My Mission Statement

I write to serve, to unite, to educate. I write to share literature and flesh out ideas that may be of interest to others. I write to document an emotion, experience, or a blip in time. My mission is to write in such a way that the reader is reminded that we can find humor in all situations. It's one of the great blessings of life.


Monday, July 21, 2014

Concluding Intensive at Hamline MFAC

As I sit here at the gate at MSP airport, I recall my plan to blog daily.  Bwa ha ha ha.  They don’t call it “Intensive” for nothing.  No time for blogging!  With homework and late nights and rare moments to call home (when family was often already asleep due to our late nights and the time difference), I did not blog as planned.  I am sorry.  Especially to you, Jody, who specifically requested it.  However, I am going to send you my reflections on each lecture that I had to turn in.  They are short and sweet, but if you find anything interesting, I have many more notes.

I bought a 3 subject composition book for the Intensive, and yesterday I filled the last page and had to go onto the cover.  So it was definitely time to go home.  So, yes, I took at least 120 pages of notes!!!   Lots of cheeky young grad students take notes right on their computer, but I still have to do it by hand.  I feel like I process it so much better that way.  So when I get home, I will have to file it all under the correct speaker, workshop, etc., so I can refer to them all semester and likely, future semesters, as well.  

This semester is my critical thesis semester. In the MFAC program, students technically have two theses.  One is critical and one is creative.  My creative thesis will be my LAST semester, and that will comprise the publishable body of work I have completed while in the program.   Of course, we continue to work on our creative while working on the critical, but the critical demands a lot of time and energy.  It has two parts, a paper, of course, and a presentation.  I look forward to it because I am interested in my topic, but I REALLY look forward to finishing it, so I can go full speed ahead on my creative.  I am working with the brilliant and kind Claire Rudolf Murphy (yes, go read her books), so I will forge ahead with more nonfiction manuscripts.

This intensive was the most INTENSE I’ve experienced.  We had frequent homework which definitely increased the learning curve, but it also made for late nights and constant scrambling for printer access (not to mention issues with internet being down sometimes).  I also came in with NO critical thesis idea, and no idea what kind of creative I would work on this semester.  Both huge decisions I had to make during the course of this intensive.  Finally, our lunches were much shorter than last summer (when we had a full hour or more, so I took a quick nap during lunch daily, which made SUCH a difference in my focus in afternoon sessions—this year, I relied more heavily on coffee and M&Ms).  

The BOYS OF SUMMER, Gary, Gene, and Ron, don’t come to the winter residencies, so it’s always such a treat to see them at the summer ones.  I am such a fan of all three of these guys, their work, and their amazing teaching abilities.  I worked with Jane Resh Thomas my first semester, and she had been a little under the weather health-wise.  She looked FABULOUS this residency, she seemed healthy and in great spirits.  Her keynote was a highlight, as always, but I was so grateful to see her so upbeat and involved.  I was also happy to see JACKIE BRIGGS MARTIN, my brilliant mentor from last semester (go read all her books, too), and give her a big hug for sticking with me.  

I was a ‘buddy’ for two incoming students.  This program is SO amazing and life-changing, it is fun to see the new students change over the course of the week.  They are (rightfully) frightened and overwhelmed the first few days, but they quickly become enmeshed in the fabric of the program.  I think we all feel like we’ve found our ‘tribe’ when we come here, and we unapologetically talk nonstop about books and writing and other things that (it seems like) no one else in the world wants to talk to us about.  We study and learn and discuss and debate at such a fever pitch that my brain is as exhausted as my body, but in a wonderful way.   I feel so blessed to have this opportunity.  Our entire faculty, not just the ones I’ve mentioned, hangs WITH us for the week.  Though their knowledge and experience is vast, they model the skills and enthusiasm of lifelong learners.  Still, they are kind, compassionate, patient and interested in our work, our process, and our struggles.  I think we ALL just want to be like THEM.  

