Saturday, November 20, 2010

School Visits – A Ton of Fun!

I love to teach kids. For over thirty years I taught Early Childhood Education at a Career and Technical School to students who wished to become dynamic teachers. Then, I wrote about what I taught. Now, as a children’s author, I teach about what I write. 

Just this week, I had the pleasure of working with a great group of sixth graders at JT Lambert Middle School in Pennsylvania. What a blast! Thank you, Mrs. Symonies. Your kids were wonderful.

Introduction to Picture Books
Placement of rhyming lines
I taught three groups about poetry and one group the basics of writing their own picture books. I used my picture book, ROCK STAR SANTA, as an example of a rhyming picture book. 
Halloween Poetry Collection
And AN EYEBALL IN MY GARDEN as an example of a middle grade poetry anthology.

The poetry classes are making a sixth grade anthology for their class and the picture book group are getting their stories bound into hard cover books to be donated to a children’s hospital. What a great lesson in paying it forward!

Demonstrating "slant" rhyme
Rock Star Santa's rhyme & meter

I'd like to thank Mrs. Symonies's class for a wonderful day. 
This little poem seems to sum up my day with them It was great!

Mrs. Symonies Sixth Graders Rock!
by Gayle C. Krause

Thank you for having me at your school.
To work with you was really cool.

I loved the way you paid attention
to the poems I read and the books I’d mention.

Impressed with your participation,
our webbing and collaboration,

I must say I enjoyed the time
I spent with you, while teaching rhyme.

I won’t forget your Steeler tees
or crazy abominable talking trees.

Good luck with all your picture books.
Just don’t forget you need great hooks!

And for those of you writing rhyme
what kind of poem did I write this time?

Friday, November 19, 2010

Big Boys Don't Spy

Today, I have a special treat for you. The author of "Big Boys Don't Spy" has stopped by to answer a few questions about her work.

I first met Karen at an SCBWI conference eight years ago when we were both placed in a peer critique group. We clicked and shared manuscripts for over two years. During that time I was privileged to read the first versions of "Big Boys Don't Spy." I loved the main character then and he remains with me still. I hope you enjoy him, too.

So, Karen, can you tell us your latest news?

Absolutely. I’m very excited to share the news that my second middle grade novel, BIG BOYS DON’T SPY, a humorous story about a twelve-year-old boy obsessed with spying, has just hit the shelves. Although this is my second book published, it was the first children’s book I actually wrote—with the help of my three boys. And I must add my eldest, Thomas—a huge spy fan at the time, worked with me every step of the way (Thanks, Thomas!!).  It is available at most major bookstores and online at, Barnes and and also in the UK— (as I am British, for me this is particularly cool. Finally, my mum’s pals can get to buy my book!).

If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?

Easy answer. Timothy Roland, the author of the Comic Guy series (Scholastic, Inc). As well as being a great writer, Tim is hardworking, dedicated, a very supportive friend and an inspiration. I met Timothy at a SCBWI retreat where we participated in a Red Eye critique—you never know whom you will meet at these conferences and who will help you on your road to publication.

What was your first published title and what was it about?
If we’re talking about novel length, then that would be my middle grade humorous Civil War ghost mystery: THE WITNESS TREE AND THE SHADOW OF THE NOOSE, about a sixth grade boy, Jake Salmon, who believes there’s a murderer prowling about in his basement. But, Jake soon discovers the crazy guy is in fact the ghost of Thomas Garnet, a Confederate soldier hanged as a Union spy on the oak in Jake’s front yard, and in the hope of reaching his next birthday, Jake has to find out what the ghost wants, and why now.

4. What inspired you to write your first book?

An old gnarly tree in the Manassas National Battlefield Park. I was there with my sons who had begged me to let them have time away from their Xbox in favor of some fresh air and a dose of history (we can all dream). And while we were there, I got chatting with the curator. Actually, I was trying to divert his attention from my boys who were reenacting the battle of Second Manassas over who could spit the furthest. We were standing under this wizened oak and the curator mentioned that any tree that has been around for a long time is called a witness tree because of all the battles it had witnessed. This struck a chord with me. So, I had a dilemma. Story about two brothers who break the world record for spitting, or a Civil War ghost story. I went with the ghost story.

 How long did your journey take to publication and what were some significant events along the way?
Wow, these are great questions. THE WITNESS TREE AND THE SHADOW OF THE NOOSE took me around nine months to write, three months, to edit and another six months to gain the interest of a publisher. Significant events would be the reams of rejections that to my surprise didn’t agree with me that Jake Salmon, my protagonist, was the next Harry Potter without the wand, the weird scar, oh, and the magical abilities. But, Jake had his own Civil War ghost as a roommate—and that’s pretty cool, right?

Another significant moment, at least for me, was that while I was reading the unpublished manuscript, one chapter a week, to my son’s then fifth grade class at Poplar Tree Elementary, I got the call from the publisher that they wanted to publish the book. This was so exciting, as I got to announce the news to the children, and it was wonderful to see they were almost as excited as I was. I acknowledge the whole class in the front of the book, so the kids all got to see their first names in print.

