July 1, 2015

The Five Senses at S & S

Once a week, I take a French class at the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning in downtown Lexington, Kentucky.  However one February morning on my way to class, I only made it halfway up my street.  A car alarm flashed on.  I stopped to have a look and found a flat tire.  My husband left work, came home, and put on a spare tire (bless his sweet soul) in time for me to make it for most of the class.

The next day, I drove to a repair shop to get a new tire.  Knowing I would have some time on my hands, I brought several pieces to edit.

Here are the five senses as I sat down (and tried) to write at S & S Tire:

I smell:
tire rubber—lots of it
strong, bitter-smelling coffee at the help-yourself station

I feel:
smooth leather chairs
a cold breeze as customers entered the shop
a blast warm air from a space heater

I hear:
a sports channel on the television
men chatting about business
the telephone ringing
cars rumbling down the road
zip, zip (lug nuts being tightened)

I see:
an disorderly stack of magazines
a calla lily with a cream-colored bloom
a bucket of toys
lollipops for sale
a candy dispenser machine
two other customers:  one chatting a cell phone, the other going for the coffee

I taste:
cinnamon gum
(I'll have a fresh cup of coffee when I get home)

June 15, 2015

Action and Conflict

When you write a story for children, action and conflict should play huge roles. Yet some of the submissions that I receive for Kid's Imagination Train online magazine (http://www.kidsimaginationtrain.com/ ) are missing these very important elements.

Let's say a story begins with this scene:  a little girl tells her mother that she doesn’t want to go to school. The mother asks her daughter why she doesn't want to go to class.  The child tells her mother she can't leave home without her pet cat.  Notice that while this scene sets up the plot, it does not have any action.  This is telling. It's a conversation. 

A better way to do this would be by showing.  Now, if the little girl says will not go to school without her cat and then hides the cat in her book bag, the story has action. Through her actions we know that she loves her cat and doesn’t want to be separated from it.  Also through her actions, conflict is set up.  I’m betting the cat will cause trouble in class.  Maybe the cat causes a distraction by playing with students' shoelaces, lying across text books, and meowing loudly during lessons. 

The story should build with more tension that will lead to the climax and finally, to the resolution.  Keep in mind that the ending should also be active.  Don't tell us what happened. Having dialogue at the end of the story doesn’t cut it.  Let there be more action!  Show us how the little girl solves the feline dilemma.  Add a twist or a surprise so that the ending is unpredictable. 

Children’s stories thrive on action.  Without it, a story is simply dialogue and that can create a pretty boring story.  Stories for the young also depend on conflict.  It is needed to make us care about the main character and to drive the plot.  Without conflict, story is stagnant—there is no quest, no job for the main character to tackle.   

It’s easy to figure out if you have action and conflict.  Simply think of the plot of  your story in pictures or scenes.  If you see a character doing something actively, you have succeeded.  You have accomplished incorporating two important elements into your story (and that makes this editor very happy).

June 1, 2015

Do You Believe in KIT?

Kid's Imagination Train was created about three years ago.  It began as a blog and is growing by leaps and bounds. Now, readers can enjoy our magazine as a flipbook and can listen to features from our audio page.  KIT offers fiction, poetry, nonfiction, book reviews and much more each month. 

You may already know that our magazine engages children by providing them the opportunity to illustrate their favorite features and have their pictures published online. What you may not know about our magazine is that the staff of KIT donates their talents. Yep, that means, we don’t earn a salary.  This scenario is rare.  Most people want to get paid for their services.  So, you can imagine how blessed I am  to work with this wonderful group of individuals.

Book reviewer and marketing director Donna Smith evaluates children's books for each issue.  She also composes press releases and works on ways to market our magazine.  In addition, she creates puzzles for our Word Scrambles and content for our Facebook page.

Thrace Shirley Mears is our illustrator.  She not only designs each cover page of KIT, she helps in giving advice on the design of the magazine and she draws illustrated titles for our features.

