Shakes 101: Purpose quest

So! I told you in my last post that I would tell you all about how my husband and I do our Shakes program. That is, a program in which we do professional-quality Shakespearean plays with kids from the inner city. It’s been talked about in English conferences across the country for the past two years and thousands of people have seen our performances.

Cast of Julius Caesar

First step to Shakes: We define our goal.

Shakes is, first and foremost, a mentorship and discipleship program in which we choose 10 or 12 students who we think have potential, and conscientiously invest in them. Everything goes back to that. We use Shakespeare to do it, but the main goal is to grow the students individually as leaders.

All of our decisions are based off of our main goal.

Example: We don’t hold auditions. Kids from our Urban Impact Performing Arts Academy are allowed to apply, and we hand-choose from the applicants. Some we choose because we see leaders in the making. Some we choose because we’d rather have them with us than in the streets for the summer. Some we choose because we want to surround them with a loving atmosphere. Some we choose because they just love the program so much they beg to be part of it. But we choose all of them, no audition required.

So if we are ever in a quandary about, say, whether a student should be in the cast when she’s making poor life choices, we go back to our main goal: How can we best help her and her fellow students to grow as a leader? We ended up asking her to do crew instead of being on stage.

So what is the goal of your program?

Do you want to teach literacy? Do you want to give kids stage experience? Do you want to invest in a kid’s life?

Pick a goal and go for it! The rest of your program decisions will be informed by this goal.

I’m getting published!!!

If you’ve been wondering why I’ve been so silent, it’s not only because I’m busy with the baby, the rough draft, the new Twitter account (@LLAWrites), and a trip across the country, it’s because…

I’m getting published and I couldn’t keep my mouth selectively shut, so I just kept it entirely shut!

Official announcement:
“Laura Lee Anderson’s YELLOW BIKE, in which a small-town high school waitress with a folk music obsession falls for a New York City rich kid… who’s deaf, to Meredith Rich at Bloomsbury Spark, for publication in 2015, by Uwe Stender at TriadaUS Literary Agency (world).”

It’s been a long process! Much longer than anticipated, but from what I hear that’s just the way things go. My intrepid, tireless, faithful agent, Uwe Stender, has been submitting for a long time as email after email of, “I was so close with this one,” or “I just signed a book that’s similar,” “we don’t feel we can break it out from the very crowded market that is YA right now,” “the premise just wasn’t big enough to get the team on board,”  “a bit too commercial,”  “as much as I enjoyed aspects of the manuscript, I’m afraid I just didn’t love it quite enough to move forward,” “I thought it felt a little quiet,” (all actual quotes from real editors) came in. I sent him an email once saying, “I could take rejections like this all day!” and I really meant it. What an honor to have all of these people from famous publishing companies take the time to read my book and say such nice things about it.

Here are some more snippets of the rejection letters: “…it is so very much in the wheel-house of ELEANOR AND PARK, THE TRAGEDY PAPER,”  “Robin and Carter are such an enticing pair,” “…both characters are handled very well as their alternating POVs invite the reader into their flirty back and forth,” “I think it’s truly a wonderful story,” “…a fresh twist on traditional young adult romance,” “It’s clear that Laura has strength in her prose,” and “…feels timeless and almost rose-tinted.”

And that’s just a random handful from a lot of great emails. Really- everyone was so kind! I’ve been an actor for years and let me tell you, this is one place where writing definitely has the upper hand. In acting, if you audition for a part and don’t get it, you often find out simply because rehearsals start and you were never called.

Again and again each editor echoed some form of the phrase, “I’m sure it won’t be long before someone else is snatching this one up!” but months passed and still no bite.

Finally, we struck gold with Meredith Rich at Bloomsbury’s new digital first imprint, Spark, and I couldn’t be happier! After about a month of contract negotiations, starring Uwe Stender (so, so grateful for his experience, tenacity, flexibility, and collaboration), I signed on the dotted line (which actually isn’t dotted, fyi) and mailed four copies of the contract to New York City in the middle of a 32-hour roadtrip.

