Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Blogging Efficiently--A Follow-up

Following up my post on January 31, I received some thoughtful commentary and helplful suggestions about blogging efficiently, including one from a group blog for which posting duties are shared. And as promised, here are the results of my unscientific "survey".

First, the consensus seems to be the obvious: If you get to the bus stop early so you don't have to run to catch a bus that is pulling away, you will likely have a more enjoyable (shall we say more efficient) bus riding experience. Staying ahead of your posts by drafting them---perhaps several of them---in advance makes blogging life much easier. And it also offer the opportunity to be somewhat more reflective about a particular topic instead of being in a rush to write something, anything, just to fill space.

Here are three examples of the stay ahead of the game approach to blogging. If you have a few minutes, be sure to drop by their blogs for a look.

Myra Garces-Bacsal over at the Gathering Books blog. Myra points out that drafting blogs in advance is the only way she and her partners can keep up. "I suppose it helps that there are three of us running Gathering Books.... It's great that we have a lovely system going and that we never run out of creative ideas to try out on the blog." Having an otherwise hectic work schedule demands finding efficient solutions to something as time intensive as blogging or writing of almost any kind can be.

Myra and her partners (Fats and Iphegene) have been blogging for over 18 months. They rotate the blog posting duties, selecting from a stockpile of drafted posts. "...what (has) worked best for me is to draft, write and schedule my posts during the weekend (as much as four or five blogposts) - and kind of spread them out over the next few days (so we have something like 10-14 days of blog posts in advance)." On the commenting side, Myra does her blog visiting during the week and only spends a dedicated amount of time--no more than an hour in one sitting--to read and leave comments.

Likewise, for Blessy Mathew at Reflecting Runes, following a blogging schedule is important. "Since I started my blog 9 months ago, I've strived for consistency...posting and blogging on Mon, Wed, and Fri. This allows me enough days to work on my own writing projects." Blessy says for anyone who leaves a comment on her blog, she feels it's important to respond in kind. "My motto: if someone takes the time to visit and comment on my blog, then I should do the same. It does take time out of my day, but that's the goal of building an audience/readership."

Sylvia Liu at Sylvia Liu Land blog. Sylvia says she struggles with balancing writing and posting on the one hand and commenting on the blogs she visits on the hand. Although somewhat less systematic than Myra's team approach, Sylvia tries to stick to a set schedule. "On the blogging side, I start a lot of drafts of blog posts that are half-finished. I don't have a strict schedule but I like to post twice a week. So when it feels like it's time to post something, I'll go through my drafts and find one that seems right and I'll finish it up."

On the commenting side, Sylvia concedes that the only way she can keep from spending too much time in the blogosphere is to watch the clock. "Now I try to limit the times I'm just surfing and reading other blogs to specific times." So, time saved is essentially time not spent--a common theme among many efficient bloggers.

As for me, I have found myself increasingly sucked into the vortex of the blogosphere, wandering from one blog to the next until I've lost all feeling from the waist down. That can't be good. So, my three-part, take-away lesson is to

(1) celebrate drafts--capturing ideas to be polished later is often enough,

(2) limit the amount of "butt in seat" time in front of my own blog and

(3) spend no more than 30 minutes a day reading and commenting on other blog posts.

Of course, this is easier said than done. But I suppose with a little practice, I could get the hang of it. Whoe knows? Efficient blogging could be the result. With that in mind, I bid you farewell for today. I have a Klondike Derby winter camping event to get ready for.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Children's Writing: Where Do You Find Your Inspiration?

I've often been asked what got me started writing children's books. My short answer is grandchildren.

Generalizing from my own experience, it seems to me when grandchildren come along, they must make grandparents think, say and do things we never thought, said or did before. Or maybe, more accurately, no one ever paid much attention to us in our thinking, saying and doing. Then we come face to face with the world's best audience and our lot is cast.

Oh, sure, the seeds are often sewn when our children are born. Yes, many parents, too, are authors of child-inspired stories. After all, everything is brand new and babies may fall into a fit of giggling at the strangest faces and noises that parents sometimes stumble upon purely by accident. Who wouldn't feel compelled to take advantage of those brief moments of bliss during what seems like years of endless ... manic... sleepless... nights.

OK. So, that part only lasts for a few weeks or months. But at the time, let's say 3:00 a.m. midway through two weeks of collic or thrush or unexplained fever, it feels like years. If inspiration eludes you during those heady days and nights, worry not. Before you know it, your kids are bringing their kids home for baby sitting or sleep-overs or summer vacations. And now you have the time to collect all the bits and pieces of material just made for the writing of stories.