Sharon Olivia Blumberg is our voiceover talent.  She records poems, stories, articles, and book reviews for our audio page so that children, teachers, and parents can listen to their favorite features.  The audio page also benefits children who are visually impaired.

Ultimately, KIT has three goals.  We would like to offer competitive rates for writers.  We would also like to cover production costs.  We would like to compensate the staff for their amazing services.  

We believe in keeping KIT a free magazine for children around the world.  And you can help.  If everyone who read Children’s Writers World and Kid's Imagination Train gave $5.00, we would be able to meet our goals.  Another option would be to buy an ad on our sponsor page.  

Please visit  http://www.kidsimaginationtrain.com/ .  Contributors will be acknowledged in KIT.  A portion of the proceeds will go to First Book  http://www.firstbook.org/ which donates new books to children in need. 

Won't you please consider giving?  A small gift will make a big difference.    

Thank you in advance.  
Randi Lynn Mrvos,editor

May 15, 2015

The Five Senses with Ozzie

For those of you who faithfully read Children's Writer's World blog, you know that my beloved eight-year cat passed away in March.   It's hard to describe the loss.  Ollie was part of our family and his passing left me terribly sad.  Several friends suggested that I find another pet.  One friend told me there is always room for more love.

Some time afterward, my husband and I visited local humane societies. But going to the animal shelter on the weekends was too crowded with pet-seekers.  So, I started to search online instead.  In a short period of time, I found an eight-month old, amber-eyed stray named Polo. I felt a connection to him.  Mid-week, I drove to the shelter. When I called his name, a little grey-striped paw pushed through the slats of a cage. My heart melted the moment we were face to face.  That day, I signed the adoption papers and renamed him Ozzie.

In many ways, Ozzie is Ollie reincarnated.  Though he may not look like Ollie, he acts like him.  Ozzie rests on the bed when I nap, lounges in front of the computer as I work, and sits near me in the arm chair when I read—just as Ollie had once done. He understands the same words that Ollie had once known:  "sit," "stay," and "come here" and "let's go up" and "let's go down" whenever I call him from the stairs.

I will always miss Ollie, but his passing led us to meeting and adopting Ozzie.

I sit at a table with the kitchen door open and Ozzie at my feet.  This is where I write.

I hear:
Ozzie's rumbled purring
a cardinal singing "cheer, cheer, cheer"

I touch:
Ozzie's fuzzy furry belly
the smooth, slick wooden table
rough woven place mats

I smell: 
chicken cooking in olive oil
clean fresh spring air

I taste:
a sweet Honey crisp apple
iced tea, slightly sweetened

I see: 
shadows of tree branches on the deck
a breeze tickling the lime-green leaves of a locust tree
a wisp of a cloud floating across a pale blue sky
Kentucky bluegrass, a deep emerald green
Ozzie stretched out, eyes closed, dreaming

May 1, 2015

So You Want to Write for KIT?

As the editor of Kid’s Imagination Train, I receive emails from writers who want to know what topics interest me.

A few authors want to write about famous people.  And this is what I tell them. If you want to write an article about a famous person, it has to relate to children.  You may spend many hours detailing the important aspects of a prominent person's life from birth to death, but chances are kids will not be drawn to this kind of article.  A piece like this has the tendency to come across as lifeless and dull.  So you need to find a way to spice it up. See if you can find a humorous event or discover a courageous act about the famous figure during his childhood days.  If the person is still living, do an interview and add some interesting quotes.  Make the writing snappy and lively.

Many people want to write about animals.  KIT publishes animal pieces, but they should be told with a unique slant.  For instance, KIT has published pieces about animal tongues and animal feet.  We also like articles about unusual animals. In our June 2015 issue, we will publish an article about an animal called a Fisher cat.   Have you ever heard of this creature?  Let me give you a clue—it is not a cat!

Sometimes, authors send me a list of topics and ask me to choose.  Though I may select a topic, this may not necessarily garner an acceptance.  It’s all in the writing.  After the piece is written, read your work out loud as if you were reading it to a child.  Is the information presented in a logical manner with similar facts grouped together?  Would it capture and hold the attention of a child from beginning to end?

