Happy Monday! I had a fabulous quick jaunt to Ridgefield NWR last week. The winter birds have mostly gone, and the refuge is alive with migrants newly arrived from down south and year-round residents already nesting. If you live near a National Wildlife Refuge site that accommodates visitors, I highly recommend that you take advantage. It’s free or very low cost (I buy a yearly pass for Ridgefield for $15/year), and refuges are great places to observe local wildlife.
TESS Satellite launch update: the TESS satellite launched successfully. The spacecraft is currently completing a series of maneuvers that will place it in its final “science orbit” in June 2018. TESS is a new “planet hunting” satellite that will help researchers survey over 85% of the sky. For more details about the TESS mission, click here.
More space news—while researching a recent book, I came across the GAIA mission operated by the European Space Agency. This ambitious mission is working to create a three-dimensional map of our galaxy that will reveal information about 1 billion stars. Yes, that’s billion with a “b.” The second data release from this mission is set for this Wednesday, April 25. To follow the GAIA mission, click here.
Back on Earth, Okeanos Explorer broadcasts live feeds of its ROV Deep Discoverer (remotely operated vehicle) dives, providing live commentary along the way about mission science and species identification. They plan daily live feeds April 12-May 2 from 8am-5pm Central Time. It’s a great vicarious exploration opportunity.
Books to Add to Your Reading List
I completed UNDERNEATH IT ALL, by Amber J. Keyser. It’s an interesting read about the history of women’s underwear that is at the same time fun and sobering. Keyser doesn’t shy away from discussing how undergarments are closely tied to control over women’s bodies and/or women trying to reach the “ideal” shape, but the book never gets so heavy that I wanted to stop reading. I highly recommend it.
What I’m Reading
My “work” read for the week is the beautiful HIDDEN CITY: POEMS OF URBAN WILDLIFE, written by Sarah Grace Tuttle and illustrated by Amy Schimler-Safford.
For fun I am perusing two cookbooks. One is the graphically stunning ALL UNDER HEAVEN: RECIPIES FROM THE 35 CUISINES OF CHINA, by Carolyn Phillips. The second is an emotional and culinary exploration of the Isan Thai/Lao immigrant experience—HAWKER FARE, by James Syhabout. (Yes, I’m a bit of a cookbook nut.)
I’m also still working my way through the second BEYONDERS book. Stay tuned.
A note about photos: All photos attributed to Cascade Creative Services are mine and may be reused under Creative Commons License Attribution–NonCommercial–ShareAlike, which means you are free to reuse and remix my photos for noncommercial purposes as long as you credit the source and license any work that features my photos under the same license.
Happy Friday the 13th! Here are a few fun things I stumbled across over the last week.
NASA’s TESS satellite is set to launch on Monday, April 16, at 6:32 EDT. The satellite’s mission is to search for planets outside our solar system. It will “cover an area of sky 400 times larger than that monitored by Kepler.” For launch coverage information, click here. For more about the mission, head over to the TESS Exoplanet Mission website.
For a dose of cute that will last far beyond the minute it will take to watch the video, check out the March of the Penguins at the Oregon Zoo’s website.
I launched my Amazon author page this week. I’m still playing around with it, but it’s slightly thrilling to be so “official.”
This weekend I’m hoping to continue to work my way through Brandon Mull’s Beyonders: Seeds of Rebellion. I’ll also be taking in Underneath it All: A History of Women’s Underwear, a book by friend and fellow SCBWI-OR member Amber J. Keyser.
24 HOURS IN A SALT MARSH covers the ecology of salt marshes worldwide, but focuses especially on a tiny scrap of salt marsh at Neahalem Bay State Park. From the Amazon blurb:
“A salt marsh is teeming with life, although a lot of it is hard to see. Spend a day in this ecological wonderland and witness the effects of the changing tides, the parade of creatures, and the rapidly altering shape of these and biologically crucial areas.”
Evaluating the work of authors we love is one way to improve our own writing. Today I’m looking at Neighborhood Sharks, by Katherine Roy, and examining how the author crafted a compelling beginning.
The first sentence of Neighborhood Sharks, “every September, the great white sharks return to San Francisco,” successfully sets up the rest of the book, prompting the reader to wonder where the sharks are returning from and why they are traveling to that particular spot.
