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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Timing and the Envelope Please.......

Perfect timing is one of the important things that we need in our creative lives. You can be aware of it but you cannot control it. Some like to try to force it. Some let the Universe dictate how it all happens. Some think that it is a gift from God. When I think I can control timing or anything in my creative life, the image of me riding a bull in a rodeo comes to mind.

I am wondering this week about my timing as I received not one but eight blog awards from fellow writers.  So was my timing on?  Was this a "sign" from the Universe that I am about to make it in the big time?  Probably not, my ego would like to think so. 

 Receiving blog awards as a writer are a way of remembering who I am and what my goals are.  Thank you Tina ChoMirka Breen, and Barbara Bockman for your support on my journey as a writer.  Your timing was perfect.

The timing is perfect because I needed to figure out how to end this blog and stay focused on my Book Wisdom by Diane.  This post allows me to end with a fun post and say thank you.
Like Mirka, I like to dance to a different tune so I am adding some flare to my participation in this blog awarding. 

 But first, here are the rules presented to me for the awards I received and accepted.

Here are the rules for the first two awards:
    • Thank the person/people who nominated you and link back to them in your post
    • Share 7 things about yourself
    • Nominate six to ten blogs you admire
    • Contact your chosen bloggers to let them know
7 things about me, Diane Kress Hower
1. I love macaroni and cheese.
2. I have lived in 7 states.
3. In the mid 70's, I was one of the first of 2 young women to compete in the first co-ed, Ohio Buckeye Conference, state cross country championship.
4. I am afraid of physical heights yet married a rock climber.
5. I love kids and dogs but am more likely to ooh and ahh over a puppy than a baby.
6. I am a chocolate and coffee and microbrew snob.  
7. I do not like drama.
And the rules for the Booker Award:  This one comes with the request that I name five favorite books.

1. A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving
2. An Autobiography of a Yogi, Yogananda

3. The Alchemist, Paulo Coelo
4. King of the Wind, Marguerite Henry
5. Frog and Toad, The Dream, Arnold Loebel

Lastly, the rules for the Fabulous Blog Ribbon: I get to name five things I like and five I don’t.
Nature, people, animals, writing, and art are some of the many things I like.
I don’t like hatred, prejudice, violence, them and us mentality, and spiders.
 The envelope please....   And now to pass my award to 7 blogs/sites of which some contain multiple people that have helped me shine and polish my writing and art.  For these blogs and bloggers, I have made a new award, the Shinning Star,  Blog Award.  No need to pass it on.   I just wanted to say thank you!

Thursday, June 21, 2012


     Facebook is an amazing tool when you make so many connections with other writers and illustrators who share the same passion.  I can't remember who contacted the other first as Lee Wardlaw's newest book is appearing simultaneously on my "other" blog, Book Wisdom By Diane.   Years ago, I first learned about Lee as a one of the " Fairy God-Sisters" that help a newer writer who wants to attend the summer SCBWI conference.  This week, it is my honor to support and share award winning author, Lee Wardlaw on 

Lee, welcome and please tell us what pulled you down the rabbit hole of writing picture books ?

     The short answer?  Naiveté!  I assumed that because picture books were short, they’d be easy to write. (Insert hysterical laughter here.)  Little did I know that good writing means making it look easy…
The long answer:  In the late 1970’s, when I’d first earned my B.A. in Education and my teaching credential, jobs at the elementary level were rare.  So I ended up working for two years as the director/head teacher of a pre-school .  The school didn’t have much money, so to supplement our meager library I wrote stories to share with the children. They were awful!  (The stories, not the children!) Everything you could possibly do wrong in creating a picture book, I unknowingly did with gusto.
One of the first picture book manuscripts I wrote was called The Smallest Square.  It told the tale of five squares that live one inside of the other.  The baby square yearns to be free of his claustrophobic existence, so he changes himself into different shapes in order to escape:  first a circle to roll himself out (which doesn’t work)…next a rectangle to muscle his way out (ditto)…and, finally, a triangle, breaking free at last with his new pointy head. Then he turns into a circle again and rolls off to see the world.
Riveting, right?  J  The story was derivative of Shel Silverstein’s The Missing Piece – but without his wisdom, wit, talent, voice and clever illustrations. I got so many form rejection letters on that manuscript (and many others like it), that I gave up on picture books and started writing stuff for older readers.  I published eight other books (YA novels, non-fiction and first chapter books) before I got up the nerve to try my hand again at picture books.

