Archive for October, 2007

I fell in love this weekend, with the 5th floor of the Denver Public Library. OK, so I am a dork, but it is true. And if you are looking for a way to incite inspiration, this might be a good place for you to check out (no pun intended).

The reason I discovered this find was because I went on a Writers’ Tour of Denver with Cynthia Morris. Cynthia normally does these great writers’ tours through Paris and I’ve always dreamed of joining her, but…well…haven’t. So, when I heard she was doing one in Denver, I had to jump at the chance.

And I am so glad I did. We started the day by meeting in Denver’s Civic Center Park and walked across to the library – where, after a short but invigorating free write, Cynthia introduced us to a librarian named Bruce.

Bruce can be found on the 5th Floor, which houses Western History and Genealogy. He shared with us as many resources as he could in 1 hour and did an amazing job. We all agreed, we could have spent the whole ‘field trip’ right there, but Cynthia had lots of other great things to show us. First, however, we had another 10 minutes dedicated to writing whatever we wanted.

Just a quick view into how what Bruce shared inspired my writing session: While showing us the card catalog of newspaper articles, he explained how in the 1800’s (before mailmen), when packages came, the newspaper would list the names of anyone who had a letter waiting for them at the post office. This, combined with an historic photograph he showed us, of a woman standing on the street in front of the then-opera house, sparked a story about the day a letter came that would take this woman on an adventure to San Francisco.  It was a blast to get lost in this character’s world.

This post would run too long if I shared even the small slivers of resources Bruce revealed to us, so I will leave you to discover them all on your own. Go visit the 5th Floor. Tell them you want to be inspired.

The rest of Cynthia’s tour was just as exhilarating:

A visit to The Denver Woman’s Press Club (DWPC),one of the oldest women’s press clubs in the nation had us laughing as we listened to a food critic talk about his experiences with area restaurants.

And no tour would be complete without a ride down the 16th Street Mall. While listening to Cynthia quote what other writers had to say about their visits to Denver, we discovered Walt Whitman was quite a fan of our little cowtown.

We had a lovely lunch at a new Italian eatery, then for dessert headed over to the Tattered Cover. There, Cynthia sent us on a quest: “Go to the section of the store, where your book will be placed (once it’s published) and tell me whose company you will be sharing.”

This exercise, alone, would have made my day. I found out I will be next to Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree, one of my all time favorite books, once my picture book is in print. Yet, Cynthia had more ideas in mind. Over cupcakes and cookies (comfort food), she took us out of our comfort zones with some one on one consultation about our individual ‘writer’s wants’. It was rather powerful stuff for me – let’s see if I can do justice describing it: “I could tell you all the things to do,” she remarked, “but what I think you need to tell yourself is why you aren’t doing them already.” And then she helped me to unearth what it really was (not what I said it was) that kept blocking me in the re-visioning stage of my picture book.

I came home filled with ideas and inspiration. So, my advice to you: Next time you need a mini writer’s vacation, join Cynthia or visit the 5th floor of the Denver Library. You don’t even have to have a card, but any resident of Colorado can obtain one.

It’s great to incite you own inspiration, but when you need help, consider taking Cynthia’s tour.


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I received this email, about using historical images on websites. My response to it is below, as I thought it might be helpful to others:

Dear Bethany,

I attended the Rocky Mountain Chapter SCBWI conference in Denver this fall. Your workshop was very helpful. I am currently building my website and came across a question. I had some historical photos that would be helpful to put on the site. If I give credit to the owner (i.e., Animas Museum) is that okay legally speaking? Thank you for your time.

Erin Gray


Hi Erin:

Thank you for the note. I am glad to hear my workshop was helpful and even more delighted to hear you are currently building your site. Have fun with it!

When it is completed, please forward the link to me. I’d love to see what you have created!

As for your question, first I wanted to congratulate you for asking this question. So many people don’t even think about it.

Secondly, I have to say since it is a legal issue it is best answered by a copyright attorney. However, I will share with you what I have learned, with the understanding that I am not a copyright attorney.

I have been told that if works are in the public domain, then you can use them without permission. And if the images are historical photos, say from the 1800’s, they ‘should’ be in public domain.

However, I was at the Denver library, yesterday, and they have a wonderful collection of historical images that are available online at http://photoswest.org – it’s a western historical writer’s dream collection for inspiring ideas. When I asked, I was told you could purchase these images. It seems the library holds the copyright.

For Internet use of their collection, they charge $25 a year for each image used online, plus I think you need to credit the library.

So, with that in mind, I went over to: http://www.animasmuseum.org
Their site indicates most of their collection has been donated (see their donation page). So, I am not sure how that effects the copyright. My suggestion would be to contact Animas Museum and ask them whether their collection (or the specific photos) are in the public domain.

Also, ask if it would be OK to use the specific images with a credit (either to them or the person who donated the photos) and offer a link back to the museum’s site.