Who/what were your sources of inspiration along the way? How did it/ he/she/they help you the most?

I’d have to say my boys. They believed in me, all the way. Plus they were, and are, a bottomless pit of funny, gross, heartwarming, and at times fantastical stories.

 What was the best thing about getting your first book published?
Getting to give author presentations to school. I love, love, love talking to the kids, answering their questions and listening to their youthful creativity.

What was the hardest thing?
Letting Jake go out into the world by himself. To be judged and devoured without me by his side.  But, I’m sure he’ll be fine. He does have his little brother Danny by his side despite the fact that Jake thinks Danny’s obsession with the Civil War is kind of disturbing.

What is your most recently released book or upcoming book? What is it about?

Remember the injustice of being twelve, when five-year-old monsters were considered cute, no one cared about your opinion, and teenagers, like aliens from another planet, scared the pants off you? Welcome to Will Wand’s world.

Set in the Washington DC suburbs, with the CIA Headquarters around the corner, Will has his first assignment—to save the world, or at least to uncover the mole in his mother’s advertising company. Will strongly suspects his bossy, annoying cousin, Penelope, visiting from the UK, is a double agent, and when he finds her diary written in code, he knows he’s onto something. The story is full of suspense, cool codes, and lots of humor…but if I tell you any more, he’ll have to kill you.

How have you changed from your first published book to now?
Well, I’m older. Not sure if I’m any wiser (jk). I have to think twice about dying my hair different shades according to the weather since my bio picture is plastered all over my book.  Seriously, I don’t feel that different. I was a writer before I was published and I’m still a writer.

What are your current projects?

I’m trying my hand at Young Adult. With three teenage boys and a golden doodle named Portia who just turned two--which in dog years makes her fourteen--my house is overflowing with teen drama, so I kind of had to go there. I finished my first YA novel a couple of months ago and the manuscript is currently with my agent. I am now working on a follow up YA and have a zillion middle grade plot ideas fighting for my time.

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Buy my new book. Hahah. In all seriousness, I would like to say thank you. Thank you for allowing me to share in your free time with my stories.

 Bit of wisdom to share:
Winston Churchill said: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” And to that I would add: keep your sense of humor, your sense of priorities, and enjoy the ride.

 And for fun, something that not a lot of people know about you:
I LOVE to scooter. Not the electric powered ones, but the manual kick-your-foot-along as you go kind. True, I’ve fallen a few times—the last time I smashed my forehead on the curb—not a good look, trust me. But I was wearing a helmet—despite the fact it gives you terrible hat-hair, just terrible. But I don’t think anyone saw me, so I think I got away with it. Phew. 

Thanks for the info. Karen. Hope "Big Boys Don't Spy" is a huge success!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Falling Leaves Writers' Retreat

I just spent a fabulous weekend at the Eastern NYSCBWI’s Falling Leaves Writer’s Retreat at Lake George, NY. 

Five outstanding editors in children’s publishing offered wonderful insight to the industry. All members of our peer critique groups were well suited to each other. My particular group had four published authors in various genres. The other three were well established in the field. We gained valuable insight to our manuscripts from everyone’s area of expertise. 

Of course, we each spent twenty minutes with an individual editor.

My editor critique was with Noa Wheeler of Holt. I’d sent in the first 20 pages of a YA historical fiction manuscript. I’d written it several years ago, and both editors and agents had seen it at other conferences. Still, I knew it needed a large dose of advice. It was completed, but too long and I didn’t know where to start cutting since the character was a real person.

Noa gave me the most excellent advice I could have hoped for. She incorporated my background as a teacher in her suggestion to revise, and suddenly my revision path became clear. I’ll be overhauling that manuscript as soon as I finish my current WIP.

Each editor shared their own perspective in presentations to the group of 35 YA and MG writers. Noa shared a writing exercise using only three words. It was an excellent creative writing technique.

Kendra Levin, a newly promoted editor of Viking, led us on a guided visualization of our manuscript. Then she offered another writing exercise where me had to write about the first time our MC heard her favorite song. Both of these exercises were beneficial to me. What I came up with will easily be incorporated somewhere in my current manuscript.

Most of us struggle when writing our synopsis, but Julie Tibbot, senior editor at Houghton Mifflin /Harcourt taught us how you can use your synopsis as a selling tool as well as a revision technique. We each had to prepare a 250-word synopsis before the workshop. Try it. It opens your eyes.

Wendy Loggia, executive editor with Delacorte Press/Random House shared actual editorial letters on three books, which are coming out this year. Through her eyes and experiences we learned how the editor and writer form their special bond.

And our last editor was Mary Kate Castellani, an associate editor at Walker Books. Her exercise proved invaluable, as we actually had to develop the information sheet for our current novel. This included a handle, which can be likened to a single sentence pitch, a description, or short summary of the novel, pertinent author information, and strong selling points. We also learned how they use this information to compare our work with other like, successful novels.

