Saturday, June 28, 2014

Summer To Do List 2014: Simple Pleasures Edition

Part donut, part croissant.  Where have you been all my life?

1.  Eat a cronut. Yeah, I know, it's a simple thing to have at the top of a summer list, but I will feel pretty good about this summer if I can accomplish this.

2.  Hike around in Joshua Tree National Park. (Actually, I am hoping to do this tomorrow.) It's so close and I've never been.

Those trees in the background look like DUDES!
3.  See the covers of my new books, NO, NO KITTEN!   and  SECRETS OF SELKIE BAY.  One of them is almost finished, one of them I have no idea what to expect.  But I am excited beyond all reason to have a glimpse of both.
4.  Watch the sunset in the desert.

5.  Watch the sunset over the ocean. (Okay, I am noticing a theme here--where are the sunrises?)
6.  Sleep in sometimes. (Oh, that's where the sunrises are--being missed altogether!  Well done, me! Sleep is good.)
7.  Visit Catalina Island. Again, so close but I have never been!

8.  Eat Mexican food in New Mexico.  Well, why not?

9.  Visit the Santa Fe Opera.
Look at it, all snuggled up against the Sangre de Cristos.  

10.  Oh, and write.  A BUNCH.  Write a bunch of words! Good words, of course.

So, what's on your summer to-do list?


Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Story School #2

Hello and welcome! Welcome to the second Story School of 2014!

What is Story School, you ask--let me tell you.  Every Wednesday this summer, I'll post a story starter of sorts.  It might be an idea or a prompt.  It might be just a single word.  Who knows!  Story School started as a way for me to continue to connect with the students from my school (about writing) over the summer. But really, Story School is for everyone, young or old.  Writing exercises often get my writing juices flowing so I thought it would be good to share some of the stuff that works for me! 

The response to our first Story School was awesome.  Several kids sent amazing stories and poems.  It was a pleasure to read them and I am looking forward to reading more!

Okay, so on to today's prompt:

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words.  A thousand words!  That's a lot of words.  I am hoping that one of these two pictures inspires you to create some words of your own, but don't worry if it's not 1,000.  Any words are good words.

Today we are going to focus on character.  Describing your character well in your story really helps your readers create pictures in their own minds, and understand your story even better.   Describing a character doesn't have to mean showing what the character looks like. If you tell how the character acts, or what they are thinking, you are describing important parts of the character as well!

Who are our characters today?  Well let's meet them:

These are the Dog Brothers. (These two guys live at my house).

And this is Paper Cat. (This was made by my friend Mimi).

So, your characters for today's Story School are the Dog Brothers and/or Paper Cat.  Maybe they are super heroes!  Maybe the Dog Brothers live on a farm and the little one is always getting into trouble and the big one always has to get him out.  Maybe Paper Cat goes into outer space and saves the Earth from an alien invasion.  You can have them do anything you want, because you are the AUTHOR.  You don't have to use them both in your story.  You can make up a story with Paper Cat OR the Dog Brothers if you choose.  Or a poem.  Maybe the Dog Brothers or Paper Cat reminds you of your own pet and you want to write about them instead.  That is okay, too.

Just make sure you describe them!  (And you don't have to write a WHOLE story, either. Maybe you just want to write the beginning today, and more tomorrow.  Anyway you want to write it is fine, just as long as you are writing!!)

Remember, if you want to send me your writing, you can email me at  I will write back to you!

Happy writing!


Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Story School #1

Hello and welcome! Welcome to the first Story School of 2014!

What is Story School, you ask--let me tell you.  Every Wednesday this summer, I'll post a story starter of sorts.  It might be an idea or a prompt.  It might be just a single word.  Who knows!  Story School started as a way for me to continue to connect with the students from my school (about writing) over the summer. But really, Story School is for everyone, young or old.  Writing exercises often get my writing juices flowing so I thought it would be good to share some of the stuff that works for me!

But first, some NEWS!! Adams at Farrar, Straus & Giroux has bought Secrets of Selkie Bay, a middle-grade magical realism novel by Shelley Moore Thomas. When Cordie's little sister claims their missing mother has turned into a selkie, Cordie has only herself to blame, since she's the one who made up that lie in the first place. But in order to discover the truth of what happened to their mother, Cordie must take a treacherous journey to the hidden Selkie Isle. Publication is set for spring 2015; Joanna Volpe of New Leaf Literary & Media did the deal for world English rights.
(from Publisher's Weekly)

So....Yay!!! A new book next Spring!!

Soon, I'll share what made me write Secrets of Selkie Bay in the first place.  But today, let's just look at one word from the title to get our imaginations geared up.  


