Posted by: Debby | October 20, 2016

Writing Blues: Just Open a Vein…

writing-bluesA year and a half ago, I tripped over the edge of the sidewalk, sailed through the air, and crash landed on my head. No, I did not bleed all over; this is not that kind of post. However, my little experiment in aviation resulted in a concussion. So where does the bleeding come in?

Resilience, or Lack Thereof

Post-concussion recovery is a far more serious thing than I ever dream it would be, even right after the concussion. My doctor told me it would take at least a year to fully recover. I thought she was exaggerating, so I would not get impatient. She wasn’t. I have only begun to feel like myself this last month.

What does this have to do with opening a vein?

This weekend I attended a writing retreat.

When asked how it is possible to be a daily columnist, Walter Wellesley “Red” Smith is credited with saying, “You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins, and bleed.”

I need to bleed a little. This is the first writing conference since my fall where I have attended every session, even the evening ones. (See above–I thought I was back to my old self) However, by Saturday, after my one-on-one consultation, I felt weepy; after the Saturday night party, I felt achingly lonely; and by the end of the retreat I found myself wondering why I’ve even tried this ‘writing thing’ (for XX years, might I add, working mostly on novels the whole time). I cried all the home, most of the afternoon, and at church that night.

It is so heartbreaking to work so long toward a dream and not have it come true (“Yet”–thank you, Gretchen).


A good night’s sleep, some time with God, and a quiet house have helped restore some perspective.

Recovering from a concussion takes a long time. Just because I don’t have daily headaches doesn’t mean I am fully recovered. I think the dark stormy weather, sleeping in a strange bed, getting up too early, learning, and being around constant conversation and auditory stimuli was just too much for my post-concussion brain.

And the frustration with lack of publication? I just have to get real with myself.

Reality Number 1: Writing something new is so much more fun than trying to sell what you wrote. I don’t struggle with writer’s block; I struggle with submission block. It doesn’t matter that I have 8 full novels, not to mention at least 6 picture book manuscripts, and scads of poetry lolling around in my file drawers, if I don’t focus more attention on trying to find publishing homes for them, they will never find their way into readers’ hands.

Reality Number 2: I have not been stagnant as a writer. Through reading and professional events, I have never stopped learning and building my skills. That’s not something to be ashamed of.

Reality Number 3: I am a published author. So my novels aren’t there yet. I have had five folktale retellings published in Cricket Magazine, most of them serialized. This is a publication I have greatly respected and admired, long before my stories found a home there.

Reality Number 4: I know God has plans for my life, “plans to prosper” me “and not to harm” me, “plans to give” me “hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11). Should I give up on writing? It is a question I have asked myself, and God, many times over the years, and every time I do, I wake up with fresh, exciting story ideas, and seem to encounter more around every corner.

“Can I give up writing?” should be the real question. I don’t think I can. It is the way my brain processes life. Even as I teen, I recognized that my best thinking was done with pen and paper rather than just letting the thoughts and feelings trundle round and around in my own mind. It’s as true now as it was then–only I often use a keyboard instead.

I have tried not writing. (Actually I was driven to it by professional responsibilities when I was teaching Language Arts full-time.) I was one sad soul, and the ideas never stopped coming. Talk about frustration!


So, vein opened, commitment renewed, what will I do?

I will be more patient with my traumatized brain, I will write, and I will get more serious about submissions. A literate lifestyle is still the life for me.

How About You?

  • Have you encountered roadblocks in building your literate lifestyle?
  • Have you ever had to be more patient with yourself than you are inclined be?
  • How do you pick yourself up and keep on going when life gets you down?

*art background: Depositphotos_13525625_original

no-negative-reviews-This weekend, a dear friend and faithful blog brainstorm/critiquer asked me why I never write a critical review in my “Books of the Month” posts.

My gut reaction and immediate response was, “Because, I do not want to tear people down or hurt their feelings. That is not who I want to be.”

However, since our discussion, the question would not leave me alone. I think she, and you deserve a better thought out answer.

