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Students learn what inspires author

Writer of ‘Storm Codes’ tells how she creates stories.

Tracy Nelson Maurer remembers the smell of the Great Lakes and the toot of the horn on the giant freighter ship captained by her grandfather as it steamed into harbor.

“And the lake smelled differently during spring and fall,” the author of Storm Codes told Dudley Elementary students gathered in the performing arts center on Oct. 5.

Maurer, who has written more than 80 children’s fiction books, used the award-winning picture book to tell how she creates a story.

Growing up near the port of Duluth-Superior, MN, Maurer told of waiting for her grandfather’s ship—the Edward B. Greene—to arrive.

She shared a video her grandmother took when she was 4 years old.

“We’d go to the canal and wait and then I’d cry when he came in,” Maurer said. “It was so exciting to see Grandpa.”

Although she had intended to write about her grandfather, a different tale took shape—one fed by imagination and inspiration through family stories and personal papers and pictures.

Maurer also interviewed family members and experts and gathered information from the Internet.

The result is a story about a 7-year-old awaiting her father’s return home on a ship during a nasty November ice storm.

Based on Great Lakes shipping in the 1960s, the child gives voice to some of the ways sailors communicate, through the tooting of the ship’s horn to flashes from lighthouse beams as well as her own method to reach her father—through heartbeats and pieces of taconite she uses as a good luck charm.

Her father’s ship often carried pellets of the baked iron ore to other ports.

Maurer urged her audience to think upside down and backwards.

“My favorite two words are ‘what if?’ ” she said.

After collecting what she needs, Maurer begins to write, revise and then keeps writing.

“Writing is the fun part,” she noted.

Maurer said she happened upon writing children’s books while creating advertisement copy.

Her publisher asked her to write four children’s books about dance.

“That’s not usually how it happens,” Maurer said.

She learned about dance through research and started writing.

More opportunities followed, including a book about what it’s like to ride all-terrain vehicles and a story about John Deere tractors.

During her talk, Maurer noted the importance of making writing more active.

She selected students from the audience who held up signs with a word on each one that said: “The ball was bounced by the boy.”

With audience participation, the sentence was pared down to: “The boy bounced the ball.”

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