I am thrilled that Bloomsbury Spark will be publishing YELLOW BIKE as an ebook sometime in 2015! I’ll be part of a fine community of writers with whom to network, have the full support of Bloomsbury’s international reach, and benefit from having the smart and insightful Meredith Rich at my side, helping YELLOW BIKE to be the best version of itself.

Needless to say, some changes will be made to this blog to make it more website-y and shouting things from the rooftops, among other things.

Want more news?
My husband and I are not doing our most excellent Shakes program (a program in which we do Shakespeare with inner-city kids) this summer. We needed a break. But we plan to be back next summer! In the meantime, I’m going to write some blogs on how we do full-length, professional-quality Shakespeare plays in the original language with a bunch of urban kids! So tell your friends, your teachers, your librarians, and your youth program organizers- maybe some of what we do can work for you.

Last year's production of Much Ado

Last year’s production of Much Ado


This morning, my husband told me that if I wrote 2,000 words by 7:00 PM, he’d get up early with the baby tomorrow morning.

I finished four hours early.

What’s your best incentive?



Hope in the form of Shiver

So here’s the thing: I love Maggie Stiefvater.

My journey with Maggie Stiefvater began with The Scorpio Races which I picked up honestly because I thought the idea of man-eating horses was absurd. I was not predisposed to like that book and began reading it with a sort of detached amusement. “Hunger Games with horses,” I remember smugly telling my husband. After the first three chapters, I was hooked and humbled. Her style was simultaneously grandiose and simple. The island was magical. The characters were deep and identifiable and three dimensional. It was really the writing that got me- as if high fantasy had met reality.


I scanned the bookshelves the next time I was at the library and found out she’d written fairy books. No dice there- fairies freak me out. Also saw her werewolf books- Shiver and the like. I actually reached out to them, but I just couldn’t bring myself to actually pick them up. Werewolves aren’t really my thing either.

So I read The Raven Boys and fell in love all over again. She took the timeless style from The Scorpio Races and modernized it. Everything felt ancient and worn but fresh and modern. The characters were… exciting. Not a single stock character among them. Not. A. One. They were enticing and perfect and flawed and dangerous. I sighed and waited for the sequel.

dream raven

After reading The Dream Thieves I was convinced: Maggie Stiefvater is a writing goddess. She is brilliant and innovative and oh-so-deep. Each sentence is crafted, honed, and tested. Each plot is an intricate spiderweb I’ve never seen before. Each book is steeped in magic. There is no way I could ever write like her.

So I went back to the library and picked up Shiver. Despite my attitude about werewolves, I needed a Stiefvater fix. What I got was way, way better: hope.

You see, Shiver is a pretty good book. That’s it- just a pretty good book. The characters are fine, the plot is okay, the setting is alright. The writing serves the story well but doesn’t blow me out of the water. I’ll probably read the other two books but I’m not rushing out to get them. And it was written by the almighty Maggie Stiefvater. It was written before she wrote The Scorpio Races and before she wrote The Raven Boys. Which means one all-important thing: Maggie Stiefvater was not born a writing goddess. She became one.

And if she can do it, maybe I can too.

And maybe you can.

So go- write. And I’ll write too. Promise.

Update: I’m writing a new book- about 12,000 words into it. I love it so much but it’s hard to keep going with daily grind stuff happening. Speaking of the daily grind…

Here’s your cute picture:


Congrats and quick update

My book, Yellow Bike, is set in the real life towns of Westfield NY and Chautauqua NY, and Smithsonian magazine just named Chautauqua the #1 small town in America! Congratulations Chautauqua!

So sorry it seems like I’ve been absent. Long story short, I’ve shelved the beard book for now and am starting a new, top-secret, super-awesome book. Don’t worry, it won’t be top-secret for long. I’m flirting with an outline (I know, it’s kind of a blow to my Pantser pride) and loving it. It’s just so much more conducive to my new schedule which involves writing during Google’s naps. Speaking of Google, it’s been a while since I’ve posted a picture, so here you go!

