Posts Tagged ‘Spilling Ink’

Last week I was honored to be invited to speak at a writer’s camp. This two-week camp for grades 2-5 was taught in conjunction with the California Writing Project and Cal State San Marcos.

The students were introduced to my book Grandma’s Pear Tree during the first week and I was able to read the book and talk about writing the second week. What an experience it was to see so many students excited about writing and their dedicated teachers helping them along the way.

One of the exercises I shared with the students dealt with unleashing your imagination. The idea was to get the students to think outside of the box and really let themselves create. The concept is simple, start with a simple object and keep adding and adding until you come up with something absurd.

Here was one example:

If I had a football> I would invite all of my friends to play> we would play in a giant stadium against a team of dinosaurs> we’d dodge their giant dino teeth as we scored the winning touch down> then we’d share milk and cookies once the game was done.

Silly? Yes. Absurd? Yes again, but let’s see how this concept plays out with my own Grandma’s Pear Tree story:

Jessie gets his ball stuck in a tree> tosses his shoe at it, shoe gets stuck> tosses a broom at it, broom gets stuck> tosses a chicken at it, chicken gets stuck> tosses a cat at it, cat gets stuck> Grandma helps him get his things down, Grandma gets stuck.

The point of the exercise was to help the children think outside the box with their writing and it was helpful to use my own book as an example. The exercise worked better as an interactive lesson with the children providing the silly elements for me to tie into a not always plausible story line. No element was too silly or far out.

Here was another example from our session:

I bought a piece of candy> It was stolen by a vampire> we had a sword fight in his castle> zombies tried to help> I offered them some of my cookies> they brought the milk

As you can see their imaginations were working overtime.

I also shared my copy of Spilling Ink as a great resource for students. The teachers were happy with the visit and I came away with a few new story ideas.

Happy writing,

Suzanne Santillan

Writing on the Sidewalk

P.S. The beautiful art in the post today is from Sarah Bodman you can see more examples of her work here.

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I have talked about some of the elements of book promotion: social media, book signings, school visits, and blogs. These are all effective ways to get the word out about your book. Another thing to consider is a separate website for your book.

Authors Anne Mazer and Ellen Potter have a great site that coordinates with their book “Spilling Ink” (Flashpoint, 2010). This site is filled with all of the things a successful book site needs:

  • About the author’s section
  • Teacher’s kit
  • Creativity blog
  • links and tips
  • Writer’s Club for young writers
  • Information about contests
  • Contact information
  • Reviews
  • Free stuff

Fellow author and friend Andrea Zimmerman created a great site for her new book “Eliza’s Cherry Trees” (Pelican, 2011). This site is filled with information about Eliza Scidmore the driving force behind the cherry trees in Washington D.C. and just in time to help celebrate the centennial anniversary in 2012.

Andrea was just recently interviewed for “Here and Now” on NPR about her book and the life of Eliza Scidmore, they were able to locate her from the book website. Click here if you would like to hear a little of Andrea’s interview. Andrea shared that her book website has been a great asset in the promotion of her book and her regret was that she wished she had released it sooner.

So does your book need a website? Yes, if you have some great information are willing to put it all together a website I think would be a great asset to your book.

Happy Writing,

Suzanne Santillan

Writing on the Sidewalk

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Alyson Beecher loves books. Alyson is an educator, writing mentor and blogger and I love her taste in books. She recently posted her list of favorite books for 2010 on her Kid Lit Frenzy blog.

Here are Alyson’s picks for Best Mid Grade Novels:


by Judith Viorst, illustrated by Lane Smith



by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee, illustrated by Tony Fucile



by James Burks



by Kazu Kibuishi



by Tom Angleberger



by Adam Gidwitz



by Jennifer Cervantes



by Sharon M. Draper



by Rita Williams-Garcia



by Ellen Potter



by Lisa Schroeder



by Anne Mazer & Ellen Potter


I have read several on this list and even featured them here on the blog, I agree with Alyson that they are great books. I have made it my goal to read all of the books on this list that I haven’t had a chance to read yet.

Alyson has also compiled a list of the best Picture Books and YA for 2010 as well, be sure to check those out as well.

I will have an opportunity to meet Alyson next month  when I visit her school for an author visit to share my book “Grandma’s Pear Tree.”  I hope during the visit we will have time to discuss books, she really knows her stuff.

Happy reading,

Suzanne Santillan

Writing on the Sidewalk

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I am thrilled to announce that our new spotlight is on the talented author Anne Mazer.

Here is Anne’s bio:

Anne Mazer grew up in a family of writers in upstate New York. Intending to be an artist, she studied at the School of Visual and Performing Arts at Syracuse University. She then went to Paris for three years where she studied French and French literature and where she began to write.