What do you use as grist for your writing mill? Are you a new parent, a grandparent, a teacher, a librarian, a coach, a pediatric nurse? Lots of possibilities for tale telling in the midst of all that life experience going on around you.

What's your inspiration? Inquiring authors want to know! Besides, the suspense is killing me....

Thursday, February 9, 2012

And The Liebster Goes To....

I am remiss, having let a whole week pass before posting on my blog about being selected by a fellow children's writer, CAROL BENDER as a recipient of The Liebster Blog Award.

I hope you will take a moment to zip on over to Carol's blog which is packed with good stuff. She is far more energetic than I when it comes to throwing light on the writing craft. Thanks so much, Carol, for this recognition. I am honored to be in the company of the other bloggers you have tapped.

Now, back to the award. So, here's the scoop: The word Liebster is German and the English translation is beloved, dear, dearest or love. Hey, we can all use a little of that, right? And today I am the recipient. Carol was somehow captivated by my blog and she has bestowed me with the honor of wearing the Liebster Crown.

According to the inscription on my notification, the Liebster Blog Award is given to lovable blogs with less than 200 followers (which would be mine), as a way to recognize the blog's worthiness and drive more readers to it with the goal of increasing the number of blog "Followers". So, to those excellent followers I now have and to all future followers, thank you for your vote of confidence. I hope my blog will continue to be a frequent stopping point and resource for each of you.

But the honor doesn't stop there. As a recipient I have two primary duties, in addition to continuing to provide my followers with blog posts that will keep you coming back for more. First, I am supposed to list five tidbits about myself that others may not know. And, second, I am to share the Liebster love by selecting five other fledgling bloggers as recipients of the Liebster Award.

So, let's get right to it. First, the tidbits:

1. I am not particularly superstitious but, without fail, I have always eaten blackeyed peas on New Year's Day for good luck. It's a southern thing.

2. The longest distance I have run in a 24-hour period is 75 miles.

3. In 1983 I stayed overnight in the U.S. Ambassador's residence in Nouakchott, Mauritania.

4. I once stuck a pitch fork through my foot.

5. I was actually Captain Kirk for eight years during my Air Force career.

Now, I have the envelope containing the five candidates next in line for the crown. They are among the bloggers I currently follow in my wandering through the blogospere. Some of them participated in the Mother Reader BlogComment Challenge in Januaryr. All offer their own unique talents and gifts and a willingness to share their knowledge and experience as practitioners of the writing craft. Now, on with the bestowal ceremony:

1. Margot Finke is a rhymer extraordinaire with a limitless list of promotional tricks up her sleave. She takes networking to a whole new level.

2. Donna Martin is in a constant state of blogging motion over at On The Wright Track, providing probing posts that push the envelope and a few buttons from time to time.

3. Mary Kinser is a librarian in training, according to her blog. But if her exceptional reviews are any indication, she will no doubt pump life into any library where she ends up landing.

4. Rena J. Traxel is a poet and writer who will give you a chuckle and something to think about with her provocative and quirky reviews and commentary. And she's a serious shutter snapper.

5. Last, but certainly not least, is A Library School Dropout who writes very good reviews about books that often slip under the radar and need a bit of attention to get noticed.

I hope you will take the time to drop by these five blogs and follow them if you wish. And thanks, again, to Carol Bender for sharing the love.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Rhyme: The Good, The Bad And The Doggerel

Anyone who has written in rhyme or attempted to do so, has likely struggled with the question of whether it is good enough---meaning good enough that someone other than the writer (or writer's mom) will like it. Will it be deemed to have sufficient appeal amongst the reading public to actually be published?

(Note to self: interesting how "public" and "published" have the same root, isn't it?).

But is the goodness of a rhyme, in terms of its quality, solely in the eye of the beholder? Or are there particular inherent characteristics of a rhyme itself that can be classified or measured---that give it legs; make it last?

Right off the bat, let's set aside the publication issue of goodness versus rightness. An editor's or a publisher's decision to go with a rhyme may have more to do with "fit" rather than how well the rhyme is written. In a short piece for a magazine, the rhyme has to be relevant to the theme. It must also target the appropriate age and be true to the magazine's (or book publisher's) mission and vision. If a magazine's monthly theme is airplanes, a rhyme about the anticipated trajectory of bouncing beach balls probably won't cut it, no matter how good the rhyme is.