Selfie smile!

Selfie smile!

HE WON!!!!!!!!!!

HE WON!!! Kent Knappenberger, my high school music teacher and friend, won the first-ever Music Educators’ Grammy Award. He is officially the best music teacher in the country.

Praise the Lord!

At a loss for words, so I’ll refer you to the ones I wrote when he was going from the quarterfinals to the semi-finals.

How did Kent Knappenberger make a measurable difference in my life? Ask my students.
I’m an actor, writer, and former student of Kent Knappenberger, and for as long as I can remember, my goal has been “to be the Mr. K of Theatre.” I thought I would follow his path: I would enter a tiny school and, through hard work and a drive for excellence, change its identity from victim to victor. I would take working-class farm kids and teach them that they are valued and they are valuable. Like many of my friends in Kent Knappenberger’s music program, they would be the first in their families to go to college, the few of their friends who don’t do drugs, the rare teenagers who embrace their differences as well as those of their classmates. And then I realized that inner-city kids need to learn the same lessons. The lessons I learned from Kent Knappenberger- that we are all unique and have valuable gifts, that lofty goals inspire hard work, that hard work breeds success and, most importantly, that WE HAVE STANDARDS- are universal. I use them in an inner-city setting every day, as I teach urban at-risk youth to embody the words of Shakespeare. If you ask my students, they will tell you: We have Standards. I learned that, and much more, from Kent Knappenberger.

This man is the reason I sing Green Finch and Linnet Bird to calm my baby. He’s the reason that I wrote Yellow Bike. He’s the reason I had some amazing harp played at my wedding. He and his wife have changed the small community where I grew up, and I just can’t get enough of people recognizing that.

Congratulations, Kent Knappenberger. You are a champion.

Kent Knappenberger is so close to getting a Grammy! Watch his students perform!

Last night my high school music teacher and inspiration for Yellow Bike, became a finalist for the first-ever Music Educator Grammy Award. He’s in the top 10 out of 30,000 entries! And Kent Knappenberger has shaped and changed my life in so many ways. (I’ve written a little about it here and here if you want to read some) One of the huge ways that Kent has changed me is that Robin, my main character in Yellow Bike, is an incredible folk musician, under the direction of Mr. Knappenberger (or Mr. K, as his students call him). She’s part of a group called “The McClurg Street String Band,” which is a real folk ensemble made of high school students in the tiny town of Westfield, NY. Keep in mind, this high school graduates classes of 65 people. Kindergarten through 12th grade are all in the same building. But amazing music that comes out of this itty-bitty school, thanks to Mr. Kent Knappenberger. See the fantastic community that Robin comes from!

This video is the girls chorus, the Firecrackers, and the McClurg Street String Band itself! (skip to 6:24 to go right to the McClurg Street String band) Remember: these are high schoolers. I was so blessed to part of this program.

This video is the select choir, the Westwinds, and the guys’ chorus, the Ape-Men. Any guy who wants to be part of Ape-Men is welcome to join. (skip to 6:57 to go right to the Ape-Men). And speaking of Ape-Men, it’s too bad they’re not throwing bananas at the audience in this clip, because they’ve been known to do that.

And this video is the 120-voice, anybody-can-join chorus performing Rock Lobster by the B-52’s. Not particularly challenging, but a WHOLE LOTTA FUN! (and it’s being accompanied by students, too) If you want to see them perform more challenging stuff, go here. And for some holiday music, go here. PS- In the youtube links, the guys’ suits are bought and owned by the music department, because many of the guys in the community don’t own one and Mr. K wants to show them what it feels like to dress up and perform. Because it’s special- it’s a privilege.

And for a little more impressive fun: here’s the handbell ensemble. And seriously, this is one to watch:


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 188 other followers

%d bloggers like this: