Friday, July 12, 2013

Friday Feedback: Starstruck, Grade School Pals, and the William Tell Overture

probably a few years before I actually
read Regarding the Fountain to them...
aren't they cute? 
When my boys were younger (just a few short years ago -- how did they fly by so fast?), I read aloud to them every night. I can still remember the feeling of choosing a book together, diving into the story, chatting as things unfolded. 

One of those books was Kate Klise's Regarding the Fountain, a delightful, watery mystery told in faxes and letters (with Sarah Klise's charming illustrations). Those were the days before I could imagine the reality of being a published author myself, and was still writing only women's fiction.

Fast forward till now and imagine my star-struck glee when I extended the offer to a bunch of Algonquin Young Readers cohorts to join me for Friday Feedback, and quickly received an email from Kate Klise (!!!) saying she'd be happy to oblige!

Kate Klise (Color pic).jpg
This is Kate Klise! Isn't she lovely?
She's my new BFF. Sorry all you old BFFs, but
she's Kate Klise, after all... 

In case you live under a book-less, library-less rock, Kate Klise is the award-winning author of more than twenty books for young readers, including Regarding the Fountain, Dying to Meet You, and Stand Straight, Ella Kate. Most of her books are illustrated and designed by her sister, M. Sarah Klise. You can read all about the Klise sisters at their website: (or, you know, click on their names where I just linked to it). 

148917_323973551041066_1291519504_nAnyway, Kate (and Sarah!) have a new young reader series, THREE RING RASCALS, coming out from Algonquin YR, and the first book, Three Ring Rascals: The Show Must Go On, comes out this fall!

Kirkus Reviews has said of the first book, "Entertaining... children will agree the book is smart and wonderful."

And if it's not awesome enough that Kate's here giving feedback, she also has a song for us all. So, without further ado, I give you the awesome Kate Klise:

Whenever I go to a high school reunion, the people I spend the most time with are my friends from grade school. These are the kids I grew up with; the pals I learned to read with and stood next to at First Communionafter we nearly killed each other playing dodge ball. These are also the only people in the world I’ve ever sung songs with in a loud voice.

Now let me be clear: I am not a good singer. I have no business singing in public, and my good sense usually keeps me from doing so. But when I get together with my old elementary school friends, I find myself singing—really singing. We rarely leave a reunion without belting out our grade school greatest hits: “Erie Canal” and “Old Polina.”

This is a long way of asking: Am I crazy to want to include song lyrics in a new series I’m working on for 7-to-10-year-olds?  The first book in my Three-Ring Rascals series will be out in September. It’s called The Show Must Go On! I wrote the climactic scene as a song that can be sung to the tune of “Erie Canal.” (Will young teachers even *know* this song?)

The second book in the series, The Greatest Star on Earth, will be out in spring 2014. I’m writing the pivotal scene in that book so that it can be sung to the tune of the William Tell Overture, also known as the Lone Ranger Theme.

(Am I insane? Is this a bad idea? Please tell me.)

By the way, this is a circus-themed series for early independent readers that I pitched as “Downton Abbey” meets Doctor Dolittle. My sister Sarah’s illustrations are as adorable as you can imagine. Oh, and we’re going to run a fun feature on a new website where kids can apply to join the circus by writing us a letter, filling out a job application, and getting a letter of recommendation from a friend or relative. (He he he. Diabolical, eh?) You can read all about it here. 

Okay, so here’s the excerpt.

Now, remember: Try to sing these words to the tune of the William Tell Overture:

When you’re sick
     When you’re sad
          When you’re feeling blue
When there’s ick
     And it’s bad
          And you think life’s through
When you’re down
     In the dumps
         And the smiles are few
Call our naaaaaaaaame! We’ll be there for you!

When you’re worried   
     And you’re stressed        
          And you feel left out
When you’re hurried
      And distressed  
          And you want to shout
When you scurry
     To be best
         But you’re full of doubt
Call for our naaaaaaaaame! We’ll be there for you!

  We’re two mice and a crow with a show we hope will make the sadness go away.
  We’re two mice and a crow with a show we hope will help to save this lousy day.
  We’re two mice and a crow with a show we hope will make the badness go away.
  We’re two mice and a crow with a show who really only want to say . . .

Can Three-Ring Rascals help our friend today?
Can Three-Ring Rascals make this end okay?

*        *        *

Okay, Kate here again. I don’t expect nine-year-olds to know the William Tell
Overture. But will teachers know it? (Is it in the new Disney “Lone Ranger”
movie?) Will teachers sing it? Might this be a fun way to combine reading,
writing, singing, research (about classical music) and a performance?
This is the kind of thing I would’ve loved as a kid—dressing up like a mouse or a
crow and belting out a silly song with my classmates--but is this precisely the sort of fun, subversive learning that Common Core is determined to stomp out?

Please tell me. And let me see what you’re working on this summer. And tell me if you agree that nothing beats catching up with old pals from grade school.

-Kate Klise (& Gae Polisner)

p.s. **please remember there are RULES, y'all. If you've not been here before, 
please click on the word RULES and read them before your post, and please don't post more than 3 - 5 paragraphs. Thanks! **


  1. I love the song idea and the lyrics. What a fun element, and just as you said, a great way to incorporate a little research. I don't know the tune to "Erie Canal" , and I consider myself a young-veteran teacher (this coming school year will be my 12th!), but I would definitely lead my students in finding the tune and figuring it out...I think it's a great way to incorporate that "fun, subversive learning"! I am also wondering if some kind of link could be added to an ebook version that would take readers directly to the song?

    As for my own writing, I am really struggling with the opening line to my middle-grades manuscript. It is a time travel story that starts in the present and then the main character goes back in time to witness a Civil War skirmish that took place near his hometown.

    “Can anyone tell me something about McLean County’s role in the Civil War?” Of course I knew, but no way was I going to raise my hand. Being a know-it-all was so elementary school. Directly behind me, I heard the flutter of a page turning, and I knew without looking that my best friend Jeremy Preston was perusing the latest issue of Sports Illustrated, not his social studies notes.
    “Okay, then. Why was the fighting at Sacramento considered a skirmish rather than a battle?” Mrs. Hopkins tapped her foot against the linoleum as she waited for an answer. But everyone in my eighth grade social studies class was thinking about 3:01, not 1861. Her words floated out the window and into the cloudless blue sky. A robin chirped the only reply.
    My pencil went back to the sketch in the corner of my notes page and I shaded in another long, soft curl along the perfect curve of a face. I jumped when Mrs. Hopkins said, “Misty?” and the stroke took a sharp right angle onto the desk.

    1. Hey Elizabeth. Struggle? What struggle? I think you have a terrific opening here and a really fun premise. If you're not in *lerv* with your opening sentence, don't worry about it. Just keep going and finish the ms. I always think the first and last chapters -- or at least the opening and closing images of a book -- should feel like bookends or mirror images or something. Your last chapter and image might give you an idea for your first image. Might that little robin reappear at the end? Hmmm... In any case, love it. Keep going!

    2. agree! No struggle here. Love the thought of that chirping robin popping up at the end. Besides, how cool would it be if the book got published and you got to say, "oh, my pal Kate Klise told me to do that. ;)"

      Keep going!

    3. Kate,
      I love any book that has "sung to the tune of..." in it, and I think this one will be a hit.

      This is a great start! I enjoy all things Civil War, so I would definitely read this. I like the idea of the robin, but the only comment I have is that I kinda got hung up on the rhyme ("sky" and "reply"). Maybe "response" instead of "reply?" I don't know... Keep going!

    4. Didn't think that robin had much to say, but you all have really got me thinking about adding him to the ending. Hadn't caught the rhyme either...thanks!

  2. Oh Kate! I love the song! I can see doing this with my students and they would love it! I think it's a great way to add some background knowledge of classical music too! I've used a lot of singing and reading combined in my classroom (thank goodness for Youtube and song lyric videos) because elementary school students LOVE to sing and it's fun.

    Here is some of what I've been working on this summer:

    I’m in my bed. I’m not moving a muscle. I hear something. Someone talking? It is faint at first and I can’t make out distinct words. I’m straining to hear with every cell of my body. I keep my eyes closed and I think about my breathing – steady breaths: in and out. Focus. I definitely hear talking. The voices start to become clearer. I can now tell that there is more than one. “no”, “we can’t”, "soon”.
    I distinctly hear, “SHE’S NOT READY”. “Yes, she is”. “NO!” This “no” was much louder. It was said with anger and authority. Who is the “she” they are talking about? Me? I fervently hope the “she” is not me. I hope it’s not me they are talking about but I know in my heart that it is me. Damn. I can’t stay still any longer. I jump out of bed and say “What is it? You should tell me.” As soon as the words leave my mouth, I wish that I could take them back. What am I thinking? I don’t want to know, I really don’t. But yet, I really do. I really want to know what’s going on. I really want to know that I’m not losing my mind. I really want to know that I am not crazy. I am not crazy. I am not crazy? Is this really happening? I hear, “well, now you have to tell her".

    1. Whoa. This is good. YA, correct? (*Damn* is one of those words that can keep a good book off a middle-grade reading list. There are others, of course.) I love the slow reveal here. When you go back to rewrite, you'll want to read this aloud to make sure you have *just enough* of a teaser to keep your reader reading. This feels like Stephen King for the younger set. (His book, On Writing, is fabulous, btw. Highly recommend if you haven't already read it.)
      Yours in silly songs, Kate

    2. Yep, I'm with Kate on this one. I almost felt like you could pull back on a question or two so as not to overwhelm us while still having plenty of suspense. Of course we all now want to know, WHAT, WHAT are they going to tell her?!?!? :)

      Keep going.

    3. Thanks Kate and Gae. Now, I need to figure out WHAT they're going to tell her.....

  3. I think children will love the song. I can see children getting these 'stuck' in their head humming them as they go about their day.

  4. Thanks, Gayle! Ear worms R us, eh?

  5. Love it!
    Put a link to a page on your website in the book so people can hear what it (and any other song) sounds like. They can sing along with you.

    1. Great idea. Thanks, man. I was in love with you many years ago. But I'm sure you hear that a lot.

    2. Hah! I was wondering who would do it. It wasn't me, David. Anyway, I was always more of a Sean Cassidy fan. ;)

    3. No, Kate. You're the first one to ever mention it. ;)

      I was a teenager in the 1970s. It was tough.
      I'm also a singer and a songwriter, so I had to change my name.
      I've lived two identities most of my life.

      Gae, I applaud and will remember your restraint.

    4. Thank you, David. With a name like Gae, teasing about names isn't the first place I go. ;)

  6. I am so excited to be back here for Friday Feedback! I don't have anything to post today (I'll get writing and maybe I'll be back), but I do want to offer some praise of yours, Kate.

    By the way: thanks for being here. All you authors are just. . .you're just the best.

    Anyway, I LOVE the rhyme that you have in there. Because the song's so quick, I didn't even notice it until the second stanza (because, yes, I was singing it [my non-roommates are glad I live by myself]). It's very masterfully done. That just makes it click for me that much better. It also makes it easier to sing. Which everyone should do. NOW.

    And when you sing it (this comment is apparently for everyone now, not just Kate), you'll notice how perfectly the rhythm of the words matches the rhythm of the tune. Wonderful!

    Hopefully I'll stop by again later today with something that I'm somewhat terrified to share.

    1. Oh, I not only sang it aloud to myself when she first emailed it, but then I actually spent a few minutes trying to sing it aloud FAST to the version I put up here when I was preparing the blog post Wednesday night. So now that others are chiming in, I'll chime in too: I LOVE the idea of including these songs set to famous pieces in each of the books! It's a GRAND idea!

  7. How nice! Thanks for posting. Terrified to share? Don't be. We're all friends here.

    1. Oh, he's just faking the "terrified" thing for sympathy. ;)

  8. I think incorporating songs into your story is a fabulous idea! I would indeed sing it to my students. Student (and their teachers) should know songs that are part of our cultural heritage. Sing away! By the way, Shall I Knit You a Hat is one of my favorite picture books ever!

    I've got two projects going this summer (one is getting a lot more attention than the other!). This scene is from a picture book (?) or early chapter book. I introduced Ellie on Friday Feedback a few weeks ago.

    Just then a flash of pink near the bottom caught Ellie's eye. "Oh," she whispered as she lifted it out of the basket. "It's the most beautiful shell I've ever seen? Grandma, what's this one called?"
    "Which one did you find?" Grandma asked. She dried her hands on her apron as she walked over from the sink. "That's a pink-mouthed murex," she said as she sat down next to Ellie.
    Ellie turned the shell over and ran her fingers across the rows of spikes that covered its back. She studied the rim of the shell. "It looks like the ruffles on the edge of the curtains in my room. It's almost the same color pink, too. Feel how smooth it is, Grandma. It's like glass.
    "You're right. Hold it to your ear," Grandma suggested.
    Ellie closed her eyes and listened as hard as she could. The roar of the pounding surf filled her ear. "How does it do that?" she cried.

    Thanks for being here for Friday Feedback!

  9. Catherine! (I'm legally a Catherine, too.) This is really nice. Have you read Anne Morrow Lindbergh's GIFT FROM THE SEA? I just reread it the other night. It's funny how just reading about shells sorta slows the heart rate down, almost as if you're walking on the beach. If you go the picture book route with this, you'll have to lose any and all description that's repeated in the art. But this feels a bit older to me. I love a good grandparent-child story. The danger, of course, is to make both grandparent and grandchild too sweet, too good. Don't be afraid to give 'em both a few flaws and problems. We always like reading about people's problems, right? Keep up the good work!

    1. Kate's advice is perfect. Leaving you with her thoughts. <3

      Keep going!

  10. Are you kidding me?! I freaking love the idea of the words set to music. I sing to my students constantly. My own children tell me that everything is not a song, but I beg to differ. I set your words in front of me and then hit play on the youtube music. Fabulous! It worked beautifully. You have to do it for the whole series. Have. To.

    I’m not that surprised on some mornings when I wake up and can’t figure out where I am. I spend a lot of my time with foster parents. My parents are the kind of people who think everything is free and that we should all just love each other. This can get them into trouble like the time we went into a restaurant and after eating my mom told the owner that she would wash dishes to pay him. He was like, “uh, that’s not really how it works.” So Melinda (my mom) started explaining why trading of services is a much better plan because we can control what we need. So the owner called the police which is when Children’s Protective Services (CPS) usually gets called for me. My parents are actually pretty great. They totally love me. They just don’t like any kind of conformity. I can’t really explain it more than that. People shake their heads sadly at me, but I’m okay. I love them. I get what they are doing, I just don’t love living in other people’s houses all the time. I’m pretty glad I don’t have a sister or brother because I think I would worry about them too much. This way, I wake up and I just have one person to worry about.

    1. Hey Kimberley. Love your comment and your post. I'm a sucker for weird parent stories and the idea of this narrator being a wise little survivor has great appeal. I'm guessing there will come a time in this story when the narrator comes perilously close to *not* surviving something (or someone), which will be hard to write but fascinating to read. In any case full steam ahead. You've got a great start.

    2. Hey, Kimberly, look at you back here with some YA! Agree with Kate that I like that this protag is the opposite of your typical teen - not minding her quirky parents... but we know there's going to be a catch.

      Keep going!

  11. Kate,

    This is brilliant! I love the idea and can't wait to read, and sing, these books with my own kids some day. I think with kids being exposed to classical music through Little Einsteins, kids will be familiar with William Tell by tune, if not by name. The Erie Canal might be tougher, my fourth graders know it from our northeast states unit. I like the idea of parents/teachers and kids researching these songs together.

