Marcia Strykowski

The Woodshed

‘They’ say “write what you know.” So, it’s not surprising that a woodshed appears in the Amy books. Some woodsheds are quite simple with just an overhang to keep firewood and kindling dry, but others are more like little cottages. My favorite woodshed was built in 1900. Located in a small fishing village on the coast of Maine, the woodshed is shown in these pictures behind the main house. I don’t know what’s inside now, but there used to be an antique wood-burning stove and a work bench covered with fascinating tools and wood shavings. One of the features I liked best about this particular woodshed was a built-in ladder that brought only the bravest explorers up through a squishy entry to an almost-secret top floor. There is a good shot of the interior, but it’s in 35mm slide form. In a few weeks I hope to insert it into this post.

Years ago when the woodshed was first built right along with the main house (c. 1900).


Future author in her blue snowsuit in front of the woodshed.

293930-R1-07-7_008 - Copy

Marcia standing between her grampie and her big sister.

To this day, the woodshed still stands proudly behind the main house.

Find out how a woodshed features in the sequel to Call Me Amy. Amy’s Choice will be available November 1st!

Novel Revision Retreat

First, another interview about the Amy books to share. Click here for Marcia Meara’s popular Bookin’ It blog.

This past weekend I returned to Rolling Ridge for my second Novel Revision Retreat. My first time was four years ago when I was still polishing Call Me Amy. Darcy Pattison is the wise instructor at the helm of these nation-wide workshops. This particular retreat (along with two other workshops) was organized by author Anne Broyles.



Rolling Ridge, a 40 room Georgian estate on Lake Cochichewick is located in Massachusetts. There are 38 acres of woods, water views, and rolling hills.

There were only ten of us this time, but along with Massachusetts commuters, participants came from Arkansas, Kansas, Pennsylvania, New York, and Virginia.

rolling ridge group

The dining room is filled with local art and water views. Delicious meals accommodated many special requests from gluten-free to vegan.

???????????????????????????????rolling ridge 4

There was quite a bit of work beforehand to prepare for the retreat. For example, each person read all the full novel drafts of everyone else in their group. Here’s my group:DSC09618 - Copy

After lunch I took a walk around the grounds and was excited to come across a lone red wheelbarrow (we had just discussed William Carlos Williams’ poem about plums earlier that same morning).DSC09610 - Copy


It wasn’t long before I spotted several kayakers paddling smoothly across the lake.


All in all a very successful retreat and I recommend these workshops for anyone who wants to work hard at making their novels shine.

Writing Groups

There’s nothing like a great writing group for honest feedback and to hang out with like-minded people who actually get what it’s like to write, revise, and then begin again, over and over.  I’ve been fortunate to be a part of several wonderful groups.

Wingate play - Copy

The Wingate Writers

For our first couple of years, Wingate Writers met in a tiny theater on art-laden Wingate Street just behind the city’s main drag.  We’d spend hours searching for perfect words to make the visions in our minds clear for future readers. KevinRomano - CopyOne dark and stormy night, the power went out. With the aid of flashlights rescued from cars, we carried on with our critiques between thunder claps. Another time we held an event at a local café. Six or seven Wingate members read their short stories aloud to an enthusiastic audience. Often there were more than a dozen writers at our biweekly Monday night meetings. Many success stories and award-winning books sprang from this dedicated group.

My current writers' group at a SCBWI conference years ago . Many books later, we're still meeting and sharing our stories.

My current writers’ group at a SCBWI conference years ago . Many books later, we’re still meeting and sharing our stories.

Fellow children's' writers and illustrators getting together for the holidays.

Fellow children’s writers and illustrators getting together for the holidays.

novel revision retreat 2

2010 Novel Revision Retreat at Rolling Ridge

I included the above retreat picture from four years ago because I’ll be attending again in a few weeks—very excited!

Whether you’re new to writing or an old pro, don’t give up on finding fellow writers in your area (or online). For example, you might take a course in writing and then form a critique group with other class participants. Be brave, be tough-skinned, and get all you can out of those valuable second opinions. Most of all, keep writing!

For some great writing tips, please click here. And for even more about writing, here.

Cootie Catchers

First I’d like to share a new interview that ran the other day. Dani Duck: Artist Obscure asks some fun questions in her interviews with “some of the best children’s authors and illustrators of our time.” Interview with Marcia.

Second, let’s make cootie catchers! In Amy’s Choice, Amy learns how to make these origami-style fortune tellers from her new best friend Cat. Amidst laughter and popcorn, they use the cootie catchers to help Amy make some important choices.

Step 1: Using a square sheet of paper, bring two diagonal corners exactly together. Crease. Unfold and repeat with the remaining two corners. Crease again.

cootie catcher 1

Step 2: Fold each outside point precisely into the center.

