To celebrate the coming of summer and teachers and librarians everywhere, Curious City has put together a great new activity kit – and a giveaway – for my VOLCANO DREAMS: A STORY OF YELLOWSTONE. Here are the details:
The giveaway for a copy of VOLCANO DREAMS (we have 35 to give!) runs until 5/28/19. To enter, click here. (This will send you to the entry form at Curious City).
The activity kit is a free download with STEM activities suitable for elementary ages. You can find it here.
We hope you enjoy this new material and that you win a copy of VOLCANO DREAMS!
Hi everyone! Sally Diamond has written this piece – to inspire your ghostly writing – on tracking down those ghosts that haunt Yellowstone (yes, there are many spooky stories in the Park.)
About Sally: “I spent over a decade working in web design before taking a step back to focus on home and family. These days, I work from home as a freelance writer. I love to spend as much time as possible exploring the great outdoors with my husband, two sons and our crazy but loving Labrador.”
Find a Real Yellowstone Ghost to Really Inspire Your Writing
If you’re one of the 65% of Americans who believe in the supernatural, then you’re probably fascinated and intrigued by this possibility. You want to get up close and personal with the mysterious, so that it can feed into your writing. However, you’re unlikely to see a ghost wandering down Main Street. If you want to encounter a spirit directly, then you will have to venture out into ancient and sacred lands. One of the best places in the US for this is Yellowstone National Park.
Numerous ghost sightings have been reported from here and they have been the inspiration for many stories. If you are a writer of mystery, then heading to Yellowstone can allow you to experience the supernatural for yourself and help you to craft more believable tales.
Yellowstone’s Most Haunted Lodge
Ghosts are said to inhabit all areas of Yellowstone, but one place has had more sightings than anywhere else: Old Faithful Inn. Built in 1903, this is one of the oldest buildings in the area and it has a rich, but terrifying history. The most famous deceased guest, who never checks out, is the headless bride.
She was found in the hotel in around 1915, decapitated in the bathtub. To this day, she walks up and down the stairs throughout the night, her head tucked under her arm. If you are brave enough, you could stay in room 127, where the murder is said to have taken place.
Are You Brave Enough to Camp?
Yellowstone is famous for attracting avid nature lovers, who enjoy being close to nature. The geysers and volcanoes make for spectacular scenes that are unmatched by any other national park. However, another advantage to camping outdoors is the possibility of encountering a spirit.
Around the hot springs, you may observe the spirits of those who were killed. For instance, in Lower Falls, it is possible to hear the chanting of Native Americans who drowned there in 1870. Then there are the ghosts of the eight people killed by bears since 1872. Camping among all these spirits isn’t for the faint of heart, but it is sure to provide stories which adventurers can later write into thrilling novels. That’s assuming you make it out alive.
Preparing for Your Ghostly Adventure
Yellowstone can be an unforgiving environment, so make sure you have a good set of outdoor clothes and some survival gear. This is essential, even without the presence of ghosts. If camping, make sure you are not alone and have communication with the outside world. You may want to bring Ouija boards or similar equipment to entice a ghost, but make sure you practice this in a safe environment first. Tread very carefully and bring experienced spiritualists to ensure your safety.
Yellowstone National Park is sure to get your creatives gears going. Whether you believe in spirits or not, there are so many fascinating tales to draw inspiration from. Spending a night in a creepy lodge or wild camping will help you to experience the thrill and adrenaline of a mysterious experience. This will feed into your novels and short stories, making them all the more believing and captivating.
We are drowning in paper. Unwanted mail flyers (admittedly a lot better than it was right before the November election, but just wait a year), multiple catalogues, cards we can’t throw out, etc. etc. Here’s the good news. Paper is the most recyclable of all products.
But the kicker is, we have to be willing to let it go. So here are a few tips.
The slot that holds my collection of personal cards really needs a purge!
First, I like the “touch it once” rule. I keep a recycling bin next to my desk, and as I go through the mail, I set aside the envelopes to open (bills, personal letters), and toss without opening the junk mail. I never open junk mail.
Second, I also use the “time’s up” rule. I have places for certain things I like to hang onto for a while, and I try to make those holding bins just so big. My friend Linda mentioned last week that she hates to toss personal cards and notes. So do I – to a point. So, I have a spot for them, and when I can no longer fit a new card in that spot, I filter the old ones out to make room for the new.
I do the same with catalogues. I like catalogues, but we get so many! Every couple of weeks I recycle the old ones and add the new ones to the same small inbox. Magazines get the same treatment. (No. You do not have to read them all. Stop feeling guilty. But more about that in a future post.)