Why No Negative Reviews

When I consider writing critical reviews, my first question is, who am I to set myself up as judge over the quality of an author’s work who has actually made it past all the gatekeepers and critical eyes on the road to publication? Surely, if a book has come far enough to be published by a third-party, there must be someone who will appreciate it. Although I will admit, it might be a limited number of individuals and not necessarily me.

And if a book is self-published, as I novelist, I understand all the love and labor that went into producing it. Who am I that I should tear apart someone’s dream, someone whose hopes are not all that different from my own?

Yes, of course some books are of higher quality than others. Some books can be quite flawed. But I do not want to be the person who points these things out.

The Simpler Reason I Don’t Write Negative Reviews

Then, after all my philosophizing, I had to laugh at myself. There is actually a much simpler reason you will not find negative reviews on Literate Lives. I do not finish reading books that I do not like and therefore cannot count them as books I read in any month.

It took me many years of living with the inner insistence, “You must finish everything you start,” but finally, sensibly, I concluded that life is too short, time is too precious, and there are too many unread books on my shelves for me to finish any book I find to be low in quality or of minimal appeal to me.

Stop Reading Lousy/Unappealing Books

If I am not enjoying a book, fiction or nonfiction, that I am reading, if I do not feel it has anything to offer me, I may give it an additional chapter or two to improve, but if it fails to, I stop reading. You should too.

Value of Book Listings on this Site

So why read the “Books of the Month” posts?

Literate Lives is about creating a community of like-minded readers, writers, and teachers. If you like what you find here, you might like the books I like. (And if you like what you find here, how I’d love to hear about books you have enjoyed!)

The “Books of the Month” posts are more a recommended reading list than a critique or review. They are an invitation to seek out a good read.

The Purpose of “Literate Lives”

In the end, all my initial philosophizing was not a waste. It clarified for me, again, what I want this blog to be. I want to bring light, joy, pleasure, and inspiration to others, and I want to encourage and support readers, writers, parents and teachers in cultivating a reading, writing, thinking, imaginative lives.

Have you read any good books lately? Please use the comment section to respond.

*photo credit: Depositphotos_28904783_original

This September I read two books. Yeah. Just two.

I have to say returning to a school year schedule took some adjusting and so, many nights instead of going to bed and reading a chapter or two before lights out, I went to bed and went to sleep.

That said, the fact that I did not race breathlessly through the two novels I read is no indication of my enjoyment of them.

So, here goes–the books of September!

A Flaw in the BloodA Flaw in the Blood
by Stephanie Barron

Stephanie Barron has long been a favorite author of mine. I love, love, love her Jane Austen mystery novels. While A Flaw in the Blood involves a slightly different time period and a new array of characters (Queen Victoria, for one), it does not disappoint.

Set in the days and weeks shortly after Prince Albert, Victoria’s consort, dies, it kicks off a race to uncover a perilous secret sending the protagonists, Patrick Fitzgerald and his ward, Georgianna Armistead, a female physician, across the whole of Europe, with men who will stop at nothing to kill them hot on their trail. It is an excellent thrill ride.

by Maggie Stiefvater

This is the second book of Stiefvater’s duology A GATHERING OF FAERIE, the first, Lament, I read last spring. While both are excellent YA fantasy novels, I think I enjoyed Ballad, even more than Lament.

As the story opens, James Morgan, along with his friend Dierdre, the protagonist of Lament, begin school at Thornking-Ash Academy, a boarding/high school for the musically gifted. Both are still deeply shaken from the concluding events of Lament. James, whose love for Deidre remains unreturned, finds himself pursued by a faerie muse. Together they make “beautiful music,” but all is not well.

As Halloween draws near, the faerie court dances in the hills around the academy, Cernunnos, lord of the dead, haunts the valley in which the school is set, and danger hangs in the air like wood smoke.

I did have to read the last third of the novel in a mad dash. It is gripping and haunting. A great autumn read.

How About You?

Have you read any good books lately? Please use the comment space to tell us a bit about them.

Posted by: Debby | September 29, 2016

Play With Your Words: An Autumn Metaphor Poem


The leaves have started turning russet and gold, and teachers and students alike are back in the classroom.

