Search Results for: writing from nature

Puff Ball — Image from Writing From Nature for Friday challenge


This puff ball was sitting on a bed of moss. This week’s Photo Friday challenge is brown. I loved the contrasting colors, shapes and textures. I took this in Boyds Mills, Pennsylvania, during the Writing From Nature workshop. To learn more, click on the posts leading up to this one.

Writing From Nature – Day 1


Spring isn’t as far along up here in Boyds Mills, Penn., as it is at home in Mississippi. The day dawned sunny, though, and I was able to get by with wool slacks and a wool sweater. This collection of rusting implements sits atop a rock outside my cabin.


Some leaves are budding out on hedges outside my cabin. I am working on my tiny laptop and I don’t have access to my Photoshop Lightroom. I am having some trouble cropping using Gimp, an open source program. You’ll see that in the photo to the right I could have cropped off the top. I am considering the best way to do workflow when I have on-the-road tools. I’m sure I’ll learn a lot in the next few days about how to do this best.

This morning, before the workshop began officially, I sat down with Tim Gilner, the art director at Boyds Mills Press, and Andy Boyles, the science editor. We talked about trim size and design of my next book. It was nice to be in the same room talking about the issues in real time.

I’m Joining Writing From Nature Faculty


I’ve been asked to be an adjunct faculty member at the 2009 Writing From Nature workshop put on by the Highlights Foundation in Boyds Mills, Pennsylvania. I will be teaching photography and talking about the creative process behind Wolfsnail: A Backyard Predator. It will be held April 22-26. I attended the same workshop two years ago and I learned a lot. When I sent my editor the Wolfsnail revision about two months after the workshop (essentially a total re-write with just about all new pictures), he declared it “light years ahead of where we were.”


Just like two years ago, Mark Baldwin, education director at the Roger Tory Peterson Institute, will lead the workshop. I detailed some of what I learned about nature journaling here. You can read details about this year’s workshop (including information about the wonderful site) here.

I’ve included photographs I took during the 2007 workshop in this post. You can see an album of photographs from April 2007 here.

Writing From Nature photos

I got word that the photographs I took at the Writing From Nature workshop have been posted in a gallery on the Highlights Foundation website. Seeing the photographs there in the gallery brought back memories of an extraordinary few days.

I am still using some of the tools that I learned from Andy Boyles, Mark Baldwin, Lindsay Barrett George, Solon Morse, and Ed Wesely.

Writing and Illustrating for Kids (WIK ’10)

I’m just back from the annual fall conference of the writing organization that helped me become an author: the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. It was fun to see my twice-a-year friends, many of whom I’ve watched go from unpublished to published and published to award-winning.

growing patterns cover This was my first SCBWI-Southern Breeze conference since Growing Patterns: Fibonacci Numbers in Nature came out. There’s nothing quite like sharing the real thing with colleagues who have been hearing about it since it was just the kernel of an idea. My colleagues are also good customers. Thanks!

It was my pleasure to serve as an “angel” for Kerry Martin, a senior designer at Clarion Books. This means I tried to be helpful to her while she navigated her responsibilities, which included four 45-minute sessions, a panel discussion, formal portfolio critiques for 5 illustrators, and an informal review of all illustrator portfolios. It was fun getting to know Kerry, a Rhode Island native and graduate of Parsons The New School for Design. We talked about a book she’s working on right now that sounds interesting: First Garden by Robbin Gourley. You can read about it and other forthcoming titles from Clarion Books here. Gourley recently joined my publisher, Boyds Mills Press, as art director.

I attended sessions by Jamie Weiss Chilton, an agent with Andrea Brown Literary Agency; Stacey Barney, an editor at Penguin/Putnam; Nathaniel Lachenmeyer, author of The Origami Master and many other books; Kate Sullivan, an assistant editor at Poppy & Little Brown Books.

I learned new things from each of them. Most notably, I learned about Lachenmeyer’s unique approach to writing picture book texts. He writes 14 paragraphs, limits his word counts to between 300 and 500, and includes up to 11 or 12 illustrator notes. He contends that giving yourself permission to include illustrator notes allows you to trim the actual text mercilessly. He asked: why would the author give up one of the most important tools (visual direction) in the picture book creator’s toolbox? Makes sense to me.