Third, for bills, I have a filing system that goes like this: I have a “bills to pay” station, and a “bills paid” station. Every couple of weeks, the paid bills go into the file box, in hanging files I’ve set up in categories according to what my tax preparer has suggested I need. That makes bill paying and tax time both so much easier.
Hanging folders waiting for those paid bills to be filed.
As to those old tax files, I keep all the paperwork for seven years in individual labeled plastic boxes. At new tax season I yank out the oldest box, take all but the tax forms (those I’ve kept forever, in case I ever run for President) to the shredder, and use that box for the new paperwork. That’s seven plastic file boxes, which, if carefully labeled, are easy to find and renew. Hanging files in each of those boxes make this task easier. And the UPS store has a shredder.
And yes, I go to conferences and take copious notes. And then I come home and annotate those notes.
No, I don’t, and neither do you (well, maybe you do and then I’m mildly jealous). I run through my notes on the way home, pull out the most important thoughts/ideas/things-to-do and toss the rest. If there’s something I really need to remember I take or put the notes in a bound journal, but I still rarely go back to those, so every once in a while I spend a couple of hours culling all that paperwork, too.
Some of our reluctance to part with things stems from guilt, and some of it stems from nostalgia. Recognize why you can’t part with something. Realize that guilt is counterproductive to your health, and nostalgia is best reserved for the truly important stuff, like baby pictures. If that get-well card is signed with no meaningful note, maybe it’s time to let go.
As with anything, if you have stuff just hanging around, whether it’s an old pair of pants that are out of style or a stack of papers you haven’t looked at in five years, it needs to be sent on to a better place. Look at it this way. Next week you might eat off a paper plate made from your recycled catalogues.
Have questions? Have ideas? Have your own way of handling stuff? Please do share!
Shortly after GET ORGANIZED WITHOUT LOSING IT came out in 2006 I was asked to participate in a live drive-time radio interview. The interviewer and callers clearly didn’t know that the book was for kids, as I very quickly realized that these adult callers were asking about their own problems with too much stuff.
One caller especially caught my attention. He’d cleaned out a lot of things from his house, put them in garbage bags, and stuffed them into a shed on his property. Now, he asked me, “What should I do with it?”
Illustration by Steve Mark from GET ORGANIZED
I was floored, but said, “Don’t open those bags. Take them straight away to either recycle or the dump. But don’t open those bags!”
I love Marie Kondo’s approach to stuff. If it doesn’t “spark joy”, out it goes. But I developed some slightly different strategies to hers. Maybe they’ll help you peel away all that stuff you no longer need but can’t seem to part with.
Kondo suggests dumping all clothes in a single pile. I like to take a different approach to clothes, partly because I don’t have all the time in the world, so I prefer to tackle getting rid of stuff in small bites. Also, by sorting by clothing type I can see where I have gaps/needs rather than shopping for shopping’s sake.
I chose one type of clothing – say, slacks – take them all out of the closet and sort them. Things that don’t fit, are out of style, are worn out – they go. Then I look at them with a kind of “spark joy” attitude: do I love this item or not? It doesn’t matter how nice it is if I won’t wear it because there’s something about it that I don’t love.
Illustration by Steve Mark
As a corollary to this, I used to work as a teacher, and needed “teacher clothes”. Now, most days, I’m at my desk in my own home and need comfortable clothes that also look nice enough in case someone suggests meeting up for a glass of wine at the end of the day. The teacher clothes went to Goodwill, where they can be put to much better use.
And…if I haven’t worn something within a year, I give it away. Why hang onto things I never wear?
While Kondo sorts by category of things (i.e., clothes, then papers), I prefer to tackle one room at a time. Again, this is because I don’t want to spend days on end making this clean-up happen. I’d rather spend a couple of hours on a weekend going through one set of drawers or one section of closet and really paring things out. I find it less overwhelming, so maybe you will, too.
All stuff management is really predicated on the same principle, whether you call it “sparking joy” or “paring down” or “cleaning out” or whatever – it’s a matter of how much we all have that we don’t need.
Once we’ve acquired a thing, whether through a purchase or a gift, it takes on certain intrinsic value. But…rather than think that an object has value, think about how the space it consumes has value. It’s like seeing a work of art and realizing that the “white space” around an object in the art has as much impact as the object itself. By getting rid of stuff, you are giving value to what you’ve decided to keep.
The key is to revisit what “value” means to you. Maybe the object will have value for someone else. Or maybe it really has no value at all. Approaching stuff management without emotional attachment is what matters here. And if that’s hard for you (like it was for the man who stuffed the stuff into his storage shed), that’s okay.