When you are writing a pb manuscript, what area of the story do you get the most satisfaction in developing and exploring? 

     Mem Fox, the award-winning, Australian children’s book author, once said that writing a picture book is like writing War and Peace – in haiku.  
True!  A good picture book contains all the same elements as a novel for adults, such as:
     -an opening that grabs and pulls in the reader;
     -three-dimensional characters whom you care about and root for;
-a vital conflict that has serious consequences if not resolved by the main characters;  
-a logical plot line;
-suspenseful pace;
-a fresh, unique voice;
-sparkling dialogue;
-rhythmic, expressive, evocative  language;
-and a satisfying conclusion.  
The main difference between these two forms of literature is that a picture book story must be told in a way that is appropriate for the physical, psychological and emotional development of the child. Tricky!
I enjoy that challenge. So although it’s always a treat to create characters I’d like to meet in real life, to express their authentic voices, to give them the opportunity to solve their own conflicts, etc., etc., what I find most satisfying about writing picture books is the distillation process:  taking a big story and honing it to its essence.

Lee is there any part of writing a picture book that you find frustrating or difficult to develop?

     Thinking visually.  A picture book needs to have a minimum of 13 different illustratable scenes.  I tend to be better at creating dialogue than action, and dialogue is difficult for an artist to illustrate.  So I spend a lot of time revising my manuscripts to create more action.

If you could choose one pb author, author/illustrator, or illustrator to spend a day with, who would that be and what would you want to receive from your time with them?  
     I love funny, quirky picture books with heart, such as Officer Buckle and Gloria, (Peggy Rathmann); Martha Speaks (Susan Meddaugh); Benjamin and Tulip (Rosemary Wells); Bootsie Barker Bites (Barbara Bottner); Zelda and Ivy (Laura McGee Kvasnosky).  The master of this genre was the author/illustrator James Marshall (who also wrote as Edward Marshall).  His simple line drawings – in books such as George and Martha, The Stupids, Fox Outfoxed, etc. – could bring me to my knees with spasms of silliness and giggles.  As for what I would want from him?  Just to sit quietly in a corner and watch him work…

Lee, I have one last question.  Do you have a favorite picture book you never tire of?

     OH, my. There are so many of them!  So I'll pick the one that springs to mind first:  Officer Buckle and Gloria written/illustrated by Peggy Rathmann.
The story is hilarious, the pictures (and the story THEY tell) are even more so.  Too, there are many tidbits in each picture, that you discover new things
each time you read it.  A picture book has to be able to stand up to a minimum of 500 readings aloud, and this is one I never, ever tire of!

     Lee, thank you for taking time to participate in two blogs timed near a book launch and a vacation.  I look forward to seeing your published list continue to grow & grow.

Won Ton by Lee Wardlaw

      Lee Wardlaw’s first spoken word was ‘kitty’. Since then, she’s shared her home with more than two-dozen cats (not all at the same time!) and written more than two-dozen, award-winning books for young readers, including Won Ton – A Cat Tale Told in Haiku (Holt; illustrated by Eugene Yelchin), winner of the 2012 Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award and many other honors.

     Lee has a B.A. in education, and taught school for five years before deciding to write full-time. She recently received her AMI Primary Diploma from the Montessori Institute of San Diego, and will earn her M.Ed. from Loyola University, Maryland, in 2013. She still enjoys teaching, and presents a variety of lively programs each year for students, educators, librarians, parents and writers at schools, workshops, and conferences.
Red, White, and Boom! by Lee Wardlaw
Lee’s books have been honored by the American Library Association, the International Reading Association, the National Council of Teachers of English, the International School Librarians Association, and more. She is an active member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators, the Authors Guild, the California Reading Association and, yes, even the Cat Writers’ Association!
     Lee lives in Santa Barbara, CA with her husband, teenaged son, and three former shelter cats. Her newest book Red, White and Boom! (Holt; illustrated by Huy Voun Lee), celebrates the many cultures and traditions that make America’s birthday BOOM!