She is the author of forty-four books, including the picture books, “The Salamander Room”, a Reading Rainbow Feature selection and a 1993 ABC Children’s Choice book, “The Yellow Button”, and most recently, “The No-Nothings and Their Baby.” She has also written seven novels, including “Moose Street”, a Booklist Editor’s Choice for Best Book of 1992, and “The Oxboy”, an ALA Notable Book and a Notable 1993 Children’s Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies. Her short stories have been anthologized in a number of collections, and she has published a collection of her own short stories, “A Sliver of Glass.” She is also the editor of four anthologies: “America Street,” a New York Public Library Best Book for Teens; “Going Where I’m Coming From,” a New York Public Library Best Book for Teens; “Working Days,” a 1998 ALA Best Book for Teens and a New York Public Library Best Book for Teens; and “A Walk in My World,” which are widely used in elementary through college classrooms.

Anne is the author of the best selling “The Amazing Days of Abby Hayes” series, which has extended over eleven years and twenty-two books. She has also written the “Sister Magic” series for young readers.

Her latest work is “Spilling Ink: A Handbook for Young Writers,” co-authored with Ellen Potter.

What was your road to publication?

Anne:  It took me seven years to get published. (Also known as “the seven-year rip.”) I started by writing a young adult novel, which received a number of  rejection letters that still lurk in my file cabinet. Then I just floundered around, giving my wastebasket a heavy workout. I was just about ready to give up writing completely when I had a dream. My dream advised me to try something different than young adult novels. Since I was reading dozens of picture books to my then two year old son, I thought that would be a good place to start. Within six months I sold three picturebooks to Knopf, including The Salamander Room.

Can you tell me a bit about your writing process? Do you plot or not?

Anne: The word plot sends shivers up my spine (not the good kind). I prefer to think about people and what they might do and what might happen to a particular person in a particular situation. I scrawl some notes, think up a few ideas, try to start in a strong place, and then go to it. The first few chapters are often very difficult. So are the next few. And the next. And…. yes. It all involves a lot of hard thinking, and three-or four -dimensional visualizing. And the slightest whisper can change a story.

Are you working on any new projects that you can tell us about?

Anne: Sorry, mum’s the word. I’m working on a book for Feiwel and Friends, but I don’t like to talk about my works in progress.

Describe your studio or usual work space for us.

Anne: A mess. Bills stacked on the desk, ideas scrawled on old envelopes and bits of paper. Notebooks everywhere, sweaters and purses covering the bed. Books stacked haphazardly; paintings leaning against the wall… and a tiny clear space around the computer. I am debating whether to pretend that my husband’s extremely neat and orderly office is actually mine when I do a Skype visit.

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

Anne: I’d like to be a lazy person for a few years and see what it feels like to do very little.

What’s one thing that most people don’t know about you?

Anne: That I like British humor, that my tags often stick out of my shirts, that I used to splatter toothpaste over myself as a teenager (not on purpose), and that my favorite holiday is Halloween – but only if I get to wear a costume.

Were you inspired by your family to become a writer?

Anne: All I did as a kid was read, but I fought off being a writer for a long time. My experience as the daughter of two writers did not lead me automatically to writing.  Eventually, however, I had to give in and admit that I wanted to write… okay, that I loved to write… maybe I was even born to write.

Did you know Ellen Potter prior to your collaboration for Spilling Ink?

Anne: The funny thing is, I didn’t know Ellen very well at all when we began our collaboration! For years I had wanted to get to know her… but didn’t until Megan Shull, another children’s book author, connected us. We three appeared together for “You Read, Girl,” an event that Megan masterminded and organized. Afterward, I proposed that we all collaborate on a book about writing together. It was an idea that had been rolling around in my head for years, but I had never been able to do it on my own. It was really a ploy to get to know Megan and Ellen better! Unfortunately, Megan had to drop out after a few months, but Ellen and I continued on together. Not only did we have a wonderful time writing the book, but we became extremely close friends in the process.

We here at Writing on the Sidewalk tend to procrastinate with our writing, where do you fit in Procrastinator or Proactive?

Anne: The best way I know to deal with anxiety is to plunge into work. Writing always makes me feel better.  On the other hand, I procrastinate on just about everything else in my life…

Thanks Anne I look forward to reading your new project when it becomes available. For more information on Anne be sure to check out the following links www.annemazerbooks.com and www.spillinginkthebook.com.

Suzanne Santillan

Writing on the Sidewalk

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I’m thrilled to announce our Author Spotlight this week is the super-talented Ellen Potter.

Here is a brief bio:
Ellen Potter is the author of several middle-grade novels, including the award-winning Olivia Kidney series, Pish Posh, SLOB, and The Kneebone Boy. Her non-fiction book, Spilling Ink; a Young Writer’s Handbook, was co-authored by Anne Mazer.