    Here is the final segment of my story, What a Nerd! I shared two segments previously. I have worked on this story for over a year, changing it completely. This is the end of the story in which Chloe calls Sheila a nerd for sharing her bug collection. Too preachy? Too hokey? Would kids like this ending?

    “You already know about me. I’m a bug nerd.” Her classmates eyed Sheila cautiously. She continued, “This is my dad, well, you probably already know about my dad and his mowers too. This is my Pop-Pop. He’s a baseball nerd. He’s been to every ballpark in the country. Auntie B. nerds on monkeys and other exotic animals. She’s been to Africa - twice!” Over the next few minutes, as her classmates watched with awe, Sheila proudly proclaimed every member of her family a certified nerd.
    Some kids nodded. Others played with whatever was in their desks. Many smiled.

    On Tuesday, Jeremy shared. He nerd shared. Standing, sweating in front of the class, Jeremy shared his drawings. Notebooks filled with drawings of all kinds of “creatures” he had created. “I’m like a creature-creating nerd.” He rushed back to his seat but looked back at Sheila. She smiled. Jeremy smiled.

    On Wednesday, Natalia shared. She nerd shared. Beaming in front of the class, she belted out a song from an old Broadway show. “My nana taught me that. She taught me all kinds of old songs and sings them with me while she teaches me piano. I’m a show tune nerd!”
    Natalia asked Sheila to sing with her at recess. Sheila had never liked singing. But she did it anyway.
    On Thursday, Chloe shared. She shared her bracelet. It had charms from all of the places her mom visited on business trips. “I haven’t seen any of these places,” she said, “but I will someday.” Chloe looked at Mrs. Flommer. She looked at the class. She glared at Sheila. “And I’m not a nerd.”

    At lunch, Sheila sat down with Natalia and Jeremy, but she couldn’t stop watching Chloe who sat alone at the end of the table silently touching the charms on her bracelet. Sheila excused herself and walked. She sat. She spoke to Chloe.
    “You don’t have to be a nerd, you know,” Sheila said.
    “Good. I’m not.”
    “I do like your bracelet. Where’s that charm from?”
    “Are you trying to make me ‘nerd share’ my bracelet.”
    “No,” Sheila said. “I’m just interested.”

  12. LOVE the song--great fun!
    I'm sharing from my WIP today, and I’ve cut some from the middle just because it is too much to share---but you sort of need the beginning and the end to have it make any sense. Mine is not a kids book, or YA---it is an adult chick lit piece. My MC is traveling back to her hometown for a weekend with old friends she hasn’t seen in a long time. It still needs a lot of work, but I'd love your initial thoughts/suggestions.

    Just under four hours later, just about five miles outside the Travis, Texas city limits, I stop at the Mini-Mart to put my final adjustments in place. I know it sounds a bit stupid, but I swear to howdy I refuse to walk into this gathering---old friends or not---without doing my damndest to look as decent as I can. Men are under the ridiculous assumption we dress for them. As any woman can tell you, we may wear our sassy panties on occasion for our men--but we actually dress for to prepare for the unstoppable judgment dished out from other women. And I was not about to head into battle unprepared and unarmed. Hell, no!
    I felt a bit weird walking into the dingy little convenience store with my Vera Bradley bag in tow, but it couldn’t be helped. It was now or never; the moment of truth. It was time to suck it up, and dance with the devil. It was time to put on my Spanx.
    I hurried to the bathroom;a one-staller, of course, and dirty to boot.
    “Well, shit, “ I muttered as I hung my bag on the little clip at the top of the stall door. I let out a long sigh and prepared to suit up.
    First, let me just say that I have a love-hate relationship with my Spanx. As a properly raised Southern girl I know without a doubt that proper shapewear is vital for most social occasions. As a general rule, however, I don’t love the feeling of being stuffed like a sausage into its too-small casing. For a garment that is supposed to be helpful, it sure brings up every damn body insecurity I ever thought about having every time I had to put the damn things on.
    I pulled off my jeans and threw them over on the sink. It was the cleanest looking surface in the place, although that sure wasn’t saying too awful much. I dug into my bag and pulled out the flesh-colored wad of devil-fabric.
    One leg in and things are going fairly well. One leg in and I began to feel okay; a bit cheery even. “I’ll look great,” I think. “Okay, not skinny---but definitely not jiggly-ass fat.”
    Happiness soon fades as soon as I attempt leg number two. Crap-on-a-stick, that damn leg two nearly kills me. I am, however, utterly determined. (cut)
    “I will not be defeated!” I shout from the bathroom, because I no longer give two shits if that pissant little clerk thinks I’m a raving lunatic. Feeling emboldened by my battle cry I dig a little deeper within, summon all my strength and tug like a freight train. I hear the unmistakable sound of fabric ripping.
    “I WILL NOT be defeated!” I shout, even louder this time, no longer caring if the entire population of this entire damn county hears me.
    Rips and all, I struggle and grunt and moan like I’ve boxed three rounds with Sugar Ray and lost, as I strain to pull this thing over what can only be described as my mama’s hips. Finally, with much heavy breathing and muttering of the most filthy cuss words I know and a few I’ve made up, I get the top of the Spanx positioned exactly where it should be. I may not be able to breathe tonight, but by god, I’ll look good standing there or die trying.
    I’m so worked up I grab an extra large bag of peanut M&Ms and another full-octane chock-full-of-sugar-and-caffeine large coke from the fountain to calm my nerves. I slap ‘em on the counter to pay for them and shoot daggers at the clerk that lets him know right off the bat he better not say one.damn. word about anything he might have seen or heard during the course of the past few minutes if he wants to live.

