Something About Mary

I met Mary Zisk at a SCBWI NJ conference two years ago where I critiqued her manuscript. She struck me right away as a rare breed: A writer who truly embraced criticism —  a writer who wanted to hear the worst, and learn from it. I liked her right away. After that, Mary started following Nerdy Chicks Rule, and later Sudipta critiqued her work. Sudipta saw that same quality in Mary, so when we looked to expand our blog by adding a contributing author in September of 2013, we agreed that Mary would be the perfect fit. We knew she’d bring something new and different to the table, and she did!

She gave us new perspectives on Motherhood. 

Mary's mother as a baby, passing with her family through Ellis Island

Mary’s mother as a baby, passing with her family through Ellis Island.  From: 99 Years—A Picture of My Mother

Mary's beautiful photography highlighted this post.

Mary’s beautiful photography highlighted this post. From:  Mother Nature: The Ultimate Nerdy Chick?

Mary shares her own motherhood journey, which included a special trip to Russia.

Mary shares her own motherhood journey, which included a special trip to Russia. From: Oprah, Carpe Diem, and Motherhood

Mary’s artistic eyes, brought new sight to our own. 

Mary created the great drawing to prove her point!

Mary created the great drawing to prove her point! From : The His-Story of Art

Mary Cassatt, one of Mary's inspirations.

Mary Cassatt, one of Mary’s inspirations. From: The Quotable Nerdy Chick: Mary Cassatt

 She also shared her writing dreams!

Mary's dream tree.

Mary’s dream tree.  From: A Winter Dream Tree Grows in Jersey

And brought us many great quotables, including Caroline Kennedy, Audrey Hepburn, and Diana Nyad.

In fact, to see all of Mary’s contributions, you can just click on her name below the title of any of her posts!

Because she has started some new writing projects, Mary is going to take a break from blogging. She hopes to rejoin Nerdy Chicks Rule when she has seen these through. Mary, we wish you all the best! We celebrate your journey with us today so our readers will know where you’re going, and have another chance to see where you’ve been. We hope you will be back soon!

 

Three Questions with Dr. Mira Reisberg

Smiling-MiraI met Mira Reisberg earlier this year when she invited me to teach at the writing school she founded, the Children’s Book Academy. It’s been my privilege since then to have already co-taught one course with her and I’m about to launch another course on May 19. Her official bio is below, but don’t let all the titles and accomplishments fool you — Mira is wonderfully warm, down to earth, and fun to be around. I’m happy to be welcoming her to Nerdy Chicks Rule today.

1. You call yourself a “creative adventurer” (which I love!). Where did you get your creativity and your sense of adventure?

As the daughter of Holocaust survivors, I was taught fairly early on that the things of greatest value are the things that can’t be taken away – creativity, heart and intelligence. My family was poor and we never had a vacation, but, we did have books and art supplies. We also had a mighty Oxford Dictionary, which I loved. In the anthology Just Like Me I wrote about my mum giving me art supplies and saying, “I can’t give you a beautiful world, but you can make one for yourself.” I am so grateful that we were empowered in this way. I learned early on that if I framed things in terms of creativity, I could pretty much do anything. So when I started playing around with computers in 1985, I looked at it as an art tool or a sophisticated etch-a-sketch and that took the fear away. I have drawn, painted, and written my way through some pretty tough times but now my personal art is pretty much all joy. This is such a touchstone question for me – creativity as a tool for transformation. I think creativity comes in so many different forms including things like decorating, cooking, gardening, etc. that are transferrable if you have the confidence or courage to try. I’ve taught tons of people to do thing they never thought they could do and to me that too is a form of creativity. Being a creative teacher is about demystifying things and putting them in a systematic sequential order that is also accessible, personally meaningful, and fun. Some of this I learned getting my PhD in education and cultural studies (focus on kid lit of course).

In terms of being an adventurer, to me that means keeping an open mind and being willing to walk through fear and the unknown. And while doing that in the creative world is natural to me, doing it in the physical world, apart from traveling, is a whole other ball game. Climbing things, riding horses, crossing logs etc. is terrifying. Fortunately as I get older and a bit more confident in my body, things like that are getting easier.