Stacey Barney, who edited Irene Latham’s Leaving Gee’s Bend, walked us through the process of reading critically and reminded us that we’d better know our competition well. The two books she highlighted were the Newberry Award-winning When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead and Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco Stork.

Jamie Weiss Chilton

Jamie Weiss Chilton during our critique discussion. Photo By Heather Kolich.

Jamie Weiss Chilton talked about characters and helped us understand why publishers are looking for character-driven picture books, what “character-driven” means, and how it can lead to lucrative brands. Her examples included Fancy Nancy and Every Cowgirl Needs a Horse. I was really lucky to have my formal critique with Jamie. She and I spent a delightful 15 minutes or so talking my work-in-progress. I appreciated her suggestions and I was able to fill her in on the story’s origins and I shared some photographs that show the story’s setting. I will be getting back to work within the week. Thanks, Jamie! (Hester Bass, author of The Secret World of Walter Anderson, also provided some very good insight into some of the manuscript’s weaknesses.)

Jo Kittinger

Jo S. Kittinger

Another fun thing in a really packed day and a half was interviewing two of my author friends about their newly-released titles from Boyds Mills Press. Jo  S. Kittinger and I talked about her Rosa’s Bus and Vicky Alvear Shecter discussed Cleopatra Rules!. Look for interviews on the blog in the coming weeks. I think you’ll enjoy learning more about these artists and their books.

Wanda Vaughn

Wanda Vaughn

Here are some other wrap-ups from other attendees:
Cathy C. Hall‘s is here.
Vicky Alvear Shecter‘s is here.

For some reason I took so many fewer photographs than I usually do at a conference like this. Here are a few from a gathering of the many volunteers whose hard work make conferences like WIK possible. This is Wanda Vaughn, who always shares her love of baking and gift for hospitality by providing treats for us all day.

Darcy Pattison

Darcy Pattison, keynote speaker, and Claudia Pearson, author

TK Read

TK Read, writer, and Susan Spain, author

Julie Owen

Julie Owen, writer

Growing Patterns: Fibonacci Numbers in Nature is Published!

Today is the official publication date for Growing Patterns: Fibonacci Numbers in Nature (Boyds Mills Press). To celebrate publication, I have lined up a virtual book tour. Today I am appearing on the blog of a new friend, Joseph D’Agnese. By a very happy coincidence, he has a picture book biography coming out later this month about Fibonacci, the man himself. It’s called Blockhead: The Life of Fibonacci (published by Henry Holt). I can’t wait to see the book. I’ll have an interview with Joe in a few weeks.

Here’s the rest of the tour shedule:

Tuesday, March 2, at Live. Love. Explore., written by Irene Latham. (Video spot.)

Wednesday, March 3, at Elizabeth O. Dulemba‘s blog. (Story behind the book.)

Thursday, March 4, at My Log Cabin Life, written by Julie Owen. (Photography.)

Friday, March 5, at Dori Reads, written by Doraine Bennett.

On Saturday, March 6, come back here for my exclusive video interview with Richard Campbell, the other half of this creative team. We’d also love to see you in the flesh at our book signing at Lemuria at 10 a.m.

If you are a regular reader, you know I’ve already done interviews at Writing Snacks and Teaching Authors. I hope you’ll follow my tour.

Writing Marketing Materials

Today my editor wrote to suggest I draft a press release. He and I are collaborating on the marketing plan for Growing Patterns: Fibonacci Numbers in Nature. Such is the nature of publishing with a small publishing company. (Actually, I think it is the nature of publishing, period.) We all have to pitch in and help with everything that needs to be done. A few weeks ago, I sent in a list of names to add to Boyds Mills‘ master list of reviewers, librarians, teachers, science magazines, etc., who will get an advance copy of Growing Patterns. Among them were librarians and bloggers I have met or followed during my nearly two years as a published author. I looked at each blog carefully to determine the individual blogger’s policy for submitting books for review. In some cases, reviewers want to read about a book and request a copy if interested. So, I started the press release.

The last time I wrote a press release for a book, the target audience was local media outlets at the time of Wolfsnail‘s launch at a local bookstore. I had to convince general interest publications to run a story or blurb about a local woman becoming a published author. My charge this time was different. In the first place, I was writing for specialists. Folks in the Kidlitosphere are discerning readers of children’s books. They stay abreast of what’s being published and they know what they’d like to have in their libraries, classrooms, and homes.