As the first lines unfold, Roy slowly builds tension. She uses our natural unease about great whites to wind us up, but she also uses language. Not only does she build a word picture of sharks stalking their prey, she uses the sound of language to great effect. The sharks “circle” and “stalk,” they are “silent” and they “STRIKE!” The repeated “s” sound help the sharks seem scary and sinister.
Now Roy doesn’t just leave us here. The book goes on to take the reader on a journey from fear to fascination to sympathy. But her first lines are a master class on how to create a great beginning.
I suggest you buy or check out a copy of Neighborhood Sharks and really look at the first few pages. Compare it to your own work and see what you can learn.
Here are some things to consider as you evaluate both mentor texts and your own work:
- Does the entire rest of the story spring from the first line?
When editing, I often see first lines that don’t really have much to do with the rest of the book. Think about the end of the book. Now imagine winding the entire story back up like a ball of yarn. If you get back to the beginning and those first lines don’t logically tie into everything else on your ball of yarn, especially the end, then you need to think about reworking them.
- What is the emotional journey the book will take the reader on? Are you establishing the beginning emotion early on?
- How is the language you choose adding to the intended emotional starting point?
‘Tis the season for summer reading lists. I created a list to share with a group of fellow nonfiction writers here in the Pacific Northwest that I thought might be fun to share. The goal is to read 1 adult nonfiction title, 3 MG/YA titles, and 10 picture books before school begins again. This list is by no means exhaustive, and I’d love to hear about other nonfiction titles you love.
P.S. If you are a nonfiction writer, particularly if you are a new nonfiction writer, I have a list of questions to accompany these books to help you think more deeply about choices each author made as they wrote. My hope is that it will be helpful as you think about your own work. If you’d like a copy, contact me and I’d be happy to send it to you.
Read a list 1 adult nonfiction book, either from the list below or choose your own.
- The Songs of Trees, by David George Haskell
- Grunt; Gulp; Packing for Mars; Stiff; or Bonk, all by Mary Roach
- The Soul of an Octopus, by Sy Montgomery
- Hidden Figures, by Margot Lee Shetterly
- I Contain Multitudes, by Ed Yong
- Atlas Obscura, by Joshua Foer, Ella Morton, and Dylan Thuras
Read a least 3 books from the MG/YA list or choose your own:
- The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer
- Bomb, by Steve Sheinkin
- March (3 books), by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell
- Why’d They Wear That? by Sarah Albee
- Josephine, by Patricia Hruby Powell and Christian Robinson
- Some Writer! The Story of E.B. White by Melissa Sweet
- A Black Hole is Not a Hole, by Carolyn Cinami DeCristofano
- Samurai Rising, by Pamela S. Turner
- Drowned City, by Don Brown
- The Slowest Book Ever, by April Pulley Sayre
- Bubonic Panic, by Gail Jarrow
- The Story of Seeds, by Nancy F. Castaldo
- The Octopus Scientists, by Sy Montgomery
- Courage & Defiance, by Deborah Hopkinson
Read at least 10 books from the Picture Book list or choose your own:
- Coyote Moon, by Maria Gianferrari
- Neighborhood Sharks, by Katherine Roy
- Giant Squid, by Candace Fleming
- The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus, by Jen Bryant
- Enormous Smallness: A Story of E.E. Cummings, by Matthew Burgess
- Out of School and Into Nature: The Anna Comstock Story, by Suzanne Slade
- Gravity, by Jason Chin
- Feathers, Not Just for Flying, by Melissa Stewart
- Whoosh! by Chris Barton
- Glow, by W.H. Beck
- Mesmerized, by Mara Rockliff
- High Tide for Horseshoe Crabs, by Lisa Kahn Schnell
- Pink is for Blobfish, by Jess Keating
- Emmanuel’s Dream, by Laurie Ann Thompson
- Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton, by Don Tate
- Raindrops Roll, by April Pulley Sayre
- Can an Aardvark Bark, by Melissa Stewart
- When Lunch Fights Back, by Rebecca L. Johnson
- Round, by Joyce Sidman
- A Village is a Busy Place, by V. Geetha
- Swimming with Sharks, by Heather Lang
- A Nest is Noisy, by Dianna Hutts Aston