2. You’re a wearer of many (and I mean MANY) hats — artist, educator, professor, literary agent, literature advocate, founder of the Children’s Book Academy — an indubitable Renaissance Nerdy Chick, if you will! Can you give our readers some advice on balancing so many interests and roles?

Ha!! You are asking the wrong honorary nerdy chick about balance. Being a super creative and fairly driven head, heart, and hands person, my body has taken a bit of a beating from overwork. I suspect I’m hooked on serotonin from challenging myself so much. Recently I joined a gym and am working with a trainer. It’s a really culturally diverse gym with all ages and body types, which I love. I used to love Oscar Wildes quote, “Moderation in all things, especially moderation.” But now I’m looking for that elusive thing called balance. Let me know if anyone finds it.

3. What should Nerdy Chicks who want to become published authors do to find success? 

Success comes to people who work hard and study their craft, who are patient, passionate about what they do, willing to take risks, and persistent in revising and submitting their work. There are two skills that most writers need to be successful – one is storytelling- being able to write a good story with a great beginning, middle, and end and the other is being an exquisite writer who tells their story with perfectly fabulous writing. I’ve seen lots of great storytellers who have passages of exquisite writing but it’s overall choppy. The best writers are those who really know the craft of writing so that every word is pitch perfect. This is why Sudipta and I created From Storyteller to Exquisite Writer: The Pleasures and Craft of Poetic Technique – to answer that need. While we will be covering the storytelling elements as we walk students through writing their manuscript, the heart of the course is exquisite writing, whether that be humorous writing, heartfelt writing, rhyming, non-rhyming, fiction, or non-fiction. I don’t know about Sudipta, but I’ve had tons of serotonin happening while developing this course. Perhaps because I’m so proud of it as a work of art in itself, and excited by the good that it’s going to do for those who take it.

Dr. Mira Reisberg is an award-winning children’s book illustrator, as well as a published writer, art director, editor, former professor and children’s book mentor with over 25 years of experience in the industry. Following the success of many of her Children’s Book Academy students, she founded Hummingbird Literary. You can find her at the Children’s Book Academy website or at the Hummingbird site (although she is not currently accepting unsolicited submissions). 

To find out about Mira and Sudipta’s ground-breaking course starting May 19th visit this site. This is the only time that Mira will be co-teaching this course with Sudipta and it should be outrageously fabulous and fun! And, please join Mira and Sudipta for a free webinar on poetic techniques in your writing!

Add Poetry to Your Prose

SAMSUNG CSCApril was National Poetry Month, a fabulous celebration of one of my favorite genres of literature. Earlier this month, we celebrated on this blog with Spine Poems and a wonderful interview with Children’s Poet Amy VanDerwater. But now that the month has drawn to a close, we wanted to give you some ways to keep the lessons of National Poetry Month close to our (writer’s) hearts.

In honor of National Poetry Month, here are three poetic devices that all writers should consider adding to their author’s toolboxes:

  1. Meter. Basically, think rhythm, not rhyme (necessarily). Have you ever listened to a song that was so catchy that you couldn’t keep from tapping your feet?  Find ways to add that pulse to your prose. If you can get your reader so caught up in the cadence of your words, he or she won’t be able to put your book down.
  2. Onomatopoeia. Not only is that the most fun word in the world to say (and if you use it in your writing, you can ask people, “Did you notice all the onomatopoeia?” And that might be your only chance to use that word naturally in a sentence in a given day) but it is actually a very powerful technique to bring more of your reader’s senses into the scene.  Think of how much more powerful it is to use a well-placed crash, hic, achoo!, or BANG! Than simply saying, “All the dishes fell to the floor,” or “Right in the middle of my speech, I started hiccupping.”
  3. Alliteration. Did you notice above when I was extolling the virtues of meter, I used phrases like “pulse to your prose” and “caught up in the cadence”? The simple addition of alliteration makes the phrasing more musical, more lyrical – more poetic. When you’re searching for the perfect word to form your sentences, think about those words in relation to the others – and find the alliteration to elevate your writing.

We’ll see you next April for the next celebration of National Poetry Month!

PictureBy the way, in case you are interested in learning more about incorporating poetic techniques into your writing, please consider joining me for either my new online course From Storyteller to Exquisite Writer: The Pleasures and Craft of Poetic Techniques  at the Children’s Book Academy or for a free webinar titled Why All Writers Need to Know Poetic Techniques and How to Use Them  on Monday May 12th  at 9PM Eastern/ 6PM Pacific Time!