    1. Okay, can I just say for the record that I would *love* at the most awkward moment in this Spanx scene for someone to come and hold up this Mini-Mart? The gunman could check the restrooms, too, to see if anyone has a wallet or purse. Your MC could be trotted out in all her Spanx glory--and maybe have to take a trip to the police station like that, too? My point being, this is the kind of story that begs for the absurd. Also, I can live on lines like "I swear to howdy." Brava!

    2. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I love that suggestion! And now, I cannot WAIT to get back to work on it! day made!

    3. Hah, Kate! Such a funny suggestion. I was jonesing on "swear to howdy," too, and "devil-fabric."

      Keep going!

  13. Hey Todd. You know what this reminds me? That great scene at the end of "Little Miss Sunshine" where they're all up on stage nerd singing? An embarrassing moment writ large across an extended family: I don't know why, but it works. Is this the very, very, very last part of the book? If so, I'd say that ending on dialogue is hard. Sometimes you need to pull the camera back and take in the whole scene and give it a final coda in third person narrative rather than dialogue. I think at beginnings and endings it's smart to think like a movie director. We want to hear the thematic music coming up and the final image fading away -- and we have to do it all with words. (Todd to himself: "What is she talking about?") Anyway, What a Nerd = a great title.

    1. Todd, really love this. Love that reading the end out of context, I can still feel the crescendo of happy emotion as all the parts come together for your protagonist. I also agree with Kate that the end is stark ending on just that line of dialogue... that we want something more internal and wrapping up from the protagonist herself - and, yes, the trick is not to make it too hokey or cliche. Food for thought. I think you have a terrific final scene.

  14. Hi Kate! I adore the Regarding the Fountain books and love talking about letter writing when a student reads them. I actually think they're great for project-based learning! I was just at nErDcamp yesterday and I actually go an arc of The Show Must Go On in my goodie bag. It sounds like fun and I was cracking up trying to sing along to the's super fast! But that also makes it fun. My husband is a PE teacher and a couple of years ago they brought in a circus to put on a show with students. It was called Circque Amongus. They kids had a lot of fun. So basically, yes, I think you're onto something here and that it will be fun for kids. :)

    I'm sharing more of my young adult novel today. So excited to hear what you think! (This is total first draft by the way...)

    Last summer with Hayden is proof enough that I need to forget about kissing boys altogether. I’ve known Hayden my whole life because our moms are best friends from college. He lives about forty minutes away and our families get together for camp-outs, barbeques or bonfires all the time. Then he started playing drums in a band and it seemed like he was always busy with gigs. The whole school year, he never made it to any of our gatherings and then last summer, at my parents’ anniversary party, Hayden showed up completely transformed from the last time I had seen him. I kid you not, he grew five inches, his hair was long and he was starting to get muscles. It was like a totally different Hayden. Then his parents decided to rent a lake house near us for the whole summer. After not seeing him all school year, all of a sudden I saw him almost every day. We were there all the time, swimming, playing cards, and walking to town for ice cream.

    By the end of the summer, Hayden and I were holding hands on our walks to town.

    By the end of the summer, Hayden and I were sitting next to each other at the fire every night, knees touching.

    By the end of the summer, Hayden and I were talking about how we could see each other during the school year.

    And then Hayden tried to kiss me, I completely dodged his lips, and he hasn’t talked to me since. I wanted him to kiss me but when the moment finally came I got all panicky thinking that I might not be good at it or I might not like it so I turned my head at the last second. Needless to say, Hayden didn't take it so well. It's been a whole year and I haven’t seen him since that night. Not kissing Hayden utterly demolished any relationship, friendship, possible boyfriend-girlfriendship we had. Now my parents' anniversary party is coming up again this weekend, I haven't seen Hayden since the end of last summer and Ev is determined to get me over this fear of kissing. All I want to do is curl into a ball in my closet and never come out.

    Thanks for reading! :)

  15. If adopting Common Core Standards means abolishing creative teaching and learning and established "best practices," like Gardner's Multiple Intelligences, then we're in trouble. Kate, I like your lyrics put to familiar songs (or not-so-familiar songs, whatever!). My 4th-5th grade students never forget concepts put to song (multiplication table, classification hierarchy, etc.). The 50-something teacher next door creates simple rap songs with her 2nd-3rd graders, and they LOVE it!

    1. Oh good! I'm so glad to hear this. Thanks for posting.

  16. Hey Jen. You are brilliantly channeling your inner 13-year-old. Kissing. Not kissing. Will he? Won't he? Of course we know she has to come to this exact same kind of close encounter moment again, either with Hayden or with someone else. (Or wait, will she see Hayden kissing someone else? Uh-oh.) Ha. All I have to do is read just a few grafs of this and I start thinking like a 13-year-old girl. ("Who is he kissing now?") You'll have fun with this. My only advice would be to maybe think about layering another relationship story on top of this. Her parents' anniversary parties. Hmm. Is it possible there's trouble in paradise there? It might be interesting to have your narrator learning about relationships from a lot of different sources, y'know? Just a thought. Keep it up! First drafts are the hardest, and you've got a terrific start here.