The bottom line: once you’ve decided you are done with an object, put it in that plastic bag and don’t take it out again. Take it to Goodwill or to a recycling place or the garbage can. Today. You’ll actually feel great.
The original working title for GET ORGANIZED WITHOUT LOSING IT back in 2005 was “Where’s My Stuff?” “Stuff” is the first thing we think of when we think about becoming organized, because that’s what surrounds us and threatens to drown us day in and day out.
Key and phone organization
I found two rules of stuff management that work for me and hopefully will work for you. First is, “A place for everything, and everything in its place”, and the second is “Use it or lose it”. Let’s start this week with the former.
About the time I was writing GET ORGANIZED (really, I wrote it for my son, who was struggling with these things in early middle school) I watched my mother-in-law constantly misplace things. Her car keys. Her purse. Her wallet. Her wedding rings. What I observed was that each time she put something down, she put it down in a different place. She had an old, bad habit.
Storage bins for my writing swag
Whether you’re young or old makes no difference if you can’t find what you need when you need it, or worse, if you think you’ve lost something important (like a wedding ring or wallet). So the rule “a place for everything” really means that once you decide where something should live when it’s not being used, that’s where it should live. Done and done. As we age it becomes even more important to recognize that the strategy of not having a strategy can be time-consuming or stressful.
For instance, if you tend to throw your car keys on the nearest table when you walk in the door – or maybe you throw your car keys on any old table – perhaps make a habit of hanging the keys on a hook designated for that purpose or placed in a bowl always left on the table. This may sound obvious, but how many of us have left keys in a jacket pocket only to leave the coat behind when it’s warm? And for phones that need to be plugged in I suggest a stand that holds the phone and charges at the same time, and can be left near the door.
The well-organized closet with inexpensive solutions
Another “place” rule revolves around “out of sight, out of mind”. I only carry one purse which, when I don’t carry it, hangs on the same hook near my desk. Purses – and storage boxes, backpacks, briefcases, file cabinets – can become black holes for stuff. I suggest to kids that they empty their backpack (literally, dump it out) every single school night before homework. For adults, I think the same rule applies to purses and briefcases (well, we might not have to dump them out, but it pays to go through them at the end of the day for those errant receipts, shopping lists, reminders, and small purchases.)
As to storage boxes and file cabinets, I would suggest that as you do start to de-clutter and become organized, be sure to label storage boxes clearly for contents so that you can find what you need and return it to its proper place when you’re done. I’m a big fan of nice-looking storage especially if you want to live with storage boxes in your house (as opposed to your garage).
More of my own storage solutions. Out of the way, but visible.
If you’re tight on space the “place for everything” rule is even more crucial. I suggest to kids who do homework in a family room or kitchen that they create a “homework box” that holds everything they need – paper, pencils, tools like scissors. If you need a home office but don’t have the room, you can follow a similar plan – find an attractive box or boxes to hold the stuff you need when you work and that can look nice when you want to put things away. Again, labels are important so that when you need to get to work you don’t have to waste time trying to find your tools.
Having separate bins for “bills to pay” and “receipts/paid” (with the latter then ready to be filed by category) will save hours both at bill-paying and tax-paying time.
This “place for everything” rule works for clothes closets, too. Think about organizing your closet space by clothing types: shirts, pants, skirts, jackets, and dresses each in their own sections. You can further refine this if you organize within these categories by color – and, by the way, you’ll see where you have duplicates, or where you’ll be able to match outfits.
Finding “a place for everything” is a matter of changing habits, but those habit-changes will truly benefit you as you age (since we all become more forgetful) or if you lead (and who doesn’t?) a busy life.
Stay tuned next week for my “use it or lose it” rule suggestions.
Ok, yes, it’s February, and you’re probably already feeling guilty about those New Year’s resolutions. But in my view February is an even better month to change something up. The weather’s lousy, the kids are in school, the decorations are put away…and now nobody’s judging you.
As creatives – or librarians or teachers or parents – we always feel like we’re trying to juggle our work with life. Especially for those of us who work independently, this is a challenge. It’s too easy to put aside the tough writing work for a load of laundry or a pile of bills. And it’s my personal conviction that Marie Kondo has it right: when our lives are disorganized, we feel out of control and out of sorts.
Back in the day, when I wrote the first edition of GET ORGANIZED WITHOUT LOSING IT (Free Spirit Publishing, new edition 2017), my purpose was to help kids – especially middle school kids – transition to a more independent way of managing their lives in school and out. Along the way I did a lot of research on organizational skills, and I found principles that apply whether you are a kid or not.