For more info about Lee and her books, visit:

Monday, June 11, 2012

PASSION FOR PICTURE BOOKS, Alison Pearce Stevens, Interview


Last summer, I met Alison.  Our bonding took place in a hot, steamy, narrow fourth floor hallway.   The turn of the century, Ashland Inn served as home for a week during the last Highlight's Foundation's "famous" Chautauqua Children's Writers and Illustrators Workshop.  When we were not plotting to get another cold shower from a tiny shared bathroom in 100 degree heat with no air conditioning, we were spending time soaking up all the incredible science and non-fiction workshops we could squeeze in.

    Alison loves science and writing about it.  Her thirst for the answer to the question "Why?" is not quenchable.  Scientist turned children's writer, Alison's passion for nature and answers to questions lifts her up and out of the herd of children's non-fiction, science writers. Bright and spunky, Alison keeps up with her boys and husband while juggling her multiple writing projects.

    It is my pleasure to interview, Alison Pearce Stevens on my Passion for Picture Books blog today.

Alison, what drew you into writing picture books?

Like many people, I had kids and spent an extraordinary amount of time reading picture books. I fell in love with the way the illustrations complemented the text to create a fully-developed, well-rounded story. As my kids got older, we started reading more non-fiction, including picture books. I became a huge fan of Nicola Davies’ work, which is lyrical yet factual, and always beautifully illustrated by talented artists. (Perhaps I should say well illustrated, since the art for POOP: A NATURAL HISTORY OF THE UNMENTIONABLE isn’t exactly beautiful, but it is both apropros and highly entertaining.)

When you are writing a pb manuscript, what area of the story do you get the most satisfaction in developing and exploring?

Because my stories are non-fiction (science and nature), it’s a different kind of beast. The setting and character actually exist, so I don’t get to play around with those (but I love working on those aspects of my critique partners’ work). For me, it’s a matter of taking a critter and telling the story of its life (or some part of its life) in a dynamic, interesting way. It requires just as much story arc, conflict, and tension as fiction, and getting those things just right takes time and patience. But to answer your question, it’s immensely satisfying when I know I’ve finally figured them out.

Is there an area of the non fiction story that you find difficult to develop?

The story arc. For some topics I’ve tried to write about, I just haven’t been able to find a good story for the subject.

Alison, if you could choose one pb author or  author/illustrator to spend a day with, who would that be and what would you want t from your time with them? 

Hmm, this is tough, because I love Nicola Davies’ gorgeous prose, and I would love to meet her, but in terms of meeting someone who can help me hone my craft, I would have to say Joanna Cole and Bruce Degen, author and illustrator of the Magic School Bus series. THE MAGIC SCHOOL BUS   When I read their books, I am continually impressed with how they can be broken down into a stand-alone central narrative (which always has a great story arc, complete with heightened tension at the climax), the additional narrative from the speech bubbles that can be interwoven into the central narrative (or not, depending on how much time we have to read), and the additional information that packs the margins. It’s like getting three books in one! When I write, I try to figure out how I can make my side bars and back matter build upon the central story the way Joanna Cole and Bruce Degen do. But I think it would take a series of mentor-like meetings for me to reach a point at which I could readily apply what I’d learned from them to my own work. (So if either of them happen to read this and are interested in a mentee, let me know!) ;)

Alison, do you have an all time favorite pb to read over and over again?

That's a tough question! Certainly THE LORAX had a huge influence on me, and I love reading it to my kids. I also love reading Julia Donaldson's books aloud, ROOM ON THE BROOM, MONKEY PUZZLE (which might have a different title in the U.S.), and TIDDLER are some of our favorites. Her stories flow off the tongue and are just such fun to read, and we adore Axel Scheffler's illustrations.