Our theme for this residency was POV.  The breadth and depth of this topic astounded me daily and boggled my brain!  I need to go home and continue my study, and it flows well into my critical thesis topic.  I also want to go back to all my old manuscripts and evaluate my use of POV and the countless other things we discussed this session.  

I missed my family like crazy, especially since it’s summer and the children are out of school, but they seem to have survived quite well without me.  My husband is a ROCK STAR to keep that train going in my absence.  


Time to board.  More later! 

Concluding Intensive at Hamline MFAC

As I sit here at the gate at MSP airport, I recall my plan to blog daily.  Bwa ha ha ha.  They don’t call it “Intensive” for nothing.  No time for blogging!  With homework and late nights and rare moments to call home (when family was often already asleep due to our late nights and the time difference), I did not blog as planned.  I am sorry.  Especially to you, Jody, who specifically requested it.  However, I am going to send you my reflections on each lecture that I had to turn in.  They are short and sweet, but if you find anything interesting, I have many more notes.

I bought a 3 subject composition book for the Intensive, and yesterday I filled the last page and had to go onto the cover.  So it was definitely time to go home.  So, yes, I took at least 120 pages of notes!!!   Lots of cheeky young grad students take notes right on their computer, but I still have to do it by hand.  I feel like I process it so much better that way.  So when I get home, I will have to file it all under the correct speaker, workshop, etc., so I can refer to them all semester and likely, future semesters, as well.  

This semester is my critical thesis semester. In the MFAC program, students technically have two theses.  One is critical and one is creative.  My creative thesis will be my LAST semester, and that will comprise the publishable body of work I have completed while in the program.   Of course, we continue to work on our creative while working on the critical, but the critical demands a lot of time and energy.  It has two parts, a paper, of course, and a presentation.  I look forward to it because I am interested in my topic, but I REALLY look forward to finishing it, so I can go full speed ahead on my creative.  I am working with the brilliant and kind Claire Rudolf Murphy (yes, go read her books), so I will forge ahead with more nonfiction manuscripts.

This intensive was the most INTENSE I’ve experienced.  We had frequent homework which definitely increased the learning curve, but it also made for late nights and constant scrambling for printer access (not to mention issues with internet being down sometimes).  I also came in with NO critical thesis idea, and no idea what kind of creative I would work on this semester.  Both huge decisions I had to make during the course of this intensive.  Finally, our lunches were much shorter than last summer (when we had a full hour or more, so I took a quick nap during lunch daily, which made SUCH a difference in my focus in afternoon sessions—this year, I relied more heavily on coffee and M&Ms).  

The BOYS OF SUMMER, Gary, Gene, and Ron, don’t come to the winter residencies, so it’s always such a treat to see them at the summer ones.  I am such a fan of all three of these guys, their work, and their amazing teaching abilities.  I worked with Jane Resh Thomas my first semester, and she had been a little under the weather health-wise.  She looked FABULOUS this residency, she seemed healthy and in great spirits.  Her keynote was a highlight, as always, but I was so grateful to see her so upbeat and involved.  I was also happy to see JACKIE BRIGGS MARTIN, my brilliant mentor from last semester (go read all her books, too), and give her a big hug for sticking with me.  

I was a ‘buddy’ for two incoming students.  This program is SO amazing and life-changing, it is fun to see the new students change over the course of the week.  They are (rightfully) frightened and overwhelmed the first few days, but they quickly become enmeshed in the fabric of the program.  I think we all feel like we’ve found our ‘tribe’ when we come here, and we unapologetically talk nonstop about books and writing and other things that (it seems like) no one else in the world wants to talk to us about.  We study and learn and discuss and debate at such a fever pitch that my brain is as exhausted as my body, but in a wonderful way.   I feel so blessed to have this opportunity.  Our entire faculty, not just the ones I’ve mentioned, hangs WITH us for the week.  Though their knowledge and experience is vast, they model the skills and enthusiasm of lifelong learners.  Still, they are kind, compassionate, patient and interested in our work, our process, and our struggles.  I think we ALL just want to be like THEM.  

Our theme for this residency was POV.  The breadth and depth of this topic astounded me daily and boggled my brain!  I need to go home and continue my study, and it flows well into my critical thesis topic.  I also want to go back to all my old manuscripts and evaluate my use of POV and the countless other things we discussed this session.  

I missed my family like crazy, especially since it’s summer and the children are out of school, but they seem to have survived quite well without me.  My husband is a ROCK STAR to keep that train going in my absence.  


Time to board.  More later! 

Friday, July 11, 2014

Friday, July 11th at Hamline Intensive for MFAC

After a nice drenching walk in the rain, I had a wonderful breakfast with a couple of fellow students and professors Ron Koertge and Gary Schmidt, two brilliant writers in their own right.  I gushed a little (COALTOWN JESUS was fabulous, and OKAY FOR NOW made this blog last year as a YA favorite novel), of course.

We were welcomed back.  Today is the first day EVERYONE is here.  Yesterday, it was only new students and mentors/buddies.  The newbies looked a little less frightened today, and all the returning students hugged and cried and rejoiced at being together again.

I really need to commit to a critical thesis topic.  I have been convinced of my topic many times, but then I change my mind.  I just need to COMMIT.  So anyway, we had a helpful meeting today to talk about that very topic.  The faculty, always generous, offered to help read our proposals, especially Ron and Marsha Chall.  The fourth semester students had many good suggestions for us about our upcoming semester which is focused on our critical essay.  It culminates with a presentation of our findings at the January intensive.

The clever, cat-loving Anne Ursu introduced the theme of our intensive, Point of View.  She spoke for about an hour about the different points-of-view, although she didn't address all 26.  (thankfully)  I loved that she said a good point of view "keeps the reader under the spell of the story without breaking the spell."  She reminded us that things look different from different vantage points, so we should ask the following questions:  Who is speaking?  Whose eyes are seeing?  Whose thoughts do the reader access?  What distance is the narrator from the action?

She used excellent examples from many, many books (and now I have about ten new books I want to read), and I took about eight pages of very insightful notes and thoughts on POV.

Then, I moved on to a workshop on the first person POV by Swati Avasthi.  Swati is a gifted instructor.  I could listen to her teach all day long and be a WAY better writer for it.  She required us to read CODE NAME VERITY prior to this class, so we'd be prepared to use this novel for discussion on this topic.    I can't wait for this class to meet again (well, okay, I need to do my homework first....), but I felt like the instruction was really helpful and informative for me.

We had a class meeting and then another meeting, I can't remember what it was.  Then, we had a dinner and social to mingle with everyone including the returning alums.  (38 of them this week-end!)   Then, we returned to hear readings from Ron Koertge, Christine Hepperman, Phyllis Root, Laura Ruby, and Marsha Qually.  Every reading was outstanding and entertaining.  Being surrounded by all this talent is humbling and inspiring.   This faculty is so talented and generous in sharing their gifts with us.


Now, I am exhausted.  I might have slept seven hours total over the past two nights.  Tonight, I must rest.  Busy day tomorrow with first day of workshops.

Big love to everyone at home.  Big kisses to all.  Thanks for the thoughts and prayers and encouragement.  I feel so blessed to be here.


Thursday, July 10, 2014

Residency #3 in the Hamline University MFAC program

So...I've been a slogger lately due to my commitment to this program.  I began my Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing for Children a year ago this week, and the coursework has kept me plenty busy!  So busy, in fact, that my blog was a casualty.  I can't promise to return to regular blogging, but I am going to blog about my residency experience the next couple of weeks.  In a low-residency program, the student (ahem, me) attends an 'intensive' every semester and then completes additional work throughout the semester from home.   Think of a semester's worth of lectures, instruction, guest speakers, and workshops all crammed into a little less than two weeks.  Long days and short nights but filled with glorious discovery.