No matter what grade level, literary devices are likely being taught or reviewed. Two key ones include metaphor and the use of sensory details. So, let’s review.


Metaphor is often taught along with simile because both provide a vibrant means for making a comparison. Unlike a simile (which uses the words “like” or “as”), a metaphor compares by stating that one object or idea is actually a different object or idea, thus emphasizing what the two have in common.


Sensory details are descriptive details that can be perceived by the senses–seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching. They are evocative, because they appeal to the part of the brain that actually connects to memories of that sensation and therefore make for powerful details in writing.


Using either a 5-circle web (one for each sense) or a 5-column table (one column/sense) brainstorm observations and memories about fall. List them according to which sense is most dominant.

When you have at least three items for each theme (But don’t limit yourself to that amount!) go back and see if any fall into groups that share a similar theme. If you do, you may want to work with that theme or simply select an item from each web/column that you find most appealing.

You are now ready to begin writing your poem.


Line 1 sets up your poem: “Autumn/Fall is…”

Each line, 2-6, will contain a single metaphor for each of the five senses.

For example, one of the things I love about autumn is kicking through drifts of crackling leaves. For me, the real pleasure is the sound, so for my sound detail, I might say, “Crispy crackly leaves.”

Remember, make a metaphor for each of the five senses and make your metaphors as personal, specific, and concrete as possible.

Close the poem with a final thought.

Here is mine:

Autumn is…
Cool mornings,
The rising sun gilding golden trees,
Wood smoke,
Crisp, crackly-crunchy leaves,
Apple cider, hot and sweet,
An invitation
To savor the season
For soon winter’s winds will blow.


When done, look over what you’ve written.

  • Are there some vague words for which you can find more specific replacements?
  • Can you play up the sound effects in your poem? (Note in my example, “crisp” and “crackling” start with a nice, hard, “C” sound.)
  • Can you use repetition for emphasis?
  • Punctuate your poetry like you would a sentence.


When done, share your poem with your family, classmates, or writing friends. Compliment the strengths you see in each others’ creations, their vivid imagery, the poems’ effectiveness at summoning an “autumnal” feeling.

If you are a teacher, consider allowing your students to illustrate their poems and then post (“publish”) them on a bulletin board.

If you are working with a pre-reader/writer, guide your little poet through the same instructions as above, only you do the writing. When you are done, read back what he or she has “written.” Point to the words as you say them to reinforce the one-to-one-correspondence between the written and spoken word. Together use photos, stickers, cut outs, or clip art to illustrate the poem and hang it somewhere it can be enjoyed by all the family.

I would love to savor your autumn metaphors. Please feel free to post your poem as a comment.

Happy Writing!


Posted by: Debby | September 22, 2016

A Rhythm for an Intentional, Literate Life


Now that school has started and I am back to working five days a week, I am reminded how important it is to be intentional with the use of my time, especially if I want to maintain a literate lifestyle year round.

I made some plans before school started and have already tweaked them while only three weeks into the academic year. Why? Because weaving reading and writing into each day enhances my satisfaction and contributes to my sense of well-being.

My Rhythms

Working a five-day work week, my days fall naturally into weekday vs. weekend patterns.


Monday through Friday, I get in at least a half hour of reading time each day. In our efforts to provide a buffer for students between life outside the classroom and our time together, we start both our morning and afternoon sessions with “Reboot” time. This is 15-20 minutes when both teachers (as models) and students engage in either writing or reading. I choose to read and cherish those two little pools of peace each day.

During lunch, a half an hour at my site, I enjoy reading writing magazines at my desk while I eat. I subscribe to Writers Digest and The Writer, and also get member bulletins from both SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) and SFWA (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America).

Specialized Days of the Week

Like anyone, all my days do not look the same. Monday is blog day. After work I prepare the week’s blog post.

Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, I arrive at work early and write for a half hour each morning.

Wednesday is writing day. (The best day of the week!) I only work the morning session then, I get to spend the afternoon at home: writing, revising, preparing chapters for writers group meetings, and submitting manuscripts.