    1. Layering, always layering. A great suggestion here. I like it. Does she get to see examples of kissing that excite or terrify or turn her off? I love Jen's writing. She definitely can channel her inner girl. You missed the plum part of the kissing practice scene which was quite fun!

      Yep, keep going, Jen!

  17. You are an author after this love-to-read-aloud teacher's heart. Whenever there is a song, and sometimes when there isn't, I've been known to make up my own tune. How great to have a tune there to learn and use. Fun, indeed! Someday, as technology advances, you may be able to embed the music video into the book. But for now, we can all go to Google or YouTube and find it. This is an extremely clever idea.

    I've been working on a verse novel. (Gae knows this.) I've finally written the last verse. That is not to say it's complete because I now have a lot of revising to do, but it feels good to have an end. The MC's best friend is struggling with cancer. She is narrating through letters to God.

    Dear God,
    Summer evenings, the sky is full
    of fluffy, expectant clouds,
    ready to shower at any minute.
    Simmy and I met at the waterfall near the woods.
    The waterfall is a trickle of the creek as it moves over some concrete scraps.
    We took off our flip-flops
    and let the water cool our toes.
    Then we walked to the tree,
    the one we call our special tree.
    Simmy knelt in the shade, put her hands on the ground,
    and did a bend forward, a yoga move.
    I watched as if I were invading a private moment
    between you and her. I knelt beside her,
    hunched back sitting on my feet,
    stared at the clouds through the waving leaves of the tree.
    The shadows created a beam of light.
    I felt you with us, a loving touch.
    When Simmy emerged from her pose, she laughed.
    It’s a beautiful day, and I am alive to enjoy it!
    This was our prayer of thanks.
    This was our song of hope.

  18. Hey Margaret. Thanks for your kind post! Novels in verse are hot right now, as I'm sure you know. And after kids get to a certain age, they all crave a story about death and dying, don't they? (For me, it was Death Be Not Proud.) I love the idea of letters to God. It put Judy Blume on the map, right? I'm afraid I'm not good at serious verse. My verse always veers toward the silly. The only advice I can offer is that heavy topics (like death, cancer, etc.) often need grounding in small details. I always thing big stories are told best in the smallest, most tangible details. I'm assuming some of those letters to God will be about smaller stuff, too. That's how we'll really get to know your character. Good luck. I know we'll need tissues when your book is released!

    1. yes, i have seen some of those small detail pieces - she's got them. This is lovely, Margaret. Can't wait to see the whole piece put together.

  19. Thanks for being here Kate. You must be awesome if Gae adores you.

    Here's my excerpt, the last few paragraphs in my WIP. I struggle with endings, so I hope this isn't too lame.

    My MC has just broken down after learning her husband is leaving her and spilling merlot all over her clothes. She is also still grieving over the suicide of her daughter:

    And then the tears come again; first as a hitch in my throat and then as real sobs. I double over as the pain in my middle returns with a vengeance. Then I crumple to the floor and weep, and weep, and weep. I weep for Stephen’s betrayal and broken promises. I weep for the death of Katie. Every loss I’ve ever suffered is shed in the tears I cry now. I weep for the mess I’ve made of my life. I weep until my tears are spent and my throat is raw.

    I turn my head slightly and notice the pile of my stained clothes. More stained clothes. Just like before.

    Stained with Katie’s blood.


    After a moment, I sit up slowly and gather the garments in my arms. I stand and walk into the living room. A dying fire glows in the hearth. I walk over to the box of kindling and choose a few pieces, open the glass doors, and place the pieces into the embers. I wait and watch as the flames devour their fresh fuel. After several minutes I add a log to the renewed fire and watch, mesmerized, until I feel waves of warmth push out toward my naked body. Then one by one I place the blood-wine soaked items into the fire. They smoke, but I don’t care. I know from experience that ultimately they will be consumed by the hungry flames.

    I wish the flames would consume me. I long to feel their warm, loving arms envelop me and never let me go. I want to feel their comforting embrace more than anything right now. Make the pain go away. Entranced by the fire, and exhausted from tonight’s chaos, I move to the couch, pull the blanket from the back and wrap it around me. I lie down and drowsily watch the fire and smoke blur like a bloody ghost, until finally I am warm.

  20. Wow. This is not lame. It's powerful. I like heavy and I like characters who suffer. Her evening has been more than just chaos, right? It's full=blown tragedy. I generally need a little hope thrown into a mix like this, but that's just me. Maybe if she's learned something about herself and life that will be enough. Good luck! Sad sells, they say. But consider throwing the weak-hearted among us a crumb or two so we don't feel too bleak.

    1. I agree with Kate that maybe just a soft, weak bone of hope could be thrown, barely, say, some internal marrow (oy), but ultimately a personal choice and I think you have partly done it by saying she is finally warm.

      Good stuff.

    2. Well, I have to admit that I've struggled with the happy/hopeful VS tragic ending on this story for a long time. You are both right. It needs a seed of hope sown in. I know what I need to do to revise it. Thank you so much!