Since they appear to be a smaller, regional Museum, they may be delighted about getting a link back to their site and allow you to use the images without a fee.

In general, it is important to research who holds the copyright and ask permission. Thank you for asking this question. I hope my answer lends some assistance.

A couple of resources that may be of interest:

Boulder Digital Arts is having a copyright attorney come to speak on Oct 30th – the workshop is called: Copyright/Intellectual Property Issues for Digital Artists and here is the link: http://www.boulderdigitalarts.com/training/details.asp?offering=149

Also here is a link to wikipedia’s page on public domain: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_domain

Let me know if you have other questions about using images on the Internet,


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But I’m an unpublished writer, why would anyone invite me to speak in front of their class?”

Are you using that “but I’m an unpublished writer” excuse? Sorry folks, your looking at that the wrong way – try my rose colored glasses on: This is the exact time to start speaking in front of students.

From my own experience, I wasn’t even marketing myself when I was approached to read my first “unpublished” work for a classroom.

Now, before I go into this subject, keep in mind, there is a difference between a classroom visit and getting paid for a speaking engagement at a school. So start small, the first will get you used to the idea of the second.

Elizabeth Rusch touched on this first situation in her presentation (Listen to the Children – How to Get Meaningful Feedback) at the recent RMC-SCBWI Fall Conference. She encouraged the authors and illustrators in the audience to use the classroom as their own learning tool, to get genuine feedback on their stories/pictures from the ones who matter most, the kids. This approach also allows you to get used to speaking in front of groups of children.

The ideas Liz shared can be done at any time in your career, as a newbie looking for insights on your first draft to a seasoned professional (like Ms. Rusch) trying to work out some kinks in her latest story.

My own experiences with speaking in front of a class offered me a chance to do what Liz suggested (get critical feedback), yet also allowed me to do a presentation for the kids.

Interestingly, it came by way of the teachers approaching me, not me approaching the teachers. In one case, Devira Chartrand of Mesa Elementary (5th grade teacher) heard me read at a writer’s workshop hosted by the Boulder Public Library.

Even though her students were older than my demographic, I jumped at the chance to bring them my picture book.

These are important things to discuss up front with the teacher:

  • How long will you have with the class?
  • What interactive activities does she/he want you to include?
  • Does she/he require you to do a presentation (such as being a writer – have some ideas handy to offer suggestions) or should you just focus on what you want to achieve (getting feedback on the topic, getting image ideas…)
  • What are they currently learning about that might tie in with your presentation (maybe they are learning about Van Gogh and you are an illustrator, or they just learned about the civil war and your story is about that same time period)

Below is what I presented to Ms. Chartrand’s class, based on her answers:

1. I started with a presentation called: “I am a writer – what about you?” We discussed:

  • Whether they considered themselves writers and I showed them how they are already using their own writing skills on a daily basis
  • Questions about what it was like to be a writer
  • The oddest and most interesting writing assignments I’ve been paid to do
  • Different jobs available for writers, like copywriter for the makers of their favorite cereal

2. Review of my picture book, “If I Can’t Sleep Tonight”

  • They read my story (which I printed on poster board for easy viewing) – it helps to have other people read to you, because you can hear the flow of the story, plus the teacher and the kids liked the idea of getting to read out loud – each child who was interested, read a sentence
  • I asked open-ended questions to gauge their retention and interest levels
  • Everyone drew their favorite scene with a note saying what they liked about it – I also asked for notes on what they didn’t like and they were glad to share that, too!

With this older group, I began by telling them I knew the story was for younger children, but thought they might be able to help. They were so open to the idea, they ended up providing great feedback on the flow of the story – they surprised me with the help they offered!

Shortly after that visit, I was sharing the experience with a group of women. One of the women (who I didn’t know as well) ended up being a 3rd grade teacher. She asked me to come and speak to her class.

So, you can see, if you truly want to, you can find a way to speak at schools.

But, if you aren’t as fortunate as me, to be in the right place at the right time, try this:

1. Announce to friends, co-workers and family this is your goal – they may know someone who is teaching at a local school

2. Prepare an outline for what you can speak about: “I am a writer, what about you?” is open for grabs – but if you don’t consider yourself a writer, yet, do it on one of these:

  • why you decided to begin to write
  • what qualifies you to talk about the subject of your book
  • or comment about your situation below and I bet, between the other people reading this and me, we’ll find an angle completely appropriate for you

3. Visit schools and ask to talk with the appropriate grade level teacher – if she/he is not receptive, ask her/him which grades might be open to having you come in

4. Volunteer for a preschool – after a few visits, mention you’d like to bring your book in to read to the kids – I bet they’d be delighted to learn they had a budding author in their mix

Now, though this method is great for both getting feedback and getting used to speaking/interacting with the classes, if you are looking for the more advanced methods of getting paid speaking engagements at schools, that is for another post. After all, this post was called School Visits: How to begin?.

How did this post help?

Did you have other ideas to share with beginners?

Either way, feel free to comment below:

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