If you’ll join me, for the next few weeks or however long it takes, I’m going to explore some of the organizational ideas I discovered in my research.
There are three basic areas of our lives that require some sort of organization.
First is “stuff management”. (This is where Marie Kondo excels.) All those things we collect, from clothing to papers, can easily become clutter. What do we do with all that stuff?
Second is “time management”. Especially if you are a creative, you need to consciously find time to create and not procrastinate. How can you do that and manage life, too?
Third is “information management”. You need to know what you need to know, and no more, but how is that possible?
When I wrote GET ORGANIZED, in addition to uncovering these fundamentals, I also unearthed a treasure trove of coping skills, techniques, tricks, and strategies. Many of these are covered in my book, with an eye toward what kids need. But many had to be left out because there either wasn’t enough room, or they were more relevant to adults.
Next week (and for however long it takes), I’ll give you some of those tips that I learned for managing your stuff. After that I’ll tackle time and information. These posts will be directed at adults, but can be applied to kids as well.
Please ask me questions if you need help in one specific area, and I’ll try to answer. I hope these posts will help as you follow along!
Tis the season…and if you are needing last-minute suggestions for either your own stocking or a fellow writer’s, here are my current favorites.
Donald Maass, Writing The Breakout Novel Workbook. This has long been my very favorite craft book. Clearly written, with excellent examples and terrific exercises at the end of every chapter, if you dive into those exercises your writing will improve by leaps. At the very least, read the chapters on building conflict in plot. His mantra is “tension on every page” and he’s so right. Anything by Maass is terrific.
Lisa Cron, Story Genius. I’m a big fan of understanding how we humans process stories, in order to understand how to reach my readers. This book addresses that head-on. What I love most is her definition of what therapists might call a patient’s “backstory wound” and what she calls a character’s “defining misbelief”. She leads the writer through the process of finding and then using that misbelief in the character’s arc.
Debra Dixon, Goal, Motivation & Conflict. I found this book only recently. Oh, I’d heard about it for years, and I’m now kicking myself that I didn’t find it sooner. Simple, short, and extremely clear, GMC will revolutionize the way you see both character and story. I’m especially amazed by how I’ve discovered things about my characters that create and add to the deeper layers of story and their arcs. Get this one, if nothing else. I read the ebook and now have the actual on order!
Ursula K. Le Guin,Steering The Craft. New 2015 edition. If you haven’t noticed, I do like craft books that are simple and clear, with examples and exercises that are easy to follow and complete. This is one of the best for all-around story construction at the most fundamental levels. Terrific for the beginning writer on your list, or for any writer refreshing the basics. Short, sweet, and perfect.
James Scott Bell, Super Structure. Just about anything by Bell (like Donald Maass) will sharpen your writing. He’s particularly good at defining plot, and techniques to tackle plot. If that’s what you struggle with, you need this book and the last book on my list…
Martha Alderson, The Plot Whisperer Workbook. Long a staple for writers, this book helps you to understand and clearly visualize the connection between rising tension and plot progression, in conjunction with character arc. You can’t beat that combo.
Happiest of holidays and here’s to a great writing 2019!
So many good books to celebrate this year! I’ve been following the “best of” lists, the successes of friends, the books that are making a difference in kids’ lives. I decided to make my own “best of” list, but not of books (for those, please see the CBC lists, and NPR’s list, among others.
What follows is a “best of” list of some of what I’ve learned about living the writer’s life. I hope it helps you during the season of what can be, for some, both ups and downs.
Write a little every day. Even if it’s just a sentence. Even if it’s just an idea.
Some ideas are better than others. Choose to write the idea that speaks to your heart.
A writing career is non-competitive. Another’s success does not mean your failure; there’s always room for another book on the shelf.
Successful writing careers are like icebergs – there’s a lot more craft-work going on under the surface.
Craft books are inspiring, so find a new one and absorb its messages if you are in a writing funk.
Read, read, read. Especially if you are in a writing funk.
Your physical health is important to your writing. Taking a walk is a great way to get the brain working. Eat and drink in moderation, exercise every day.
Join a writing organization like SCBWI or RWA or MWA. Build community. Build fellowship. They provide invaluable information, too.
A rejection may mean no more than “I don’t get it; it’s not to my taste.”
On the other hand, rejection should always be a time of reflection – is the work as strong as it could be?
But don’t keep revising the same piece over and over. At some point, move on. Your skills will only grow when you stretch.
Try writing something outside your comfort zone at least once a month. Poetry, a short story, a picture book (if you’re a novelist), a novel (if you’re a picture book writer).
