a quote from my favorite author

“The most solid advice, though, for a writer is this, I think: Try to learn to breathe deeply, really to taste food when you eat, and when you sleep, really to sleep. Try as much as possible to be wholly alive, with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell, and when you get angry, get good and angry. Try to be alive. You will be dead soon enough.”

-William Saroyan, The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze

Sunday, March 18, 2012

For the Love of Words: Katie Wood Ray at IRC

Slice of Life Challenge is hosted by Two Writing Teachers
Katie Wood Ray’s lunch session at the Illinois Reading Council Conference was titled For the Love of Words: Modeling a Love of Texts, Talk and Trying It.  Her talk was filled with wisdom and whimsy and wonder and words to love.

·      She spoke about a quote from the librarian in Patricia Maclachlan’s book Baby being the inspiration for her title Wondrous Words. 

·      She talked about the strength of the terms building and crafting as opposed to writing. 

·      She said, “Writers read differently than other people do.”  

·      She explained that writers realize every page they read is the result of decisions made by a writer. 

·      She told us that as a reader, who is also a writer and educator, when she comes across well-crafted text she has “to try to understand what it is that [authors] know that makes their writing so good.”

·      She read and then it’s spring written by Julie Fogliano and illustrated by Erin Stead aloud to us as an illustration of a writer knowing that the way a sentence is written can actually match the meaning of the sentence and that a subject can have a long list of verbs phrases after it if it covers a great time and distance.

·      She also referenced an excerpt from Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key by Jack Gantos as an illustration of this same point; as Joey gets more and more out of control after being sent into the hallway, the sentences in the text become less and less conventional.

This morning, with Katie Wood Ray on my mind, I finished reading The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. 

{NOTE:  If you haven’t read this book, move it to the top of your wishlist or To Be Read stack immediately.  In my opinion, this book is the new Charlotte’s Web.  I have posted a review of it on my other blog.}

As I read, I collected well-crafted lines to study in an attempt to try to understand what it is that Katherine Applegate knows that makes her writing so good.

I am not sure I am so good at picking out what makes these lines so good, but here is a glimpse into my findings:

·      Humans waste words.  They toss them like banana peels and leave them to rot.

·      Humans speak too much.  They chatter like chimps, crowding the world with their noise even when they have nothing to say.

What Katherine Applegate knows that makes her writing so good:  A simile becomes more effective when you follow it with further explanation.

·      Stella loves the moon with its untroubled smile.

·      I call to Ruby, but the wind tugs at my words and I know she’ll never hear me.

·      It is the most beautiful mad I have ever heard.

·      “Memories are precious,” Stella adds.  “They help tell us who we are.”

What Katherine Applegate knows that makes her writing so good:  Personification is more effective when the word choice is unexpected.

·      I could tell she was looking at him the way an artist looks at the world when she’s trying to understand it.

What Katherine Applegate knows that makes her writing so good:  Sometimes you can describe a character by comparing his or her actions to someone else’s.

·      It’s hard to put into words.  Gorillas are not complainers.  We’re dreamers, poets, philosophers, nap takers.

·      Moonlight falls on the frozen carousel, on the silent popcorn stand, on the stall of leather belts that smell like long-gone cows.

·      I smell the crayon, roll it in my hands, press the sharp point against my palm.  There’s nothing I love more than a new crayon.

What Katherine Applegate knows that makes her writing so good:  Sometimes a list doesn’t need “and” before the last item to make it feel complete.   Sometimes a quiet ending to a list is just right.

·      I like colorful tales with black beginnings, and stormy middles and cloudless blue-sky endings.

What Katherine Applegate knows that makes her writing so good:  Using “and” between each of the items in a list makes each of the items seem separate and more important.

·      Ruby leans against the bars.  Her eyes hold the pale moon in them, the way a still pond holds stars. 

What Katherine Applegate knows that makes her writing so good:  An abstract image is easy to see if it is compared to something more familiar.


  1. Christy,
    You clearly locked in the wisdom that you gleaned from Katie's presentation. Wondrous Words is still one of my favorite books on writing and reading. Your thoughts make me want to read The One and Only Ivan. It's on my TBR now. Thanks for the reflections. ~ Theresa

  2. What inspiration. Thanks for sharing some Katie Wood Ray gems with us.

  3. The One and Only Ivan is a great book! Thank you for this post. You attempted what I've been trying to figure out how to start doing when I read. Reading like a writer. Thank you for showing me how you went about it.

  4. I love how you connected what inspired you from Ray's talk to this book - and the quotes you shared are wonderful. It makes me wish I had a young person to share the book with, I'll have to read it for myself!

  5. I love that you not only shared what you got from Katie Wood Ray's presentation, but that you shared your application of it to a book that is definitely on my TBR list.

  6. Well great now I have to go to Amazon, and the money I was going to spend on my toes is going to spent on books. Who cares about toes anyway when you have a good book to read! I love Katie. Like you I wonder if am I good at reading like a writer. I believe you are.

  7. Katie's words, your words, Katharine Applegate's words - so much inspiration! I understand why your brain was on fire. Wow! Not too much to add, I must absorb. Thanks!

  8. This is awesome--not only did you share what you learned, but you gave us examples. And Elsie is right again (I seem to be right behind her today in reading and commenting) No wonder your brain was on fire.

  9. You are so kind to share the precious words you have found and thoughts they ignite in you.

  10. Thank you for taking the time to share these encouraging words. Katie rocks!