Mother Nature: The Ultimate Nerdy Chick?

Mother Nature is a Nerdy Chick. She’s strong, talented, and assertive. Okay, she can be cranky too, but we try to stay out of her way.

 

winter

This past winter, Mother Nature bombarded many of us with unreasonable amounts of snow and pitched us into frigid polar vortexes (which we had never heard of before). But while we hunkered down in our homes (thanks MN for four days of writing while the office was closed), she was out there creating beauty: putting diamonds on tree branches, etching intricate frosty patterns on glass, and sculpting ice into glossy reaching fingers.

 

ocean

me_oceanWhen April arrived and the last snow melted away, I attended a writers’ retreat at the Jersey Shore. Mother Nature spent the weekend churning the sea with heavy wind and rain, but I didn’t let her chase me away. Doing my best Jim Cantore imitation, I bundled up in storm gear and walked alone on the beach. I inhaled the salty, fishy air and watched Mother Nature paint patterns on the sand with foaming water, leaving collages of shells, stones, and claws.

 

spring_sign

Today my perennial garden is covered with last fall’s leaves, hiding treasures like clutter hides a teenager’s messy bedroom floor. Mother Nature is sending small signs of spring, hinting at the summer to come. She grows a quilt of glossy leaves and her small gifts of early flowers pop up. She soaks her gardens with more rain, and paints abstract patterns of lichen on trees.

Mother Nature is a creative and clever Nerdy Chick. She has endless imagination when using color, form, and texture. She shares all of it with us—whether we want it or not. If we accept her many moods, we can see her beauty all around us.

 

All photographs © Mary Zisk 2014

 

The Long Road to BEAUTY

The night before her book release,

The skies were cold and dreary.

And in her house

The author groused,

“The wait has made me weary!”

 That opening is an homage to my newest book, SNORING BEAUTY, which will be celebrating its book birthday tomorrow. It’s strange for me to call it my “newest” book in that it was one of the first picture books I ever wrote way back near the beginning of my career, in 2005.

Snoring Beauty, Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen

“Fun for reading aloud, and children will be happy to help with the multiple snoring sounds.” – Booklist

Let me remind you guys about 2005:

  • Tom Cruise jumped on Oprah’s couch over his love for Katie Holmes (they are now divorced).
  • George W. Bush declared, “I’m the decider.”
  • Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith was the top grossing movie, despite it grossing out Star Wars fans everywhere.

That’s how long I’ve had to wait to see this book come to life. And this is how I’ve felt about it:

“This journey has been very slow!

For nine long years I’ve waited!

My kids have grown,

I’ve had six phones!

My patience has abated.”

As an author, I suffer under the delusion that the book is mine – that I am in control of its destiny. (Even after over a decade in the industry, that delusion persists.) But the truth is that there comes a point when the fate of most books is more outside the author’s hands than not. I’ve been very lucky – in the intervening years, I’ve written and published many other books. I didn’t have to wait day after day for the SNORING BEAUTY box – there were other boxes to fill the time until this book’s time had come. But that doesn’t mean the wait was easy. Think about when you miss someone terribly. The presence of other people you love may distract you from missing him, but it never truly takes it away completely. You still find yourself staring longingly out the window, hoping to catch a glimpse of him coming to your door. That’s what it was like to wait for this book to go through the production process.

But this is how I felt at the end of that loooooooooong process:

But then she takes a single book

And rifles through the pages.

“It does look grand!

I understand

Why this has taken ages!”

I know I’m biased, but SNORING BEAUTY is a beautiful book. Jane Manning’s art is perfect and it looks almost exactly as I’d imagined it. I’m very proud of it and it seems to be getting a warm reception. While it is never fun to be patient, in this case the old adage is true – good things come to those who wait. Now there’s only one more thing to wait for: tomorrow’s official release date.

I can’t wait.