Nothing you write is ever a waste. There’s a lot of waiting in publishing: write something new while you wait on something old.
Cultivate beta readers you trust. Listen carefully to what they say.
Give back. Mentor new writers, mentor kids, be a great beta reader yourself.
The writing community (especially for children) is tiny. Be nice. Be thoughtful. Be honest. Take the long view.
That editor or agent who rejected you yesterday might just be the editor or agent who accepts you tomorrow. Don’t burn bridges.
Never read Goodreads’ reviews. Period.
Travel, if you can. Seeing the world through the eyes of those entirely different from you will enrich your writing.
The world needs your words, your ideas, your thoughts. No one else can express ideas the way that you can – you are unique. Write from your heart and you’ll succeed.
As our new group of middle grade authors who write spooky stories is about to launch our website – and come visit us at https://spookymiddlegrade.com/ – I’m finishing up our shared experiences with graveyards this week. I’ll only add that I’m still surprised to find myself writing such spooky/scary stuff, since I can’t watch spooky movies.
Would I walk through a graveyard at night now, like I did when I was a kid? Not a chance!
Enjoy these graveyard stories…
Jan with her angel.
From author Jan Eldredge: A few times a year, my parents would take us to some of the cemeteries along the Mississippi Gulf Coast so we could tend to our family gravesites there. At one particular cemetery, there was a statue of a little boy angel standing a few rows over from my great-grandmother’s grave. From the time I could walk, until I grew too old for such things, I would always wander over and talk to him. Many years later, I went back to that cemetery, hoping to see my little angel friend again, but he was gone. I don’t know what happened to him. My guess is that he’d been damaged in a hurricane and the caretaker had hauled away his remains.
It’s funny how I never really thought about it, but graveyards appear in many of the stories I’ve written. I actually find them to be beautiful and peaceful places . . . as long as I visit them in the daylight.
And this tale is from Patrick Moody: I grew up in a very close knit neighborhood in Trumbull, CT. A small public library sat at the bottom of the street, and up the hill, rounding a corner, where my house stood, a long rock wall separated Hilltop Circle from the Nothenagle Cemetery (that’s quite a name, isn’t it?). The cemetery was a mix of old and new. The first people to be laid to rest were the Nichols family, who’d founded the area in the late 1600’s. Their plots were set with stone monuments towering seven or eight feet tall, entire lines of the family collected together behind wrought iron fences. The Nichols were in a corner, where the forest had begun to creep in over the grass, like it was coming to swallow up the graves. That part of the cemetery was perpetually covered in shadow, and if there was ever a truly spooky spot, that was it.
Myself and the other neighborhood kids loved exploring the cemetery. It was our playground. Our sanctuary. Being an old boneyard, it didn’t get many visitors. For us, it was a place where we could be free, out from under the watchful gaze of those ever curious “grown ups”. None of us found the place scary, at least not in the daytime. We’d walk through the rows, reading the names inscribed in granite and marble, and would talk about the lives of the people laying sleeping beneath our feet. I think that’s where my knack for storytelling really began. I was endlessly curious about the residents of the yard. What they were like in life. Who their families were. What they did for a living. How they saw the world through the eyes of their ti
We would take grave rubbings from the more artistic markers, and I was endlessly fascinated by the images of angels, and in some cases, figures from other cultures’ mythologies. Norse and Celtic runes were there in good numbers.
At night, on those summertime Saturdays when we didn’t have a care in the world, the cemetery became a magical place. As fireflies danced between the rows, we’d play hide and go seek, using the graves, bushes, and trees as our hiding spots. Sometimes we’d play capture the flag, or flashlight tag. When we didn’t really feel like chasing each other in the dark, risking tripping over a gravestone (or breaking it…that wouldn’t have been good), we would post up in a comfy area, usually inside the Nichols family plot behind those fences, and try to best each other with our scariest ghost stories.
We walked a fine line between embracing the inherent “scariness” of the graveyard, and looking at it as a place of practicality: literally, seeing it as a place for the dead to be lain to rest. You can either be scared, or at least mildly creeped out, or you can be interested in the cultural aspects of it. I found myself clinging to both: the ghostly aspects, and the way that we as Americans (or in a broader sense, the Western world), view and experience death.
Needless to say, the cemetery shaped me. Probably in some ways I haven’t even recognized. But I do know that I wouldn’t be a writer today, or an artist of any kind, had I not spent my youth dodging between those tombstones alongside my friends, exploring our moonlit kingdom of granite slabs and towering statues.
Fun stuff here, right? There’s lots more to come, for teachers, librarians, and kids. Follow us on Twitter @spookymgbooks