Olivia Kidney was awarded Child magazine’s “Best Children’s Book Award” and was selected as one of the “Books of the Year” by Parenting magazine. Additionally, it was one of the finalists for the Ottakar’s Children’s Book Prize in the United Kingdom.

SLOB was selected for the Junior Library Guild Spring 2009 List and the 2010 Texas Lone Star Reading List.

Her middle-grade novel The Kneebone Boy will be published by Feiwel & Friends on September 14, 2010.

What was your road to publication?

It was a seasonal access road; bumpy at best and sometimes impassable. It took years of writing while doing odd-jobs (dog grooming, waitressing, etc.) before I was actually published. Still, I’m glad I had those experiences. During those years I met drifters, Tibetan refugees, actors. It was a great education for a young writer. And the tips weren’t bad either.
Can you tell me a bit about your writing process? Do you plot or not?

I don’t plot out my books. I’ve tried, but it never works for me, and I generally wind up with an ugly case of writer’s block. Whenever I have a preplanned storyline, I eventually have to force my characters to do things that they wouldn’t really do, just to make the story move according to plan. That’s when my characters rebel. They stiffen up and refuse to move. Instead, I prefer to stay more fluid and to follow my characters’ lead. I trail behind them and see what they will do next. Sometimes I know what will happen in the following scene, but that’s about it. It’s a little scary to write this way, and I often go down dead-end streets and have to backtrack. Still I find that the story tends to flow more naturally this way, and since I’m surprised at the things that happen, I know my readers will be too.
Describe your studio or usual work space for us.

I’m not fussy. I’ll write in bed, in a café, in a park. It’s like having a floating office. Hmm, there’s an idea! Writing on a raft would be interesting . . .
What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

A baker. Whenever I watch Ace of Cakes I have an uncontrollable urge to make a fondant replica of the Millennium Falcon.
What’s one thing that most people don’t know about you?

I have never, ever in my entire life worn flip flops.
How do you balance your writing and family life?

Now THAT is the million-dollar question! It’s tough, no kidding. For the first five years of my son’s life I woke up at 4:30 am to write. I conducted important business calls while changing poopy diapers. There are all sorts of strategies for successfully juggling work and family—writing lists, delegating chores. But I think the most important thing you can do is make friends with sleep deprivation.
Is there a reason that Pish Posh, Slob and the Olivia Kidney series are all set in New York City?

I write about NYC in part because I grew up there. But also it’s a great setting for children’s’ books because kids are very mobile in the city. They don’t necessarily need their parents to drive them places. They can walk or take public transportation, so there is great potential for independent adventure.
Are you working on any new projects that you can tell us about?

I’m working on a new middle-grade novel now, which should be out in 2011. I’m also very excited about my newest book The Kneebone Boy. I loved writing about the quirky Hardscrabble siblings and their adventures.
We here at Writing on the Sidewalk tend to procrastinate with our writing, where do you fit in Procrastinator or Proactive?

I’m a hyperactive procrastinator. I procrastinated for the first half of my life and now I am hyperactively trying to make up for lost time.
Ellen is a truly talented author and I have enjoyed reading many of her other books including SLOB and Spilling Ink which I have quoted on this site more than once. I was fortunate to receive an ARC of Ellen’s new book “The Kneebone Boy” and will post my book thoughts next week. For more information on Ellen please check out: ellenpotter.com or for more writing tips check out spillinginkthebook.com.
Thanks Ellen.
Suzanne Santillan
Writing on the Sidewalk

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After taking a break for a few months I am back to revising my current Work in Progress. During my break I had the opportunity to find many great thoughts, plots and ideas on revision. I will be sharing some of these ideas for the rest of this week.

Writing is not a perfect process, especially for me. My current picture book “Grandma’s Pear Tree” went through four revisions before I felt it was ready for submission. Once  submitted, my story then went through two more major revisions before it became the story it is today.

Author Ellen Potter describes the revision process as a view from a boulder:

The View from the Boulder

Writing your first draft is like taking a long, meandering hike through unfamiliar countryside. You don’t quite know where you’re going. You pass through crummy little towns that turn out to be captivating, walk down promising roads only to discover that they’re dead ends. You keep taking wrong turns and have to backtrack and start all over again.

At the end of the hike (or sometimes when you are only partway through), you perch yourself on a huge boulder. From that height, you can look down at all the places you have been and can see where you got lost and where you found your way again. The view from the boulder gives you perspective.

When you are ready to revise your story, you are sitting on that boulder.

You need to have the view from the boulder to really see what your story looks like and to figure out how to make it better.