So, for sake of argument, we will assume the rhyme flows smoothly, has no obvious speed bumps in its rhythm and that it may even have a surprise twist to get a chuckle or even a sardonic eye roll out of the editor or publisher. But rhythm and wit in rhyme are different topics entirely. So, let's set them aside for the moment.

Instead this post is about "goodness" versus "badness" in rhyme solely in terms of rhyming words and line endings, AKA rhyme scheme. This will be mostly a structural discussion of perfect rhyme versus near rhyme and forced rhyme. And while we're at it, let's toss doggerel into the mix. In the words (pardon the pun) hammered home by one modern day bard (M.C. Hammer in "You Can't Touch This"), let's "break it down!"

GOOD (PERFECT) RHYME: So, what are editors and publishers looking for in rhyme? Before jumping in, I should qualify this answer as being based on my own personal experience with rejection---no, not that kind of rejection; I mean by editors and publishers---and the advice they have provided from time to time which has helped me improve my rhyming game.

Generally, good rhyme must... well... rhyme. And it must rhyme well. Near rhyme and forced rhyme are taboos which we will cover when we get to the "bad" stuff. Rhyme assumes that a set of rhyming words will follow a certain sequence. Rhyming sets come in pairs or fours or other usually equal numbers and can have either single (ray, say) or multiple (hatchet, ratchet) rhyming syllables. Remember the recent masculine/feminine topic? In either case, the endings of the rhyming lines should sound the same. And the pattern of how the endings are used in the verse should be consistent.

In a Shakespearean Sonnet, for example, the rhyming scheme is laid out in three quatrains (four-line stanzas) and an ending couplet: abab cdcd efef gg. Following that rhyming scheme, in each stanza the first and third lines rhyme, the second and fourth lines rhyme and the last two lines (the couplet) rhyme. In "Mary Had A Little Lamb", disregarding the repeated lines (little lamb, little lamb, little lamb), only the second and fourth lines in each stanza rhyme (_a_a _b_b _c_c _d_d). And for a four-line rhyming scheme, look no further than my rhyming picture book "There's A Spider In My Sink!" where all four lines in each stanza rhyme (aaaa bbbb cccc dddd, and so forth).

Regardless of the rhyming scheme you choose, just remember to keep your intended rhyming line endings sounding the same and your rhymes should be good except...

...when they're not.

BAD RHYME: Apart from problems with the content of a rhyme (flaky or shaky story, nonsensical verse that isn't otherwise interesting, funny or cute) and rhythm issues (cadence, meter, beat---to be covered in a later post), bad rhyme is usually judged based on the sound of the rhyming lines to the reader. Are the rhyming sets crisp, clear and tight. Or are they loosy-goosy, a technical term meaning not crisp, clear and tight?

Curiously, the definition of "near rhyme" isn't nearly as clear as you might think. According to Dr. Kip Wheeler at Carson-Newman College, near rhyme is only one among several terms used to describe what is called "inexact rhyme", which is "...created out of words with similar but not identical sounds." (

Adding to the confusion, according to Dr. Wheeler's website, imperfect rhyme imbeds near rhyme as one among many terms for this kind of rhyming badness: "approximate rhyme, pararhyme, slant rhyme, near rhyme, half rhyme, off rhyme, analyzed rhyme, or suspended rhyme." So, at best, nailing down the definition of near rhyme or imperfect rhyme is a little like trying to pin a tail on the donkey. Examples of such rhyming pairs which are close but not spot on: (gate-made, prevent-amend, immense-descends, insipid-intrepid).

Another example a rhyme out of kilter is one where the rhyming set consists of one word with the rhyme on a stressed syllable and the other on an unstressed syllable:

The footsteps echoed as if deep in a tomb,
While the boy lay asleep in his bedroom.

In virtually all these cases, if the reader (or editor or publisher) is expecting a certain euphonious "sound" to the rhyme, at best the verse is going to sound like the writer didn't really try very hard. At worst? It is a bit like nails on a chalk board even when reading silently. Regardless of what you call it, if a rhyme doesn't quite seem to rhyme, editors and publishers will likely not give it a second look. And if a reader actually finds it in print, the reaction is often, "how did this ever get published?"

Sometimes, such imprecisions may be forgivable if they aren't too egregious and they seem to fit well in the verse (tie a knot, pull it taught). If you are lucky, you might get away with one of those in an entire rhyme. So, it might be worth taking the risk. In the rhyming culture, there are stories that some poets have actually included a near rhyme in their best rhyming work if only to guarantee it's imperfection; a beauty mark, as it were.