Saturday: After sleeping in, with or without an alarm clock, it depends on what the day holds, I get up, make a “poor man’s mocha” and read, first, a chapter of the Bible, then blogs and e-newsletters for a deliciously long chunk of time.

If I stay home for the day, I’ll spend some time writing or submitting manuscripts using the awesome interval method I discovered this summer. It is great for breaking things down into manageable chunks and getting multiple tasks done!

Sunday:  My husband and I go to church in the morning, so reading time doesn’t start until the afternoon. Then, I read a chapter or two of the Bible, some of the latest issue of Christianity Today or whatever book, usually a novel, I happen to be enjoying at the time.


I love to read before falling asleep, mostly novels, but occasionally nonfiction, as my reading rotation dictates.

Poetry Writing

Poetry just happens–the quality of light flickering through the trees on a sunny afternoon, a particular word encountered in reading or conversation that just sticks with me and grows, a special event, or just a quiet moment. When it happens, I grab the nearest piece of paper and a pen or pencil and jot thoughts down to later play with, mold, and form, when I have more time.

Reading and Writing Lifestyle

I treasure my opportunities to engage in a literate lifestyle. It enriches my life in so many ways–the peacefulness of quiet activity (I am an introvert to the bone!), the adventure of following different characters into different worlds and times, the stimulation of encountering the ideas of others, the sheer pleasure in a well-turned phrase… I love our big, beautiful, quirky English language, and I delight in wallowing in wonderful words.

It is important to make time for what you value. How do you fit what you value into your days?

*Background Art: Depositphotos_3968847

Posted by: Debby | September 15, 2016

Meet Carol Riggs, Author of The Lying Planet

lyingplanet_200x300_finalToday I am launching what I hope will be the first of  many interviews that will provide you with a peek into some of my writer friends’ lives. Today, I’d like to introduce my long-time conference roomie, Carol Riggs, and her newest novel, The Lying Planet, which releases September 19!

Carol: Thanks, Debby, for inviting me here on your blog!

Debby and I met at an Oregon SCBWI retreat many years ago, and we’ve been event roommates ever since. We share a love of fantasy and other speculative genres. We support each other’s writing along with enjoying a great friendship.

I’m an author of young adult novels who lives in southern Oregon, USA. My books include The Body Institute, Bottled, and my September 19 release, The Lying Planet. Hobbies (besides writing): reading, drawing and painting, writing conferences, walking with my husband, and enjoying music and dance of all kinds.


Promise City. That’s the colony I’ve been aiming for all my life on the planet Liberty. The only thing standing in my way? The Machine. On my eighteenth birthday, this mysterious, octopus-like device will scan my brain and Test my deeds. Good thing I’ve been focusing on being Jay Lawton, hard worker and rule follower, my whole life. Freedom is just beyond my fingertips.

Or so I thought. Two weeks before my Testing with the Machine, I’ve stumbled upon a new reality. The truth. In a single sleepless night, everything I thought I knew about the adults in our colony changes. And the only one who’s totally on my side is the clever, beautiful rebel, Peyton. Together we have to convince the others to sabotage their Testings before it’s too late.

Before the ceremonies are over and the hunting begins.

Debby: I think it’s really interesting to get a peek at the roots of a story. What was your inspiration for Lying Planet?

Carol: This story was born one night in 2010 as I was lying in bed trying to go to sleep, and I thought I heard a noise out in the living room. It was probably our “haunted refrigerator” as we called it—that thing made more noises than a backfiring old jalopy. Whatever it was, my mind started spinning scenarios about What If. I figured this could be the initial pivotal moment of a YA novel, the story about a teen lying in the darkness of his room, and hearing… something. And getting up to investigate.

Debby: Describe your novel in 5 words:

Carol: Terrible secrets. The Machine. Banishment.

Debby: What themes play an important role in your novel?

Carol: I explore integrity and courage, with a splash of romance. Betrayal also factors in.

Debby: Who is your favorite character in this story?

Carol: Jay, the main character; he’s a conflicted hero who desperately wants to protect his friends and two little sisters, but hates how he is forced to go about doing it.

Debby: What was the hardest scene to write?