  21. I left a brief comment above. A new "I Think I Love You" poster is in the mail, Kate. ;)

    Here's an excerpt from the story I started writing last week (I posted on the TeachersWrite page that being around all of these creative people had sparked my own creativity and given me a wonderful idea for a new YA story. I just passed 6700 words this morning). I'm struggling with third person/present tense -- past tense would be more natural for me, but last week several (including Gae and Jo) said they liked it in present, and I do like the way it keeps the reader in the "now: of the story. I'd like to know if I'm "getting" third person/present. It still sounds "weird" to my ear.

    Also, Gae, have I improved on my dialogue tagging (you commented on it last week; I was editing out some tags as I posted this)? Thanks.
    Josh walks further into the barn and sees three stalls on either side of the center aisle. He assumes that horses once lived in these enclosures, but you wouldn’t know it now. Each stall — in fact, the whole barn — is clean and neat. Everything looks old but so well-kept, it’s hard to think live animals have ever lived here.

    “Wow. This sure is a clean barn,” Josh says out loud.

    “Thank you.”

    Josh’s heart jumps. He lets out an “Aaargh!” and turns to see a slightly built man silhouetted against the bright light coming in through the barn doors. It is the same man who was working in the flowerbed.

    “Sorry, young man. I did not mean to frighten you. You must be the new, young Master Milton.”

    “No. I’m Josh. Josh Benning.”

    “Oh, quite right. I apologize for the mistake. Yes, of course you are Miss Benning’s son — and yet the new lord of the manor all the same. It is a pleasure to finally meet you, Master Benning. I am John Aaron Whatley, at your service.”

    Mr. Whatley makes a slight bow as he holds out his hand. Josh thinks this rather odd and yet, at the same time, a totally natural thing for this man to do. He steps forward with the measured gate of an older man but without any limp or other sign of infirmity. In fact, Josh thinks, it’s hard to guess exactly how old he is. His close-cropped hair is grey and his face has enough lines and wrinkles to indicate someone of at least 70 or even 75, but there is something about him — the way he moves or perhaps the clarity in his eyes — that gives the feeling of a younger man.

    “I do appreciate your noticing the state of the barn, young Master Benning. I have worked for the Miltons for many years, and even though I am now only a part time laborer, I take great pride in the quality of my work. I hope the state of the rest of the grounds and buildings meet your approval. There is reason to be proud of any job well done, young Master, even if that job is the most menial of tasks, don’t you agree?”

    “Uh. I guess.”

    “Of course you do. Now, would you like to inspect the rest of your grounds, young sir? This, of course, is the barn, though not much of a barn any more in the sense that it has been over 10 years since Mister Bradley kept horses.”

    With the mention of Bradley Milton, Josh notices a slight change in Mr. Whatley. It only lasts an instant, but Josh is certain he sees something like sadness pass over the old man’s face.

  22. I like it! And you've got the tense down pat. I don't like techniques that call attention to themselves--and this doesn't. You want the mechanics of your story to disappear and only the story and characters to shine. The fact that you've written 6700 words in a week (or less)is terrific and means you've got a good story on your hands. I always try to write first drafts in 30 days or less. You have to find out what your story IS. Then you can go back and figure out the best way to tell it. It might be in this past/present construct--or not. You'll know when you get to the end. This old guy in the barn is freaking me out. I think that's your intention, right? Keep going with it. I have a hunch Josh is going to get in a world of trouble, but he'll come out a better/wiser/different person. And that's really all you have to do in a book, agree?

    1. as for the dialogue tags, bravo! I think you've got them perfectly down here. There when needed. Gone when not! They, as Kate says, disappear!

      One of the things I love about posting an excerpt publicly -- and I do it on my private facebook page too -- is that, for some reason -- it allows me to see the words in a new (more objective) light, so I often do my best editing right before I put a troublesome paragraph or two up for public consumption! Part of the fun here. How many others of you reading, actually find yourselves editing as you're getting ready to post!? Right? ;)

  23. Note to lurkers and reluctant posters: I'll be around for another hour or so. And then I'm out of pocket for the weekend. If you're too shy to post, I get it. Just keep going. Keep writing. Don't wait for inspiration. Just knock out that first draft as quickly as you can, one scene at a time. I wish you all the very best! -kate

  24. Kate, you've been fabulous, even if I have been humming the William Tell overture all day! Thanks for being here! xoxo gae

  25. I love the song. We make up songs at home all the time, and we frequently sing parts of books, whether it's intended or not, so this seems like a natural and wonderful inclusion. I knew a professor who included songs in class, and it was magnificent.

    Here is a section from my WIP, which is set in a fictional country long ago. The protagonist is a teenager who struggles with not living up to what is expected of her and with trying to be herself nonetheless.

    It had been too long since she had tended her garden, with all the commotion in the house there had been no chance to escape. Miranda waited until the sounds of the house had subsided, the familiar groans of doors closing and feet shuffling and candles being snuffed out. She waited until the last quiet clatters and creaks from downstairs were done, servants clearing up, then setting fires and linens and crystal for the morning. She waited until moonlight was streaming through her window, and then she slipped soundlessly out her door and down the passageway, running her hand along the smooth stone as she always had done. Her fingers had traced their way along these halls hundreds of times on this same journey. Quickly she tiptoed down flights of stairs, and halls, grateful for soft soled shoes, and reveling in the freedom of her hair coursing down her back and the freedom of moving in her shift. Corsets and hairpins for three days was more than she could stand. Pulling the thick cloak around her more tightly, she eased open the heavy oaken door to the side yard and stepped into the night air.