Some fun SNORING BEAUTY facts:

  • SB dediThis is not my first animal-kissing-human book. I’m not sure what that says about me.
  • Most of the time, my kids fight over who the book is dedicated to. This time, my girls (either of whom could be B.) are fighting to establish that the book is dedicated to the OTHER. The funny thing is that neither of the girls is really B! (The real B., by the way, does snore – I have it recorded! – and is beautiful.)
  • The whole wedding day concept was not part of the original story. All that came out of the revision process as a way to but the focus on Mouse and increase the urgency of waking Beauty that night.
  • I have a checkered history when it comes to mice. Check out my secret things to learn more.

2013: A Year in Review

Happy New Year, everyone! I hope that 2014 is off to a wonderful start for each and every one of you.

As we start this new year, the Nerdy Chicks wanted to take a moment and reflect on 2013. This past year was a great year for Nerdy Chicks Rule. We covered so many topics near and dear to our hearts — and we had a lot of fun, too.

We reflected on life, on education, and on mothers.

lifelife 2educationmother

We discussed college, art, and losing.

collegeartlosing

We interviewed women we admire. We quoted women we respect.

interview 1interview 2quaotable 2 quotable 1

We blogged about gardening, gifts, and gratitude.

gardeninggiftsgratitude

We covered reading, writing, and arithmetic. And a whole lot of other things that don’t fall into cutesy category headings!

readingwritingarithmetic

Like I said, it was a great year, and these are just a few examples of the kinds of posts we featured. If you missed any, take a moment to browse through and tell us what you think.

We are really looking forward to having you all join us for this coming year. Things are only going to get better.

PiBoIdMo Wrap Up: Let it Be

Duck Duck Moose by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen, Illustrated by Noah Z. Jones

My upcoming picture book!

Now that Tara Lazar’s Picture Book Idea Month is over, I thought it would be nice to reflect a little bit on what we’ve accomplished in the past few weeks. If you participated in PiBoIdMo, first off, CONGRATULATIONS! You’ve made great progress on your writing journey. Publishing is an art where creativity and magic come together to make great books. But publishing is also a numbers game – the more manuscripts you create, the more likely it is that some of them will get published. And how do you create manuscripts? Well, it starts with ideas. And now you have lots of ideas – at least 30 if you got through the month! (More if you followed my PiBoIdMo advice.) So you’re all set!

Except…

I’ve got some bad news. Well, potentially bad news. More like bad reality, actually. Except that reality is never bad.

Here’s the reality of the situation: not all of the ideas you have so carefully thought up during PiBoIdMo are picture book ideas.

I know you want them to be. I know that’s what you intended and planned for. I know you have great dreams for these ideas, dreams that are so good that you want to will them into existence.

But for some of your ideas, those dreams will never come true.

I’m not saying these things to upset you, or to de-motivate you. You shouldn’t lose your momentum. I just want you to focus your energy on the best paths to maximize your ability to succeed and get published.

Here’s the thing: your story ideas are like your children. You give birth to them, you nurture them, you guide them toward the goals you have carefully set for them. You know what’s best and you will make that happen.

For those of you who have children, you’re probably already guessing where this is going to go.

With our children, no matter what we have dreamed for them when they were helpless babes in our arms, those kids who once needed us for their very survival somehow end up being the people they choose to be. Not necessarily the people we intended them to be.

This is the kid who was supposed to grow up to be a doctor…

My parents wanted me to be a doctor. They even bought me a $100K science education from Caltech. And in the end, I write books about talking pigs.

With our characters, our story ideas, they will also be who they are, regardless of what we want them to be.

Early on, I said that not all of the ideas you have so carefully thought up during PiBoIdMo are picture book ideas. That is reality. Some of those ideas will turn out to be chapter books, or middle grades, no matter how hard we push them to be something else. (Just like some of our children will become kidlit authors, no matter how hard we push them to be doctors.) That’s ok.

Some of those ideas will turn out to flounder and struggle, will find it difficult to ever realize their full potential. That’s ok, too.

Because the reality is that some of the ideas you have are picture book ideas. They need you to cultivate and develop them, but with your help, they will grow to be wonderful picture books.

The key here is to let your characters be who they are. Let your stories be what they are. If they grow into something different than you thought, follow them on their path instead of forcing them onto your own. The end result will be truer, will have more heart, and will be better written.

Good luck to everyone and see you next PiBoIdMo!

(In case you missed it, here is some more PiBoIdMo advice from Kami and from me from earlier this month.)