Carol: The ending scenes, because they involve battles, fighting, death, and other more gritty things that I usually tend to shy away from.

Debby: What scene did you most enjoy writing?

Carol: Jay in the hay barn of the cattle compound with a friend or two. Fun, flirty romance and goofing around.

Debby: Speculative Fiction requires strong worldbuilding. Tell us a bit about the world you created for this novel.

Carol: The planet Liberty has a 26-hour day where noon and midnight occur at 13:00. It has two moons; their magnetic pull causes the water from the underground tables to rise every night for an hour starting at 1:00 am, which irrigates the yards and gardens. It never, ever rains. There are 8 days in a week, Monday through Restday.

Twenty-five years ago Liberty had a war. Now most of the planet is bombed out and covered with deadly genomide dust, which clings to skin and sifts into lungs causing chemical burns and mass killings. The few exceptions are Jay’s colony of Sanctuary, along with the other safe zone colonies of Refuge and Fort Hope.

Turning 18 is a big deal in this colony. There’s a Machine that Tests the teens on graduation day. If they score high, they get rewards like a wristcomm or a hover vehicle. If they score low, they’re branded with a “B” on their foreheads and banished to the outer zones. That’s great motivation to work hard and obey all the strict rules in the safe zones.

Foods include greshfruit, which is a sweet fruit like an apple only softer like a nectarine.

Animals include vermal, similar to coyotes, but more bulky and powerful, and worrels, turkey-like creatures with shimmery bronze wings.

Debby: What is it about this novel that has turned out to be the most meaningful to you?

Carol: The value of not giving up on a story if you really believe in it. Sometimes you can dig out old manuscripts that were shelved and breathe new life into them. In the case of The Lying Planet, it started out as post-apocalyptic dystopian, and in 2015 I changed the genre to science fiction—and I’m really glad I did. I also plowed through numerous revisions with my excellent editor at Entangled Teen, and although it was challenging, I think it’s a much better story for it.

Debby: Describe your early life as a reader/writer.

Carol: I mostly devoured Nancy Drew books, sucked in by the mystery genre, and in retrospect, I think I admired how confident and smart she was as a character. Even today, I love inserting secrets or mystery elements into my own novels. I didn’t read anything more “literate” until my sophomore year of high school, where I had two great English teachers and I fell in love with Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes and William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. Great stuff! That’s when I also began writing, myself.

Debby: Describe your “Literate Lifestyle” now.

Carol: I used to say I could never read a book while writing one of my own, but now that I’m published and had two novels release in 2016 with overlapping revisions for my editors, I squish in reading whenever I can. I read for pleasure, but also for “research,” to check out the latest in other young adult novels. I wrote one middle grade (ages 8-12) novel last year and had fun with it, but mostly I stick to YA.

Debby: What are you presently working on? What’s next for you?

Carol: I’m writing the final scenes of a fantasy novel that’s a retelling of a rather obscure French fairy tale. I’ve always wanted to do a retelling, and I’m having a blast putting my own creative twist on it. It’s taking on a life of its own.

Debby: How can readers help get the word out about The Lying Planet?

Carol: Reviewing on Goodreads or Amazon is extremely helpful no matter what the rating is, because it shows that people are reading the book; people are generally wary of trying things no one else has. Also, with Amazon’s analytics, having a certain number of reviews enables the book to get mentioned in the “also viewed” or “also purchased this item” areas on the site.

Any form of social media is good for a shout out, whether Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, emailing or talking to friends, etc. Sharing links to my website or bookseller sites works well. Word of mouth is a great way to spread news!

Debby: Thanks so much, Carol, for visiting with my readers here on Literate Lives.

  • You can learn more about Carol and her books on her website.
  • You can follow Carol on Facebook and Twitter.
  • And if you want to be one of the first people to read The Lying Planet, you can reserve your copy here
Posted by: Debby | September 8, 2016

August 2016: My Reading List

When I look at this list, I am embarrassed. It is barely a list, for August, when I, a teacher, am supposed to be enjoying the last weeks of summer! What was I doing?


What was I doing?