    Once out of sight of the house and through the garden gate, Miranda breathed deep. The delicate fragrance of the night flowers filled her nose. The moon was bright, and the just opened flowers reached eagerly toward its pale light. As she suspected, weeds had invaded in her absence. No matter how many times she attacked, they always came back. Crouching on the ground, she got to work yanking and pulling. Hair fell in her face, her back ached, but it was good to feel dirt on her hands. Flowers grazed her cheeks as she leaned in farther, and all the suppressed frustrations and slights of the past weeks slowly receded. To be alone at last, free of expectations and instructions and reproaches and disappointment.

    Lost in the freedom of the night, she did not hear footsteps approaching until they were quite near and a man’s voice hailed “Hello there!” Startled, she stood, jabbing her hair behind her ears and hastily wiping her hands on her cloak. There was no point in hiding; she had been seen.

    1. Jane, absolutely LOVE this. The only thing I might suggest is that, you tend to use a LOT of more passive "ing" verbs. While they work completely (IMHO) in the first and even second paragraphs, they may take away in the last paragraph as you want the tension to amp up. So, in the third, if you changed to the more active voice, would it add or subtract from the tension? Food for thought:

      Lost in the freedom of the night, she did not hear the footsteps approach until they were quite near and a man’s voice hailed “Hello there!” Startled, she stood, jabbed her hair behind her ears and hastily wiped her hands on her cloak. There was no point in hiding; she had been seen.

  26. Sorry I'm late...but Kate I love the idea of a song and more than that I love your diabolical plan to have the kids join the circus and the writing involved is classic!! I'm planning on using your book in class anyway, but the ability to get them filling out applications etc is a wonderful teachable moment!!

    Here is an excerpt taken from my book I'm writing about a student I had 7 yesrs ago in 4th grade...I am now raising him. This is a small moment in our life ...please let me know what you think!!

    We stayed for most of the movie. I wonder how he feels though. Is it weird to see your teacher in such a relaxed setting? Agiain, I offered to set him up in the spare bedroom on the first floor, but he was afraid to be so far from me. Now, my daughter gives him her room, which is next to jine, so he dan sleep comfortably. He sometimes wakes me up in the middle of the night with nightmares about burglars. After reassuring him that we are all safe, I tuck him in and he returns to peaceful sleep.
    Since that day, Derrick has been over every weekend. He is experiencing a better life, and he doesn't ask for anything except food. He is always hungry! I teach him in small doses: Wash your hands. Clear your plate. Read with me. Shake a man's hand in greeting. Eat slowly Derrick- you'll fit more. Speak with all of your sounds, not just the beginning. Put your dirty clothes in tge laundry basket, please.
    My husband and I usually pick him up on Thursday and gring him back on Sunday. This past Sunday he was a little sad as the day was winding down because he knew we had to take the forty minute drive to bring him home soon.
    "Can I stay until Monday? " he questionec.
    "No babe, I have my college class tomorrow," I consoled. PAWLP began again on Monday and I had a ton of reading to do.
    "But you're already smart," he whined.
    "You can never be too smart babe-I have to learn more about writing so I can be a better writer and reacher," I explained, as a smile grew from within me. This was such a teachable moment!
    "Can I come next weekend?"
    "Yes honey."
    "Can I come when I'm in fifth grade?"
    "Of course," I reassured him with a chuckle.
    "Can I come when I'm in ninth grade?" He askdd, hopeful he would never wear out his welcome.

    1. Wow, what a lovely thing that this is based on real life. Are you writing it as a novel or memoir? The only teachable moment I would share with you is that dialogue tags for the most part are intended to disappear, not stand out, with the dialogue doing the job of saying *how* something is said whenever possible. Otherwise, a simple "said" usually suffices, and when it doesn't, the info stands out all the more in a good way, if the other tags have disappeared. So, in your piece, for example, when Derrick says, "Can I stay until Monday?" you don't have to add, "he questioned." And if you rhythmically need the tag, I'd at least make it ask. We read the ask but don't hear it as a distraction as we do with "questioned." Think about yourself telling a friend a story. Would you say "I said," "I asked" or "I questioned," in informal dialogue? There are a few more I might pull back, as follows:

      "Can I stay until Monday? " he asked.
      "No babe, I have my college class tomorrow." I felt badly but PAWLP began again on Monday and I had a ton of reading to do.
      "But you're already smart," he said.
      "You can never be too smart babe-I have to learn more about writing so I can be a better writer and teacher." A smile grew from within me. This was such a teachable moment!
      "Can I come next weekend?"
      "Yes honey."
      "Can I come when I'm in fifth grade?"
      "Of course," I reassured him with a chuckle.
      "Can I come when I'm in ninth grade?" He asked, hopeful he would never wear out his welcome.

    2. Thank you Gae! I truly appreciate your input...I'm writing it as a memoir. I let Derrick read this small part yesterday and he laughed! He said I left too much out!!

      Thanks again!!

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