And of course, between the valuable information, the individual writing time, and the cookies and s’mores at the bonfire, we forged new friends and new goals for ourselves, and our characters. I highly recommend the experience. Next year, it will be for picture book writers.

Friday, November 12, 2010


Today, I thought I’d share some words and/or phrases that writers tend to mix up when writing. Sometimes the story they have in their head is so compelling they write away and don't pay attention to word choice. Now I'm not talking about strong or weak verbs here, or even a more descriptive word. I'm talking about words that some of us get mixed up.

Hope these examples help you. 

1.     Based on vs. on the basis of
a.     based on – is properly used when referring to a published source.
ie. The lecture was based on his memoir.

2.     On the basis of
a.     is the preferred choice in other constructions
ie. Her conclusion was finalized on the basis of her research.

3.     Between
a.     implies two persons or things
ie. She chose between chocolate cake and a hot fudge sundae.

4.     Among
a.     implies more than two
ie. The oral report was divided among four students.

**however, if a reciprocal relationship is being expressed between one thing and several others, as in planning an event, between is the acceptable usage.

The agreement for the bridal shower was reached between the five attendants.

5.     Effect
a.     a noun meaning, an outward sign or result
ie. The poisonous plant had a numbing effect on the victim.

6.     Effected
a.     a verb meaning to accomplish
ie. Progress can be effected by hard work.

7.     Affect
a.     almost always used as a verb meaning to influence
ie. The rain did not affect the game.

Source* - The Keys to Effective Editing – Jackie Landis

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

EXPOSITION: Hints for Weaving in Back Story

This past weekend I served as part of the faculty for EPA SCBWI in Lancaster, Pa. I learned a lot about my own writing by reading and critiquing that of total strangers, Immediately, I was placed in an editor or agent’s seat, seeing the most polished manuscripts the writers had to offer. And while I sat in that seat I also recognized some of the basic flaws in writing. Each hopeful writer sent in five pages and a synopsis.

It was so easy to see how editors and agents can reject a manuscript in five minutes.

Of the eight novels I previewed, one was excellent, IMO, and ready for publication that very day. Speaking with the author, my assumption was confirmed, as it currently is in the hands of an editor with a major house in NYC.

One was close to being ready. I suggested the writer rearrange her first chapter to start with action rather than detailed exposition, which was lovely, but way too detailed.

One had a good storyline, but the setting wasn’t clear. I thought it took place in ancient times, turns out it was a futuristic dystopian novel.

We have to get the back story in somewhere and when you start out writing your story, whether you outline or not, some how the back story wants to be front and center. Don’t let that happen. How can writers fix these elements of their writing?

I’ve compiled a suggestion list. Hopefully, it may help you compose your first five pages.

First of all, you must understand what exposition is. When introducing a character, setting or event in a novel, you are compelled to write background to give the reader a proper frame of reference. This background information is called exposition or back story.

  1. This information should advance the rest of the story.
  1. Reveal your characters’ histories through dialogue or action.
    1. Dialogue should always have a point
1.     a conversation about old keys among boys sitting in a boat tells us nothing about those keys. The fact is they were key to the plotline (no pun intended). They belonged to a haunted house, but the writer took a whole chapter of wasted words to get to that plot point.

2.     Make your characters’ conversations advance the story.

3.     Not only can dialogue organically provide background information, it is a wonderful technique to break up the pace.
4.     Read your dialogue aloud. Does it sound realistic? Think of how you talk to your best friend or your sibling. You don’t say your sister’s name every time you talk to her. Neither should your characters. Find a better way to introduce the new character coming into the scene.

5.     Make sure it is clear to the reader who is speaking. Without appropriate tags or obvious clues, the reader will get lost in your words, and that’s just what they become, WORDS.

  1. Ask yourself if lengthy back story is truly necessary for the plot.
  1. Reveal background information gradually, at different points in the manuscript.
So that’s what I learned this weekend, as I wore the hat of a professional critiquer.

Now, novels were not the only things in my pile of fifteen manuscripts. I also read poem collections and picture books, both rhyming and prose. I’ll give you my suggestions on those later this week.

I hope my insights have helped you with your writing. I know, as I delved into my NaNoWriMo novel this past week, it helped me with mine.

Happy writing!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Eastern PA SCBWI Critique-a-thon

5 authors
5 agents
5 editors

60 participants
1 happy co-ordinator

The First Annual Critique-a-thon took place in Lancaster, Pa. yesterday. I participated as one of the five published authors. We each critiqued 15 manuscripts. So did the agents and editors.

Sixty hopeful children's writers received wonderful feedback, inspiration and hope. A triumphant success, so much so, it is planned again for next year, September 10, 2011 at the same place, The Mulberry Art Gallery, Lancaster.

See you all there. It was WELL-WORTH the trip.

Happy writing!

Standing - Nancy Viau, Gayle C. Krause
Seated - Lee Harper, Paul Ancompora


Hi folks: This is a fun challenge. Write a picture book in 50 words or less. See Vivian Kirkfield's blog for details. https://vivianki...