Alison, it has been very interesting for me to interview a non-fiction pb writer and to witness the excitement about the writing process as well as the difficulties.  Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to share with me and my readers.

Alison Pearce Stevens is a former beekeeper and duck-wrangler who grew tired of writing scientific papers in her role as a biologist/zoologist/ecologist. She wanted to write something fun; something with lyrical prose and lots of voice, and children’s writing was a perfect fit. She writes to share the utterly fascinating things she learned as a scientist with curious minds everywhere. You can learn more about Alison and her work on her web site. 

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

PASSION FOR PICTURE BOOKS, Nancy I Sanders, Interview

     It is with deep gratitude that I am able to interview and share thoughts about writing picture books with Nancy I Sanders.  At the conception of Pens & Brushes Pens & Brushes, Nancy graciously offered to organize us, get us going, and to moderate.  She is an amazing writer and a champion facilitator so much so that when she left our group we choose to give  her Emeritus status.  Nancy is one of the most encouraging writers I have met. Her positive outlook is like a shaft of light that guides a novice writer down the path to publishing.  Nancy also excels in kindness and compassion.

     Nancy, you well know that picture books are a complicated art form.   What drew you into writing picture books?

I love the sweet innocence of childhood. Every day is a new day to explore. Every ordinary experience is a delight. Each “first” and each milestone is like a miracle to a child, filled with wonder and amazement. Simple days filled with sunshine and trees and playing tag and reading books are treasures a child can cherish forever. Picture books capture this innocence of childhood. Plus, they become vehicles in the hands of children to transport them into new adventures. As a child I loved picture books and when I had children of my own, my love was rekindled. That’s when my love was ignited into a passion to write picture books, too. Twenty-nine years ago!

When you are writing a pb manuscript, what area of the story do you get the most satisfaction in developing and exploring? 

I love the idea stage the best. I get zillions of ideas and I love to brainstorm these ideas and imagine the story and jot down all my ideas and let the characters start interacting and speaking to each other. The beginning of writing a picture book is my favorite part.

What area of the story do you find the most difficult to develop?

The ending of the story is tricky for me. Is the story arc strong enough? Did the main character change in a way that was significant enough? Was the use of language and word choice the best that could be to convey the concept and message I wanted to share? And in a nonfiction picture book such as D is for Drinking Gourd: An African American Alphabet, was each big topic I covered presented in a kid-friendly and inspirational way? These are questions I’m constantly searching to answer as I work and rework and rework the text to finalize a picture book.

Nancy, if you could choose one pb author to spend a day with, who would that be and what would you want to receive from your time with them?  

One, just one?! I just had the awesome experience of spending four months in a mentoring group with other picture book writers. There were five of us and each month our goal was to read 20 current picture books published in the last 2 years and also write one brand new original picture book from start to finish. During these last few months I fell in love with so many new picture books, I hardly know where to begin to make this choice! E.B. Lewis! Mo Willems! Nick Bruel! Rob Scotton! Jerry Pinkney, Brian Pinkney, and Andrea Davis Pinkney! Douglass Florian! My list could go on and on…

Okay, okay! If I’m gonna be pinned down and have to pick one—just one!—for this interview, it would have to be the book Red Sings from Treetops: A Year in Colors. Author Joyce Sidman and Illustrator Pamela Zagarenski. (Is it cheating to pick one author/illustrator combo? 
The poetry in that book combined with the quirky and fantastic artwork made me want to spend time with this duo to learn how to see the world through their eyes…they took ordinary things like cherries and birds and springtime and fall, and turned them into a sense of wonder and joy. They showed our ordinary world through the eyes of a child and this amazing book was born.

Nancy, do you have an all time favorite pb to read over and over again?