To get ideas for a piece, take a look at our archives.  Look over the topics that have been published. Read several pieces.  Get a feel for the writing style.   And then mull over ideas and make a list of possibilities. Then choose a topic that has the potential to educate and entertain.  The key is find a topic that interests you and children as well.

April 15, 2015

Never Give Up--Part II

A couple of months ago, I blogged about my rejection from a prominent Mid-Western educational publisher.  Specifically, this publisher compiles writing passages for testing children's reading comprehension skills.  I proposed six articles, but a few weeks later, the rejection letter appeared in my inbox.  Not ready to give up, I requested examples of published passages in order to improve my chances of an acceptance.  Afterward, I proposed more articles—and another rejection letter came again.

This was getting frustrating!  What kind of articles did they want?

I read the rejection letter once more.  Despite turning down my ideas, the publisher said that my writing was strong and engaging.  She asked if I would consider doing some commissioning work.  I really hadn't planned on submitting again. Why open myself to a third rejection?  And then, I realized that was the wrong attitude. The publisher was interested in my work.

This time, the strategy was to improve my next group of submissions by creating a stronger hook for each article, by making sure that the topic idea was not too broad, and by providing intriguing details from cutting-edge research.  I submitted four proposals. And then...several days later, another email appeared.

It read, "After reviewing the proposals with our development team, we would be interested in a passage."  WOW.  But there was one more paragraph: "The approval of a topic idea does not guarantee payment.  Authors are not ensured payment until their passage has been officially accepted for use on assessments.  If a passage is considered unsuitable for testing, even after multiple revisions, it will not warrant payment, and the rights to the work will be returned to the author."

So, I could work on this passage with no guarantee that it would be accepted.  What to do, what to do? Because it seemed that I was getting closer to having my work approved, quitting now was not an option.  Even with a tight deadline, I carefully wrote the piece and edited it for grade level.  A week after the completed passage was sent, the director made editing suggestions:  rearrange the order of the paragraphs, simplify the scientific terminology, and make the writing snapper.  Okay, not a problem.

After completing the work, the passage was delivered.  And then I waited.  Even with the possibility of a rejection, I felt good knowing that the submission had been vastly improved.

And then shortly afterward, I got good news.  My passage had been accepted!  After weeks of researching and writing and after multiple rejections, I had reached this difficult goal.

Was it hard work?  Yep.  Would I do it again?  You bet.  As hard as it is to take, rejection is part of the writing life.  But so is perseverance.  If you want something bad enough, you know the drill—never give up.

April 1, 2015

The Five Senses: As I Write with Ollie

Late February, 2015

My beloved cat Ollie is dying.  In his younger days, he loved to swat at yarn, tear boxes to shreds, and carry his baby (a stuffed mouse toy) in his mouth.  For a treat, he would "sit," "stay," and "come here."  He knew the words "bird" and "squirrel" and when I asked him if he saw any, he would go to the kitchen door to look for them.  As he grew older, he would sleep on a dining room chair hidden under the tablecloth.  On sunny days, my lean cat would stretch out by the screen door.  At dinnertime, he would beg at the table, lifting his paw to my arm.

When he was healthy, he would hunt me out.  He would sit next to me on my chair as I read, or stretch out on the desk in front of the computer screen as I wrote, or snuggle on the bed as I napped.

Now, he is more stationary, saving his strength for potty and water breaks, resting on a soft blanket near my desk.  These days, I come to him.  I sit on the kitchen floor next to Ollie—this is where I write.

I see:
raindrops clinging to the deck door
sheets of drizzle rippled by the wind
birds winging across the pale gray sky

I hear:
the cat water fountain gurgling softly
the humming of the refrigerator

I smell:
a light sweet scent of flowers on the kitchen table

I taste:
coffee sweetened with sugar

I feel:  
soft, silky fur
stiff whiskers
velvety ears

March 16, 2015.

Ollie is gone and I miss him terribly.

Rest in peace, my dear sweet cat.