My overall goal for the summer was to revise my flagship novel, THE SWALLOW’S SPRING from tight, past tense, third person to present tense, first person. I had finally made sense of the feedback I have been getting and realized I needed to allow readers to get not just in Iseult’s head, but actually in her skin, in her life. At the beginning of August, I was only half-way through.

Also, I went to the Willamette Writers Summer Conference–three days of talking writing, information, talking writing, learning about connecting with our audiences, talking writing, taking copious notes in writing craft workshops, and, of course, talking writing. It was vastly informative, and awesome learning experience, and fun!

Therefore, I truly only read two books in August.

What I Read

6335178Lady Vernon and Her Daughters by Jane Rubino & Caitlen Rubino-Bradway

This was a very “Jane Austen” type of novel based on notes Austen actually made for a novel that never got written. It had a marvelously, Austen-like cast of quirky characters, and typical Austen-like near misses where characters you love don’t recognize their own feelings until it is almost too late. It was a delightful read.

16140922Altered by Gennifer Albin

This is book two of a trilogy. Book one, Crewel, I read in my school library. I enjoyed the first novel so much, I finally bought the sequel myself. (The library didn’t have it.) Altered follows Adelice, Jost, and Erik when she rips a hole in her own world–Arras–and descends to a very messed up earth, California in particular. Determined to rescue her sister, Adelice seeks a way to sneak back home, and we get to tag along with her  to a post apocalyptic Hearst Castle and Alcatraz Island (where she meets a very famous person familiar to most of us). Again, I really enjoyed this read. Too bad the sequel to this one, Unraveled, got checked out last school year and was never returned. Hmmm. Maybe I can get it through interlibrary loan!

My Back-to-School Letter to YouToday, September 1, is Letter Writing Day. In keeping with this, today’s post comes to you in the form of a letter.

Dear Friends,

As you read this, I will be attending my first day of the 2016-2017 school year. Although it will only be us teachers and administrators in the building, I am excited.

First of all, I am excited to get back to my little library. As the school year ended in June, I sent out several boxes of new books to get processed, and I have learned they are done and waiting for me beside my desk! We also ordered additional bookshelves. (Our original shelves were packed and overflowing, especially after all the students turned in their library books in June!) After having some disturbing dreams this summer in which architects and interior designers messed up my beloved library (while supposedly giving our building a cool new look), I am eager to get back and see it with my own eyes!

I am also eager to get back to our students. Some will be returning from last year, and it will be a pleasure to see them again. Others will be new. I experimented a bit at the end of the last school year and learned that for students who are only about 5 points away from passing the GED RLA test, refreshing/or teaching for the first time a set of punctuation skills–for example, the many and varied uses of commas, or capitalization rules, is all it takes to put them over the top. I will include more general writing convention lessons in my teaching this year.

 I also learned the reading speed students need to attain in order to be successful taking their GED tests. This fall, I will implement reading speed tests for all students as part of their entry pre-assessments (in addition to the sentence structure pre-assessment I already have them do). This will help me better identify and assist those students who have not yet reached the needed  reading level to be successful in taking their tests.

A hard part of giving up summer is giving up my extended fiction (and blog) writing time. However, as in years past, I will continue to write each workday before school starts, and on my Wednesday afternoons off. I have learned I can get a lot written in 20 and 30 minute intervals if I practice them consistently. I also pledge to continue blogging. I enjoy thinking about what might interest you, what might help you, and what you might bring you pleasure or inspiration. Please say a prayer for my fickle health. That is always the wild card in developing a fully literate lifestyle while working nearly full-time.

I also look forward to some solid reading time. It’s funny, I expected to get a lot of reading done this summer. I can stay up later at night with no pesky alarm clock at 6:00 A.M. I can pick up a book in the middle of the day. However, while my non-fiction reading has been as abundant as anticipated, my fiction reading has taken a hit. (I am such a workaholic! Very bad habit. Don’t let yourself fall into this trap.) So I am excited to return to our schools “Reboot” schedule. Every day, before work time starts, students are given 15 or more minutes to just quietly read or write (Ha-ha-ha–little do they know, they are building their languages arts skills while they transition between life outside our doors and life in the classroom!). And (this is the best) teachers are strongly encouraged to model this behavior for them! I can hardly wait!