The first residency, I didn't have a clue what to expect.  I didn't know anyone in my class or anyone who had completed this program (although I knew someone in the program).  I hadn't been in a dorm in a VERY long time.  Also, I hadn't planned to rent a car or anything because the schedule was so rigorous.   I mailed bedding, mattress pad, pillows, etc. to MN.

During the winter residency, my second, it was very, very cold (as you can imagine), and we live in a hotel because there are regular students in the dorms that time of year.  I didn't get a car because I was uncomfortable driving in the weather.

So here I am at my third residency.  I flew in last night after numerous delays due to thunderstorms.  I have two semesters under my belt, lots of manuscripts cooking, and I KNOW how awesome residency is, so I look forward to it like crazy.  It is a major deal for me to leave my house with four kids for two weeks, so by the time I get here, I am already exhausted.  But no matter, I am with my people.

And I rented a car.  A cheeky pick-up truck.  (not what I reserved, of course, see the Seinfeld episode about a rental car 'reservation', but I love it.)  Who would have thought I'd have to leave NC to drive a pick-up truck?  Anyway, this morning, I set out in my awesome truck to get things I need locally instead of shipping them, then I registered, went to my dorm, and unloaded the truck.  (Yes, I put things in the back--it's called a 'bed', you know...a nice man at Target corrected me this morning.  Of course, I KNEW that in my brain, but the new truck vernacular hasn't reached my lips yet.)

So here I am in my dorm room.  At my desk.  Looking out at campus.  I always set 'residency goals' for myself, set up a work schedule (I like to get up and write in the morning before classes begin), and go over the course schedule.  I am hyper as a kid at Christmas.  I just can't wait to tackle all these exciting topics and learn to be be BETTER at what I do.

 My first event today is to meet the new students.  I am a mentor/buddy for two of them, and I have corresponded with them prior to today.  I look forward to meeting them in person.  I am always inspired by the people in this program from all over the country, all walks of life, all kinds of 'day jobs', all levels of publishing credits, and all ages.  (Yes, I am one of the oldest.)

So that's all for now.  Not much to report yet since we haven't begun, but I will have more for you later!

Also, Grandma Koppelman is still in the hospital.  I hope to see her tonight or tomorrow.  It is about 40 minutes to her house from here.






Thursday, May 22, 2014

Summertime is for Reading!

I have been working hard on my Master of Fine Arts in Children's Literature this year, so I haven't been with you all as much as usual.  HOWEVER, now that I have finished my required annotated reading list for my program, I can resume reading all the great new books AND share them with you.

My oldest daughter graduated from high school last week (I know, GASP!) and my two middles have exams this week, and my youngest has a bit more, but there's no denying it--summer is finally upon us!

For some of us, summer reading will be a catch up.  So I will tell you a few books that you may have missed during your busy winter.

Also, a lot of terrific NEW books come out this time of year, so I will include a few of those books, as well.

The most important thing to know about this list:  you don't want to miss any of these books.

As Mary Poppins would say, "One, two, three and away we go..."


First, the picture books...

I'm going to talk about two slightly different books.  These books almost create new genres in their unique take on the picture book.  As a result, they are both not without criticism.  But here's the thing, KIDS LOVE THEM.  (And adults, too, if they're totally honest.  I mean, they're hilarious.)  Summer is the time to try new things and let children fall in love with reading by reading WHAT THEY LIKE.

BATTLE BUNNY by Mac Barnett and Jon Scieszka is hilarious.  Your grandmother will hate it.  It's somewhat controversial with its violence and general rebellious air of book destruction, but your children are guaranteed to love it.  Even my thirteen-year-old loved it.  Do you have a non reading grandson?  This book is for him.  No kidding.

PRESIDENT TAFT IS STUCK IN THE BATH by Mac Barnett and Chris Van Dusen is another hilarious, slightly, um, nontraditional take on the presidential biography.  It focuses on the story of President Taft getting stuck in the White House bathtub, a part of history I always found amusing.  Mac Barnett delivers another book that will convert non-readers everywhere.  This book is funny, irreverent, but the back pages pack a nice historic punch.



Next, the MG books...

THE REAL BOY by Anne Ursu is a beautifully written, intriguing fantasy.  Middle Grade.  I highly recommend it as a family read aloud.  Lots of interesting things to discuss, questions to puzzle, and characters to love.

NEWSGIRL by Liza Ketchum is a unique MG historical fiction about the hordes of Americans who moved west during the Gold Rush years.  It is a fascinating glimpse into the lives and communities of these brave pioneers who moved west, built towns from scratch, and how the young people played a critical role.  Another great family read aloud.

WHAT THE MOON SAID by Gayle Rosengren is another terrific MG read aloud.  As you can tell, I'm a big fan of family read alouds, especially in the summer.  ALL AGES can benefit from them, and they provide great talking points for family dinners.  I have to say, BIG PROPS to Gayle Rosengren for the title.  We have a mutual friend on Facebook, and when her friend congratulated her on her new book, WHAT THE MOON SAID, I just couldn't stand it.  I HAD to know what the moon said.

NAVIGATING EARLY by Clare Vanderpool.  This book was my pick for the Newbery this year.   It's probably a bit long for a read aloud, but as a private read, it's not long enough!  It's a terrific adventure story with sad bits probably more suited for older MG.

Now on to YA...

If you haven't yet read THIN SPACE by Jody Casella, you must.  It's that simple.  It came out last September, but don't miss it.  (Then after you finish it, call me to discuss!)  Great book club pick because it stimulates so much discussion.  Also, a great pick for a parent and teen to read together (probably not out loud, too long, but individually) and discuss.  Just make sure you have a NO SPOILER rule.

Also, if you haven't read BOXERS AND SAINTS by the brilliant Gene Luen Yang, you MUST.  Yes, it is a graphic novel (kind of like a big, long comic book) about the Boxer Rebellion.  But it is so much more.  This book is a must-read for everyone.  The Chinese history is fascinating as seen from the perspective of a young boy.  Lovely, brilliant, entertaining, touching.

BEING HENRY DAVID by Cal Armistead is one of those YA books that incorporates great classic literature.  In this situation, our protagonist channels Henry David Thoreau to solve his pretty big problem.  You will fall in love with the main character AND HDT, but it is a fascinating, contemporary story, as well.  Teens will enjoy the story, no matter how much he or she knows about HDT, but I guarantee more interest when he comes up in English class this year.  (a great perk, but it doesn't feel forced at all)

SALVAGE THE BONES by Jesmyn Ward.  Somehow I just got around to reading this National Book Award winner, and it is a zinger.  The protagonist is a young teen-ager, but the subject matter is adult in many ways.  However, it is an excellent example of a book that will promote compassion and understanding of different cultural groups.  It may very well be the most important book of its kind in contemporary literature.  It is set in a poor, rural region of Louisiana leading up to and at the time of Hurricane Katrina.  The hurricane is one part of the story, not the focus, but a great context.  I loved this book, but it's heavy duty.

WE WERE LIARS by E. Lockhart is a fabulous new release.  It just came out last week, and it came out with a big.  I predict big awards, big sales, and a big buzz on this one.  It is a YA novel set mostly at a family summer home in New England.  Party family drama, part mystery, part love story, and more.  You MUST read it, and then call me to discuss.  WOW.

So now go hit the books!  Check the tide, place your chair accordingly, take a deep, salty breath, and enjoy a good summer read. Then, don't forget to SHARE!



Isabel by Donna Jones Koppelman

Isabel by Donna Jones Koppelman

Major Bear at the Grove Park Inn by Donna Jones Koppelman

Major Bear at the Grove Park Inn by Donna Jones Koppelman