE, I'm not writing today.

 Nothing gets done before I put my contacts in in the morning. I'm as blind as a bat. Bats aren't really blind.  When I taught fifth grade several years ago, my class went batty for a unit on bats. Wisconsin is full of fuzzy brown bats. We even took an evening trip to the Watertown Library for a close up look at those amazing creatures and learned all about echolocation. What a fantastic idea to incorporate bats into a novel. NOPE, Let it go, I say to myself.

I head for the kitchen (newly remodeled thanks to my awesome hubby!) and step over a purple macaroni yarn necklace and a dart board. I scoot past an old red tricycle--the same one I had as a child--and the memories wash over me. NOPE, I'm not going to write today.

Bags scattered around my living room, remind me I'm a busy person. First, the diaper bag hangs nearby, which only contains snacks and toys now that my daughter is three. Then the writing bag comes next, propped against the couch, becasue I do so much writing in my living room. Lastly, the  art bag reminds me I've been teaching art for the past eight years. This year I have a wonderful group of 3rd-6th graders. My daughter hands me a book to read--George Rodrigue's Are You Blue Dog's Friend? Maybe, I will write today.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Different Shades of LIght

     In the evening before darkness swallows the earth, twilight takes over for a few moments sharing its shadowy shades of light. The coolness sets in as the sun retreats. As a child I remember those long days turning into night, fireflies flickering, letting us know summer had arrived.
Light plays a significant role in our lives. We may not recognize this concept of how different shades of light or the lack of, can impact our memories and imaginations. For instance, Claude Monet, the great French Impriessionist painter, realized this concept as he painted famous scenes of countrysides and nature. What many people do not know is that he painted the same picture several times during different times of the day. Why? Because of his obssession and fascination with light.
H. H. Bennett, one of the world's first outdoor photographers, shared the same passion. He took photos of the same thing at different times of the day. In order to get a better exposure with his camera, Henry even white-washed the inside of a cave.

The morning turns sinister with a canopy of dark clouds overhead. Thunderstorms, with their wild lightning, create instant bursts of light What once frightened me as a child, I now enjoy. Today, look for different shades of light.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

My LIfe Long Love of Alliteration

The allure of alliteration began long before my adult years. My first reading of Edgar Allen Poe's The Tell Tale Heart rendered me radically changed. This timeless tale taught me appreciation for the fine art of alliteration. Alliteration is "the literaty device where words begin with the same sounds and are placed next to each other for effect." (  

Several years ago while teaching a unit on alliteration, I expidited an educational experiment. My students combined their spelling words with an English assignment to produce alliteraive spelling stories. I followed suit...what a hoot! Pressing my luck with such stories as "Pete from Pitsburg," I prattled on and on about a professional pithy plumber. The short stories lacked in length, of which I was perfectly pleased. My pocket of prose was precisely the perfect length.

As I read the adventures of Pete, I peered over my desk at my pupils. They raptly listened to me repeat a plethora of "P" words.  Did I mention his brother Pat? Pathetic, I know. You get the picture. This lesson lured in my eleven-year-olds. My class adored those adventurous adults always in a mysterious mess. My fifth-graders were happily hooked on alliteration. Those are the teaching moments I miss the most!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

These Are Just a Few of My Favorite Books...

The Teacher's Funeral by Richard Peck
This book makes my A+ list. Seriously funny novel written by Peck will have you ROTFL!!! I do mean rolling on the floor laughing your head off. His mix of humor and historical fiction combines my favorite writing element along with my favorite genre. On the eve of school, two brothers learn their most hated teacher drops dead. They celebrate. They jump for joy. They whoop and holler. Until they find out the new teacher is their very own SISTER!!
Try Peck's other brilliantly written historical fiction novels, The River Between Us, A Long Way From Chicago, A Year Down Yonder, and Here Lies the Librarian.

From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg
This Classic book written in 1967 is the perfect summer read. An art mystery unfolds after a bossy sister and her little brother run away from the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art! E. L. Konigsburg also wrote The Westing Game...hence my blog's title is a play on words...The Writing Game:-)

The Alex Rider Series by Anthony Horowitz
As an educator for years, I taught many boys including my own two sons. My quest, "Books for Boys," led me to author Anthony Horowitz. His faced-past, roller-coaster-ride, James Bond-like books will have you hooked on his books for good. These thick novels take you around the world to exoctic places, third world countries, and everywhere in between. Set in England, fourteen-year-old Alex Rider, finds himself working for MI6 (England's equivalent of America's CIA). He dodges evil, solves mysteries, and finds himself caught in the middle of a tangle of lies. Will he ever be a normal teenager again? Will his life ever be free from the world of espionage? Will Alex ever be the same after eight novels?  Horowitz has also written The Gate Keepers series and The Diamond Brothers Mysteries.

Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett
Chasing Vermeer is a game of chase around the city of Chicago. Two twelve-year-olds, Calder and Petra, are in hot pursuit of the famous stolen painting A Lady Writing. With intrigue, mysterious letters, and everyone's a suspect, this art mystery will have you running to read her next two books in this series, The Wright 3 and The Calder Game.

The Deadly Curse of Toco-Rey by Frank Peretti
My all-time favorite read-out-loud book happens to be set deep in the South American jungles where brother and sister tag along with their dad on a trip to remember. Just remember, not everything is as it seems. My fifth grade students jumped out of their seats when the chapters ended demanding me to read more;-) Another superbly written young adult novel by

Hangman's Curse is another superbly wriiten young adult novel by Frank Peretti.  Filled with nail-biting suspense,the grand finale, along with an explosion of creepy spiders, will leave you gasping for air!!

Surviving Hitler: A Boy in the Nazi Death Camps by Andrea Warren
This true stroy of twelve-year-old Jack Mendlebaum pushes your emotions to the breaking point. He is separated from his family soon after the war begins and finds himself fighting everyday for his own life. This book reads like an fast-paced adventure novel. Jack tells himself it's a game, and he must win against starvation, dysentery, the soldiers and even the doctor with a vival of poison ready to end Jack's life. Jack never expects to find anything of value in the concentration camps, but he finds lasting friendship among the horrors of war.

City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau
An underground city created to sustain the survivors of the end of the world has been running for over 200 years. But the ancient generator, that creates light and energy for the entire city, is failing fast. Leena and Doon must unravel the mystery and brave a great escape before their world crashes
in on them and the ones they love. Will they unlock the key to long lost letter? Will they find life above on the forgotten earth?

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
The utltimate survival book, Hatchet, will keep you cheering long after the end of the novel. Brian's flight to the North abruptly ends whent the pilot has a heartache mid-air. He survivies the crash and learns the way of the woods. Just when he starts to figure things out, BAM, he gets hit again. Tornadoes, hunger, a moose; nature has a way of lashing out without mercy.

Lawn Boy by Gary Paulsen
A young boy needs to earn a few bucks to repair his tire on his ten speed. His Grandmother gives him an old lawnmower. His business begins. Mowing a few lawns, life is good. His business booms and expands. He hires a consultant. His consultant invests his money in the stock market. He winds up owning a prize fighter, Joey-Pow. By the end of the book, his invested measly forty bucks ends up like around..oh...$480,000.

Al Capone Does My Shirts and Al Capone Shines My Shoes by Gennifer Choldenko
These two novels, set in Alkatraz, revolve around the famous prisoner, Al Capone. These historic novels are terrific reads!

Happy Reading!!

Friday, May 18, 2012

My Own Wisconsin History

Even though my family and I reside in Mark Twain's boyhood home of Hanniba, Missouri, I am a native of Wisconsin. Born in Madison, I spent every summer with my grandparents in the beautiful coutnryside of Richland Center, Wisconsin. My grandfather, Johnnie Curtis served in the army in World War II. He fought in five major battles, including Normandy. I am so proud of him, my gentle grandfather. It was after WWII he moved my grandmother and dad to Wisconsin. They moved into a house right next door to the famous German Warehouse built by world-renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright. RC, Wisconsin just happens to be the birthplace of FLW.

As a young child, I remember walking past the German Warehouse a thousand times. I never fully understood the building's significance until I was older. My sister and I peeked into those windows, trying to locate any traces of a ghost. Our over active imaginations got us into heaps of trouble.

My grandmother was quite the character. A southern-bred woman full of spunk and sass; she knew the whole town's business and then some. When I came for a visit all by my big self, grandma would place a sack of fresh Macintosh apples on the table. She made the world's best cornbread, and she loved her two grand-girls fiercly; for we were all the grandkids she and gramps ever had.

My grandparents introduced me to the Wisconsin Dells. As a young child, I fell in love with the beauty of this enchanted place. Before all the waterparks and commercialization, I rode "the Ducks" into the great Wisconsin River. My own family has returned every summer for the past sixteen years. We spend cool mornings exploring the banks of the river. We've even spotted a lone loon floating by. Now, I have introduced my three children to the stunning scenery of the Wisconsin Dells and hope they do the same with their children.

June #IWSG: The Perfect Storm

                                                                Come join Alex J. Cavanaugh and the Insecure Writer's Support Group. We ...