As I stared at the blank screen, I was temporarily stymied. How could I describe this 811-word book in a few sentences? Sometimes, when you’ve lived with something so intimately for so long, you believe you can’t find one more original thing to say. Then I remembered that I am the only person (with the possible exception of my husband and my editor) who has been living and breathing this book. To others, it will be new. This freed me to write about why I think this book will be a good addition to any (and every) library in homes and schools and cities and towns. I want kids (of all ages) to open this book, to count flower petals, to add numbers, to discover a pattern, to trace spiral shapes, and to search out examples of Fibonacci numbers in their own neighborhoods.

In a way, I was writing a review of my own book. It felt strange. I am curious about how other writers handle the marketing responsibilities that come their way.

Picture Books from Nature


We wrote picture books today! Lindsay Barrett George, author and illustrator of many wonderful nature books, walked us through the process of making a picture book. We worked in groups to create maps of a habitat; each of us adopted an animal that is found in that habitat and wrote a book about a day in the life of that animal. I ended up being a caddisfly larvae and I got eaten by a frog. I found this exercise very illuminating two years ago; in fact, it really helped me with the pacing of Wolfsnail: A Backyard Predator. This exercise really brings home the fact that writing a manuscript is a very different thing from creating a page-turning art object. Lindsay taught me that as an author/illustrator, I actually had three jobs: writer, illustrator, and designer.




Writing for Readers


I have been planning this post for some time, but several things (scanner down, computer down) conspired to keep it from going up until now. And I’m glad. Earlier today, I learned that Wolfsnail: A Backyard Predator had been named a Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor Book by the American Library Association. The award recognizes authors and illustrators of beginning readers “for their literary and artistic achievements that demonstrate creativity and imagination to engage children in reading.” Here’s the committee’s description of Wolfsnail: “An exciting nonfiction look at the carnivorous wolfsnail trapping and devouring its victim, this science book uses bold block type against a white background to enhance the ease of reading. The magnified, detailed photographs and playful, informative text will amaze and attract readers.”


The above picture shows a young reader, named Jackson S., who read Wolfsnail in the first months after it was published. He sent me my first (and only) fan letter. I will quote from it here, keeping his invented spellings:  “I like your book because the plot helps me learn about woulfsnails in a fun way! Are you going to write any more books? Maybe you could write about spiders or lizards. I would prefer lizards.” He also told me about the wolfsnail he and his older brother found in their yard. “I let go my wolfsnail because I was afraid it was goining to die. It ate about one snail evre two days. I got its food off our brick wall! It staid in its shell about an hour and then it would come out and search for food. We named it wolfy!”


I telephoned my editor, Andy Boyles, when I heard the award news and he suggested one of the reasons I won was the fact that I take children seriously. I do. The chair of the Geisel committee, Joan Atkinson, told me the panel liked the fact that the book had a story arc, that it included some suspense. Though some of the language seemed at first glance a little more advanced than in your typical beginning reader (“toothy tongue”), it was appropriate to the story and well supported by the photographs. The above photograph shows me signing my book for a beginning reader who at age four negotiated “toothy tongue” and the rest of the text just fine. (This photo was taken at the 2008 Children’s Book Festival in Hattiesburg. See previous post.) I am so glad these kids are diving into books like Wolfsnail and discovering the wonderful world of reading and the joys of nature.

Update I visited St. Therese Catholic School in the fall and the librarian wrote a tribute post today. I feel so honored.

Nature Journaling

This is the first in a series of posts describing tools I have found helpful in my writing. I learned about nature journaling at the 2007 Writing From Nature Founders Workshop offered by the Highlights Foundation. While I have been taking photographs and doing darkroom work since I was a teenager, I never considered myself someone who could draw. I learned from our workshop leader, Mark Baldwin, education director at the Roger Tory Peterson Insitute, that there are good reasons to do it anyway. The process of drawing enlists parts of the brain that writing doesn’t. Drawing helped me see things I wouldn’t have noticed otherwise and it led to questions, which is always a good thing for nonfiction writers. Here is a sketch from the journal I kept during the workshop and a photograph of the same subject. To read the full text of an article I wrote describing nature journaling techniques, click here.