Excerpt From Spilling Ink; A Young Writer’s Handbook (Flash Point;2010)

I think this is a great way to look at it.  As I sit perched on that boulder looking at my story I can now see areas that need to be changed, some characters won’t survive, some will get stronger and events will suddenly disappear. My hope is, in the end, I will have a better and stronger story, it may just take me a few revisions to get it that way.

Suzanne Santillan

Writing on the Sidewalk

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The other day Son #2 and I were running out the door heading for school when he stopped me, there was a snail inching across the sidewalk and he didn’t want me to step on it. As I stood there for a minute my mind racing thinking of the million and two things I had to do, the inspiration for a story hit me.

Once I got back home I began to think about my story and decided to run the idea by my Super Blog Buddy Sarah, she loved the idea, unfortunately she wrote the same story several years earlier (no wonder I thought it was such a genius idea). I happily scrapped my idea but began thinking about where we get inspiration for stories.

Author Anne Mazer in the book “Spilling Ink” , she co-wrote with Ellen Potter, shares her recipe for Mental Compost.

Here is a brief outline*:


  • All of your embarrassing moments.
  • Anything you feel very strongly about.
  • Small daily moments that capture your attention.
  • Subjects you know a lot about.
  • What you’ve observed about family and friends.
  • News shows, Youtube, advice columns…
  • Whatever makes you laugh or cry.
  • Your history.
  • Your dreams.
  • In short your entire life.


  1. Throw it all in a mental compost pile .
  2. Let it sit for a while.
  3. It may be helpful to take notes, or keep a journal.
  4. Regularly turn over the material in your mind.
  5. Spread it around in your stories.

So inspiration comes from everything around us, it is up to us as writers to develop those ideas and put it down on paper.

Happy writing,

Suzanne Santillan

Writing on the Sidewalk

*There are more details in the process and I advice checking out the book for more great ideas.

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I just recently read a great blog post on the SpillingInk site. Guest blogger Laurel Snyder shares the BIG secret of creativity.

Creativity isn’t as creative as you think.

To be creative you need to put limitations on your project and then move beyond.

Here is how Laurel describes it:

… if I ask you to stare at a blank sheet of paper and “write something good and creative” what happens?  You sit there awhile and scratch your head. Then, eventually, you look around your room, or out the window, or you think back over your day, or maybe books you’ve read, and find yourself a place to start. We all do that!

So for me, the best way to begin being creative is to set very rigid rules for myself. Like, if I want to write a poem I’ll think, “This poem should have 2 animals, a scientist, a kitchen appliance, and a body of water in it.”

Laurels concept helps you take those limitations and move beyond. I use this concept all the time in my other job as a graphic designer. I have clients who will say:

“I need a pin with a moose, caribou and elk and make them dancing.”*

That is much easier to create than when a customer says:

“I need a pin and it has to be fun!”*

What is fun? What do you want on it? I could tear my hair out for hours trying to come up with a “fun” design.

So when you begin a project set some boundaries in mind and start working. When I began my current WIP (Work in Progress) I faced it like a general heading into battle, armed with notes, post-it notes and a time line there was no staring at a blank page for this project. Now as I face a huge revision I am finding that creativity comes in the revision process. My super blogging buddy Sarah and I always remind ourselves it is impossible to edit a blank page. A writer always has to have something to start with even if it isn’t very good. Remember the creativity will come in the revision.

Happy writing

Suzanne Santillan

Writing on the Sidewalk

*Actual clients requests.

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My picture book is due out very soon and with it I usher in a new phase of my author journey, the school visit. I am comfortable with the material for the pre-K and Kindergarten-Third grade crowd, but what do you do with those oh so sophisticated 9-12 year olds? The answer is talk about the writing process. But how do I address the tough issues of rewrites, writer’s block and everything in between?  Help is on the way.


Spilling Ink: A Young Writer’s Handbook, written by veteran authors Ellen Potter and Anne Mazer and illustrated by Matt Phelan. This is a great book filled with writing tips for the 9-12 year olds (and certain adult picture book authors too).

Booklist states:

Avoiding traditional chapters, the coauthors address issues by turns in short personal takes. Mazer speaks to beginnings, for example, while Potter tackles endings; and both have diverting things to say about everything that happens in between, whether it’s the narrative voice or (eek) writer’s block. Always agreeable, practical, and commonsensical in their approach, the two are also refreshingly permissive (“it’s fine to break rules”), though they add the caveat that rule breakage should come from a knowledge of said rules and a good reason for breaking them.

I found this book to be fun and very insightful. The tips are easy to understand and written in a way that kids will understand. This book would be a great gift for the kids who want to work on their writing, teachers looking for some fantastic tips, or picture book writers who want to improve their craft.

Nice job ladies.

Suzanne Santillan

Writing on the Sidewalk

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