So, while it is sad to say good-by to the freedoms of summer, a lot of good lies ahead in the upcoming school year, and I can enter it having achieved my summer writing goal–the revision of my historical fantasy novel, THE SWALLOW’S SPRING from close third person, past tense into first person, present tense. I am so excited by how much immediacy and intimacy the shift has given my prose.

I can also say summer 2016 has taught me a fabulous new skill–working in intervals. Midway through the summer I was only about one sixth of the way through my revisions, and I was so depressed. Therefore, after reading, serendipitously, some articles about optimal work/break strategies (here’s one), I decided to divide my time between writing/revising and housework/summer projects by working in 45 minute to 1 hour intervals on my writing, then spending 10-20 minutes on my other responsibilities. It worked! I am thrilled. By the time you read this, I’ll have one, last, sixth of the novel left to revise, and I shall finish it during Labor Day weekend. Hurray! Then, let the submitting begin.

I hope you, too, have had a good summer and have something to look forward to in the coming months,

Your reading & writing friend,

P.S. Learn more about Letter Writing Day here.

P.S.S. What have you appreciated about your summer? What are you looking forward to in the coming months?

Posted by: Debby | August 25, 2016

National Secondhand Wardrobe Day–Imagine a Life

Imagine a LifeHere is how the National Calendar Day website describes National Secondhand Wardrobe Day:

There is nobody who does not like to save money and today is a good day to do just that.  National Secondhand Wardrobe Day is observed each year across the United States on August 25.

The practicality and thriftiness of second-hand shopping in today’s economy, its earth-saving benefits as well as donating some of your own slightly worn clothing is what National Secondhand Wardrobe Day is all about.

And it’s true. Shopping second-hand stores is one of my and my hubby’s favorite recreational activities. We’ve saved a lot of money (and I have purchased some of my most complimented wardrobe items) just this way. In addition to saving money on things you need, however, second-hand stores, both those featuring just clothing and those of a more general nature, can provide great fodder for pursuing your goals, creating characters and worlds, and exercising your imaginative skills.

Imagine a Life

Think beyond the question of who am I? In “The Career Mindset Comes Before the Writing Career”, author Jamie Raintree discusses how acting “as if” can help you reach your goals. Who do you want to be? What do you want to be? Browsing through the racks of a secondhand store can help make your vision for your life more concrete and the outfit that matches your goals more affordable.

Imagine a WorldImagine a Character

Are you working on a novel or a story? Who is your main character? How does he or she dress? What colors does they character like? What might he or she have sitting around their homes? What one object does your character treasure? What one object is symbolic of your character? Of his or her goal?

Browsing a thrift store (and maybe making a purchase or two) exposes you to a wider range of fashions and accessories than any retail store ever will. (And if you are looking for even more out of this world ideas–October secondhand stores are awesome!)

If you don’t want to buy it, jot down a description in a notepad or text it to yourself. Snap some pictures with your phone. Add these to your character file.

Family Field Trip

Second-hand stores are great places for a fun outing. Give each of your children a few dollars and head out second-hand shopping. Tell them there is just one rule for how they can spend their money–they must be able to make up a story to share with the family in which their purchase plays a major role.

After the outing, sit down together–maybe over lunch or a snack–and each of you share what you bought and tell it’s “story”.

Literacy Field Trip

Follow the same procedure as the Family Field Trip, but when you get home, ask you children to write the story of their purchase (and you do the same–modeling is very important in teaching and learning). Encourage your family to illustrate their stories if you wish.

If you and your family have been engaging in literacy activities or will continue to do so in the future, start a “book” of family stories. A three-ring binder works great. Date the stories and put them in the binder. Encourage your children to add stories whenever they want.

Now, Go Boldly Forth & Shop!

Have fun, enjoy National Secondhand Wardrobe Day, but don’t limit yourselves, and when you come home, use the response section below to tell about your purchase or record your story!

Pug w SunglassesMy favorite unit I ever did with my students was a Summer Vacation Poetry unit. I liked that it was different from the usual “write an essay about your summer vacation,” that it allowed us to play around with poetry, and that working with poetry is a great way to build word choice.

The length of time it ran varied from year to year, depending on how many types of poetry I want the students to try, and the final product was a hand-crafted book of poems.


To begin the unit, I had kids get out pen and paper and brainstorm the things they enjoyed doing during their summer. (I usually timed this: 1-3 minutes depending on the needs of the class.)

Next, I had them circle three that they are most interested in writing about.


The next time we worked, I asked the students to choose one item from the three circled on their list around which to focus their poetry.

I also introduce the various techniques of poetry. I used this handout for the lesson.

Summer Techniques of Poetry Notetaking Guide

At the end of the lesson, I discuss how these can also be used for mood and emphasis in prose writing.


At a rate of two forms a day, I introduced different forms for poetry and require the students to write a poem using at least one of them relating to their chosen summer activity.

Some of the forms I’ve used over the years are:

  • Haiku
  • Tanka
  • Acrostic (using the name of the destination or activity)
  • Diamante
  • Couplets
  • Quatrains
  • Free Verse
  • Concrete
  • Farewell Poem
  • List Poem
  • Letter/Post Card/Wish You Were Here Poem
  • A Sensory Poem (using at least 4 of the 5 senses to describe a particular object or moment

The number of options is tremendous!

For each form, I modeled a poem of my own from my summer vacation experience.

I did this as a writers workshop, and so during our writing time, while students are required to try one of the new forms, they were also welcome to try the other new one, one from a previous day, or revise their poems working in some of the techniques of poetry.


Finally, I asked the students to select 8 poems they wish to incorporate in their books. (Of course, they were always welcome to select more if they want to. This day is then spent selecting and revising each poem, focusing especially on word choice and the techniques of poetry.


On this day, I had students pair up to peer edit their selected poems.


With plenty of art materials on hand, I shared a book with the class, Making Books That Fly, fold, Wrap, Hide, Pop Up, Twist, and Turn by Gwen Kiehn, which has examples of a variety of ways to make their books. (You can likely find books like this in your school library and most assuredly online.)I encouraged them to consider a way that most interests them and welcome to use their own ideas as well.

I allowed a couple of class sessions for the students to make their poetry books


I instruct the students to write me a letting including the following criteria:

Paragraph 1

  • The strengths and weakness you see in your poetry
  • The title of your favorite poem and the reason it is your favorite

Paragraph 2

  • Explain your understanding of:
  • Types of poetry
  • Techniques of poetry
  • Cite examples from your own book.

Paragraph 3

  • An explanation of what was the easiest and the hardest part of writing your poetry
  • An explanation of how you helped yourself to overcome your challenges

In addition to the letter, I also ask them to staple together (and label) a copy of their pre-writes, drafts, and evidence of revision and editing.


In addition to scoring using the school’s standards for scoring writing (which count for 40% of the score.)

I also scored for:


  • Pre-writes (5)
  • Rough Drafts (5)
  • Evidence/Revisioning and editing (5)

The Book

  • Title (2)
  • Table of Contents (2)
  • Creativity (2)
  • Color (2)
  • Illustrations/Graphic Elements(2)


Your school or districts writing rubric = 40% final score

The Letter

  • Discussion of Strengths (4)
  • Discussion of Weaknesses (4)
  • Most Proud/Why (4)
  • Mastery of Types (3)
  • Mastery of Techniques (3)
  • Conventions (2)
  • Examples Cited (3)
  • Discussion of what was Easiest (4)
  • Discussion of what was Hardest (4)
  • How you handled the challenges

The total of points will come out to x/100. You can then apply the percentage to whatever you want this unit to be worth.


First of all this unit was fun. (A great way to start the year.)

Second, each poetry book was totally unique to each student. (A great way to begin to get to know your class.)

Third, word choice skills are highlighted as well as the rhetorical skills in the techniques of poetry that students can draw on in their writing throughout the year.

Fourth,the  writing process has been established and practiced.

Fifth, the results were a delight to read.

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