What a great word, huh?  A story with a secret is a story that I want to read!  Maybe it is a secret regarding a character's identity--is the princess really a dragon in disguise?  Or maybe it takes place in a secret land--a land where dinosaurs rule from atop thrones of broken televisions.  Sometimes a character has to keep a secret--maybe YOU have had to keep a secret and it was HARD.  Did you let it slip?  Did you feel it burning inside of you, bursting against your heart, trying to get out?

So, today your assignment in Story School is simply to use the word secret (or secrets) in your writing.  You only have to use it once, but it has to be there.  Oh, and your writing doesn't have to be  a story you know.  Sometimes, I write poetry.  Sometimes, I write non-fiction reflections about things in my life.  It doesn't matter, as long as you are writing!!

So, on your marks.....get set......

Oh wait.  I forgot to tell you.  When you finish your writing, if you want to share it with me, you can send it to and I'll write back to you. If you have a question, you can email me or put it in the comments.  

Looking forward to sharing Story School with you!



Saturday, June 14, 2014

In the End

Well, it's over.  The school year, that is.

When I look back on my meager blog posts this year, I know that the reason I had so little energy for blogging is that I have just completed the hardest year in my teaching career.  Ever.

I think what was hardest were simply the changes--changes are rarely simple. As I was driving to my school yesterday (a teacher work day--no students), I was giving a fake keynote address to myself in the car about the current conditions of teaching.  I am so rarely in the car by myself, that when I am, I find myself giving fake speeches about things I feel are important.  Yes, I know it's weird.  Hopefully, I just look like I am singing to myself in the car to passersby.

Anyway, my speech addressed the hard thing about being a teacher in this day and age.--the fact that I found myself in a constant state of self-reflection.  Everyday, I had to ask myself, "But is this good for children?"

Because some if it isn't.

And we, as teachers, are all that stands between our children and a bunch of stuff that may or may not be good.  The jury is still out.  Some of the changes might look good on paper, but in practice are unrealistic and possibly damaging.  I reflected a lot on the Hippocratic oath that doctors take, where they promise to abstain from doing harm, and I thought it was a pretty good place to begin as a teacher, a pretty good standard to be accountable to.

Do no harm.

The thing is, we who teach, we who stay in the profession, do so in order to make a difference in the lives of children.  We do so to make our world a better place. Lofty goals, but important ones.

There's a lot of teacher bashing out there.  There probably always has been.  Everyone thinks they can teach because if they completed high school, then they know all of the things a child in grades k-12 should know because they've lived it.  The spent thirteen years learning it.

But knowing the content is not the same as being able to present it in an inspiring way so that others not only remember it, but learn it themselves.  It is similar with writing.  Everyone who knows how to write can write a book, they possess all of the knowledge that is necessary.  But everyone does not write books.  That is because something more is needed. Something more.

A friend of mine once told me I was crazy to be a writer and a teacher because both professions demanded a piece of your soul.  I know this to be true.

 Stephen King claims the only time he seriously almost gave up writing was when he was an English teacher.

So, there I am feeling seriously depleted as I pull up to my school, giving my fake keynote to myself, wondering why it all matters.  Isn't the plan to just replace all of us with robots someday anyway?  As I stumble out of my car to go and finish cleaning my room, I come upon some older teen skateboarders and their dog sneaking onto the school grounds.  They see me and pretend that they are headed to a trash can to throw some trash away--like finding a trash can was the only purpose for being at the school on a teacher work day. Now, our school is famous locally for the skate stunts one can perform on our many stairs, rails, etc.  Dangerous tricks that are a big no-no.

I see them with their dog, which is also a big no-no on school grounds, and say, "Hey, guys, you can't bring your dog here.  It's against, er, um....some kind of code." (Obviously, I used all of my good words in my fake keynote to myself.)

Skater:  Oh.  Hey, are you the Art teacher?

Me:  No.  That was Mrs. Hawes.  (Mrs. Hawes and I both let our hair turn silver and choose to wear it long.  She retired last year.) I'm Mrs. Thomas.  The Story Queen.


Me:  Hey, I'm not that old.  Actually, to you I probably am.  But yes.  I am still here.

Skater:  Do you still do those puppets?

Me:  Yeah.

Skater:  Well, Storyqueen, when I went here (to this school), you made my life a little better.

He didn't have to say that.  He didn't have to say those exact words. He could have just rolled his eyes and skated on, or made an unpleasant gesture or something.  But MAN, those were words I needed to hear so badly.
And so maybe it does matter after all.

Maybe the moments we carry with us from our educational lives matter far more than all of the mandates imposed from above.