Pat the Bunny was a favorite book I read over and over to our 2 sons when they were little. It's a novelty type of picture book for the very young. It was one of the reasons I wanted to write children's books because I loved it so much and the reaction our kids had when we read it. I was thrilled when I got to publish 2 similar books for the Christian market: Touch and Feel Moses, and Touch and Feel Jonah.  Without the inspiration of Pat the Bunny, I don't think those books would ever have come to life!

Thank you for taking time to do this interview,Nancy.  You have always been a great and generous mentor for those of us who know you.  When Nancy comes across your writing path you will never regret the time you spend with her, even online.  You can find out more about Nancy at her website: 
                        Nancy I Sanders

Bestselling and award-winning children’s author of over 80 books, Nancy I. Sanders wrote a children’s column for the Writer’s online magazine from 2008 to 2011 that you can still access today. Known as an inspirational and motivational mentor by friends and fellow writers, Nancy truly believes that everyone can follow their dreams to be a successful children’s writer. In her book, Yes! You Can Learn How to Write Children’s Books, Get Them Published, and Build a Successful Writing Career, Nancy teaches writers how to manage their time and focus their energies so that they are writing each day with purpose in order to get published, earn an income, and satisfy their personal fulfillment as a writer. Nancy is available to give Virtual Workshops to you and your writer’s group so you can jumpstart your writing career to the next level. For more information, visit her site at Nancy Sanders Virtual Visits or e-mail her at Nancy's Email.

Sunday, April 29, 2012


SURPRISE!  Barbara Bockman interviewed me on her site  Diane's Interview.  Please feel free to leap on over, check it out and leave a comment.  Thanks!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Passion for Picture Books, Mark Ceilley, Interview

This week I am excited to introduce Mark Ceilley,  another long-term Pens and Brushes member.  Mark just completed a MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults.  Mark has always been a very strong critique group member and given excellent feedback.  I have watched him continue to grow with each of his critiques over the course of his education.  In addition, Mark has a long career in  elementary education.  His passion for children's literature comes through on many levels.  I am proud to have Mark on my blog this week.

Mark what is it that drew you into writing picture books?

I was drawn to picture books when I took a children’s literature class in college.  I had an enthusiastic professor who loved children’s books.  I was introduced to many wonderful books and authors.  Later when I taught elementary school, I grew to love picture books and appreciate the form with its rhyme, rhythm, language, humor and extraordinary illustrations.  Eventually I took writing classes and began writing my own picture books.

When you are writing a manuscript is there a particular area that you get satisfaction in developing and exploring?

I get satisfaction from writing a rough draft, from the very first idea, all the way to the last sentence of a story.  I also enjoy the revision process where I can change the story around, add, delete, etc. until I have a story that is written well enough to take to my writer’s group.  After my writer’s group gives me feedback, I like editing and revising again by incorporating their suggestions.

Mark is there any part that is frustrating or difficult to develop?

Sometimes writing the first draft is frustrating for me.  I’ve often had what I think is a great idea, but once I start writing; I can’t get much further than a few sentences.  The frustration escalates when I can’t figure out what to do next and I end up with an unfinished story.  When that happens, I let the story sit for a while, go on to another idea, and create a new story.

If you could choose one pb author to spend a day with, who would that be and what would you want to receive from your time with them?

I’d choose to spend a day with Mem Fox.  I admire her writing and the many books she’s written for children.  I think she is a master when it comes to picture books.  I would learn all I could from: rhyming, use of language, simplicity of words, revision and anything else she could teach me about how to write picture books.

I am curious Mark, what was your favorite picture book as a child?

I enjoyed reading The Pokey Little Puppy.  My grandmother had a copy at her house and when I’d visit I’d reread it over and over again.  I also loved Dr. Seuss.  (The Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham.)

Mark, I really appreciate you being on my blog, Passion for Picture Books.  Your presence in our group is a tremendous asset with your writing skills, and your background.  Your willingness to share the knowledge that you have gained in your Masters program has been very generous.  Thank You!