But like almost any seasoning, a little goes a long way---and maybe even too far depending on how sensitive your taste is. The obvious exception, of course, is chili which can almost never be too hot for me. As I get older, my taste buds are apparently living on borrowed time. Come to think of it, that might explain the oddities in some of my rhymes.

Another measure of "badness" is forced rhyme, which occurs when the rhyming word endings sound exactly the same but the choice of the rhyming words is questionable. If you have to contrive a rhyming pair or really stretch the content just for the sake of the rhyme, it will probably land flat:

‘Twas a lickety, splickety day on the farm
In the middlest part of a summer so hotamus.
And under the giant, green huffinpuff tree,
Dylan last saw his fine Dinopotamus.

Although the verse does have an endearing quirkiness about it, a reader might wonder who in their right mind would come up with "so hotamus" to rhyme with "Dinopotamus". Of course, if you are the one person in the world who likes it, I will proudly admit to being the author. But for everyone else, I can confirm that until the forced rhyme (and probably a lot more) is fixed, this rhyme will thankfully remain unpublished.

At last we come to DOGGEREL. Briefly, doggerel is described in the Encyclopedia Britanica Online as "a low, or trivial, form of verse, loosely constructed and often irregular, but effective because of its simple mnemonic rhyme and loping metre. It appears in most literatures and societies as a useful form for comedy and satire. It is characteristic of children's game rhymes from ancient times to the present and of most nursery rhymes."

So, by definition, doggerel can be an effective verse form and is usually written in rhyme to capture its playfulness. Precision is not necessarily a consideration when it comes to doggerel. On the other hand, the presumed faults of this rhyming form can make it quite clever and engaging. Far from seriously poetic, it can nonetheless be highly popular and a load of fun. So, the value of rhyme considered to be doggerel--that is, its goodness or badness--truly is in the eye, and the ear, of the reader.

One of the best rejection letters I ever received was from the editor of a scholarly journal. The editor praised the rhythm of what he termed the "amusing doggerel" I had submitted. With that kind of critical acclaim, what else could I do but frame it.

Recapping: Near rhyme is basically trouble with the sound of the rhyming words. Forced rhyme is a rhyming set that just doesn't quite fit together---a square peg in a round hole. And doggerel is in a class by itself.

So, in a nutshell, this is one instance where near isn't dear, you don't want the force to be with you and doggerel may be bad to the bone in the very best way. OK. That was lame.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Guardian Angel Kids E-Zine Is Up!


CONTACT: Donna McDine, Editor-in-Chief, Guardian Angel Kids Ezine


Children’s Ezine Guardian Angel Kids: Math Concepts – February 2012 Issue

Teaching math concepts beyond traditional number problems opens up creative opportunities for both teachers and students. Different strategies include the use of poetry, stories, engaging articles, and activities that get the body and mind working in unison.

Come explore the world of "Math Concepts" in the Guardian Angel Kids February 2012 issue and learn how to tell time, add, subtract, and divide, rap to numbers through poetry, learn the history of pennies, how powerful zero truly is, and hands on math activities. Make it a family learning experience and fun will surely be had by one and all.

Letter from the EDITOR-IN-CHIEF: Donna M. McDine

Featured BookS:

Learn to Count 1-10 flip book by Eugene Ruble

Sparkie: A Star Afraid of the Dark book video by Susann Batson

Children’S poetry, SHORT STORIES, and articleS:

“Can You Tell Time?” quiz by Marion Tickner – explores the different timepieces before the technology explosion.

“How Many Are Half?” poetry by Donna J. Shepherd – Grandma’s delicious chocolate chip cookie treat and how the cookies are shared.

“Numbers Rap,” poetry by Bill Kirk – the wonder of numbers all around us.

“Cookies with Sprinkles,” by Shari L. Klase and illustrated by Julie Hammond – a whimsical adventure to Grandma’s house.

“The Value of Pennies,” by Gina Napoli – discover the history and significance of pennies.

“The All Powerful Nothing,” by Mary Reina – learn about the power of zero and how it turns nothing into something.

“Hands on Math Activities for Home or School,” by Kathy Stemke – get moving and grooving with enjoyable Math activities.

“Hopscotch Math,” by Karen Robuck – teach and reinforce basic Math skills with the fun of hopscotch