Mark is a teacher and writer.  He has taught elementary school for 20+ years.  His story, Jackson, Jackson, Make Up Your Mind was published in Spider magazine in July/Aug. 2009.  Mark has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Hamline University.  In his spare time, he enjoys traveling, yoga, gardening, swimming, cooking, movies, and meeting friends for lunch.  To find more out about Mark, visit his website at Mark Ceilley . 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Passion for Picture Books, Priya Iyengar, Interview

I remember the day when emails passed in cyberspace and a relationship was born that would change my writing career forever.   It was the day that the Founder of Pens & Brushes, Priya Iyengar connected with me about forming an online critique group.  From that moment, Priya meaning beloved in Sanskrit, put out love to individuals who had no clue where  this diverse group was going.  Priya’s passion to bring forth this group was key.  Priya is our cheerleader and a storyteller from a land where the culture is steeped in story and celebration.  Those are a few of the nuggets of gold which she has given to this group.  It is with pleasure to have Priya on my blog this week.

Priya what brought you into the world of writing picture books?

As a reader and a writer, I have been always fascinated by Picture books and aimed to write at least one.  Picture books are the doors that open to a world of dream, fascination, emotions, reality, and knowledge.  The best part of writing a PB is sometimes less is more.  No doubt, it’s a difficult art to master.  But, all you need are  thoughts  and  to learn how to string those thoughts together.

Can you please share the area of the story making that you get the most satisfaction in developing and exploring?

I love colors and I’m a devotee of nature. My area of satisfaction is setting, theme, character, story, point of view in that order. Whenever I have a plot lingering in my mind, I first think of a suitable place for my idea to match, and then create a theme that will gel well with my setting. Later I mix and match the other factors to decide and finalize the point of view and tense.  Climax is another area that gives me more satisfaction.

For me, an ending that dovetails with all my above factors and culminates into an unimaginable or striking climax gives immense satisfaction.

Priya is there an area you find the most frustrating or difficult to develop?

There are three, dialogue, point of view, and tense. These are like step-siblings that  give me a hard time to come together. I save this part as a last task to battle with.  It’s like, in a test, attempting all the easy and known questions first and leaving the trying ones for the last to arm-wrestle. So far this pattern has worked well for me.

If you could choose one pb author to spend a day with, who would that be and what would you want to receive from your time with them? 

I would choose SCBWI Founder, Sue Alexander. I like her style of writing. Her story telling makes me laugh, cry, and amaze me.  I wish I would have had an opportunity to be her student and learn some of her skills.

Priya, what was your favorite picture book as a child or your favorite one to read aloud as an adult?

My all time favorite is Sue Alexander’s, One more time, Mama. But I don’t want to miss mentioning the literary master piece, Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White.  I can read these books any number of times, at any age.

Priya, I am grateful for all you have given me and our writing family.  I am learning more and more about you and your writing even after being together for so long.  Thank you for sharing.  Namaskaar.

After practicing Corporate and Labor & Employment Law in India, Priya moved to the United States with her husband and daughter. Her daughter was two and the life in Indiana was a different universe for her.  She felt like a human on Neptune.  Priya could not go to work, lived in a new neighborhood, shivering in snow with no sidewalks.  She cooked, cleaned, ate, stared at the frozen pond, and read stories to her baby.   No matter how helpless, Priya felt, she had her inner writing buddy with her.
As a student in India, Priya wrote a lot but secretly. Any conversation that she couldn’t make with her elders and teachers, any song that she couldn’t sing, any anger that  couldn’t be vented , any toy that Priya couldn’t play with became a story that jumped onto her notebook. Her biggest regret is that she could not save the notebook of stories.
Priya’s new life opened an avenue for her to pursue her passion.  She started writing stories for her daughter. Priya took a writing course at the Institute of Children’s Literature and continued her journey as a writer with published articles in newspapers, cultural magazines,  and e-zines. Since moving to California, the world became wider for her. Priya has taught creative writing to children at summer camps and from her home. Priya has two picture books in pipeline and several articles on her desk going through revisions.
In addition, Priya is an ADR (Alternative Dispute Resolution) professional. She enjoy both her roles - a writer and a problem solver.  
You can read Priya’s blog at Priya's Blog