Step 3: Without unfolding, flip the square over. Once again, fold all four outside points into the center.

cootie catcher 2

Step 4: Fold it in half. Unfold and then fold it in half the other way.

Now you get to make up the words for your cootie catcher. Following the example, you can add colors to four squares and numbers to the eight triangles. For the remaining eight spots, I used simple answers, but you might want to write fortunes instead, such as: ‘Tomorrow will be your lucky day! or “Mail is on the way!

cootie catcher 3

After you’ve filled it in, refold the catcher. Stick your thumbs and first two fingers into the four bottom pockets and then squeeze them up into the points to open and close. The first player chooses one of the outside colors. If it’s red, for example, open the catcher three times, once for each letter. (Up and down, side to side, up and down.) Next, they get to pick a number. For five, open and close five times. Then have them choose a last number and either ask a question or wait for a fortune—open, close, open, close as many times as required. If they ask, will it rain tomorrow and under the final flap it says: no way, then you’re both all set to play outside with your new cootie catchers!

Book Picks

I thought you might enjoy these new children’s books I’ve recently come across. They range from picture book through young adult.

lassieTHERE WAS A WEE LASSIE WHO SWALLOWED A MIDGIE by Rebecca Colby  *  In this hilarious twist on the much-loved rhyme, the wee lassie swallows a succession of Scotland’s favourite creatures to catch that pesky midge — including a puffin, a Scottie dog, a seal, and even Nessie! After all that, she can’t still be hungry. Can she? Kate McLelland’s funny, engaging illustrations bring to life this uniquely Scottish version of a classic rhyme.

dorothyJaneMISS DOROTHY-JANE WAS EVER SO VAIN by Julie Fulton  *  This is the third book in the charming Ever So Series. Miss Dorothy-Jane thinks her good looks and stylish clothes make her popular. However, when on her way to Hamilton Shady’s Best Lady Competition, Dorothy-Jane must put aside her vanity to save the day. Fun, rhyming picture book set in the fictional town of Hamilton Shady. Wonderful illustrations by Jona Jung.

papacrowSONG FOR PAPA CROW by Marit Menzin  *  Little Crow loves to sing, and Papa Crow loves his song. But when Little Crow shares his crow songs with the other birds at the big old tree, they laugh and scatter. If only he could sing, but Little Crow should be careful what he wishes for… Paired with colorful collage illustrations, this inspirational story is complemented by fun facts about North American birds and their sounds.

bigRiverBIG RIVER’S DAUGHTER by Bobbi Miller  *  When River Fillian’s powerful father, a pirate on a Mississippi keeler, disappears after a horrific earthquake in 1811, she must challenge the infamous rivals who hope to claim his territory and find her own place in the new order. This clever tale of a feisty heroine includes historical notes.

gettysburgAnd a sneak peek at Bobbi’s newest book–GIRLS OF GETTYSBURG available August 1st! * Picketts Charge, one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War, is the powerful climax of this gripping, deeply affecting Civil War novel, told from the perspectives of three girls: a frivolous Union loyalist, a free Black, and a southern girl disguised as a boy fighting in the Confederate Army.

mintyMINTY by Christina Banach   * Fourteen-year old twins Minty and Jess are inseparable. Nothing can tear them apart. Until a family trip to the coast puts their bond in jeopardy. As Minty tries to rescue her dog from drowning she ends up fighting for her life. Will Minty survive? If she doesn’t, how will Jess cope without her? Only the stormy sea has the answer. Mystical and memorable!

pandemicPANDEMIC by Yvonne Ventresca * Even under the most normal circumstances, high school can be a painful and confusing time. Unfortunately, Lilianna’s circumstances are anything but normal and her situation isn’t about to get any better. When people begin coming down with a quick-spreading illness that doctors are unable to treat, Lil’s worst fears are realized. This is a real page turner!

Most of these are brand new books, so you may want to request them at your local bookstore or library.

New England Author Fair

I was thrilled to participate in the 4th New England Author Fair again this year in Center Harbor, NH. It was a beautiful ride up through mountain country and I got to listen to another great audio book (Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool). The weather was perfect for sitting outside with twenty fellow authors on the stately porch of Bayswater Book Co. Despite the gorgeous weather, plenty of shoppers stopped by.


bayswater 2014 h




Book Giveaway (3 copies!)

You can win a copy of AMY’S CHOICE, months before it is available for purchase, by entering the Goodreads Giveaway contest (click picture below).

Goodreads Giveaway

Goodreads is a free website for book lovers. Imagine it as a large library that you can wander through and see everyone’s bookshelves, their reviews, and their ratings. You can also post your own reviews and catalog what you have read, are currently reading, and plan to read in the future. Don’t stop there – join a discussion group, start a book club, contact an author, and even post your own writing. Signing up is simple — you just enter your name, email, and a password.

To learn more about AMY’S CHOICE, please stop by Yvonne Ventresca’s entertaining BLOG. Fun facts about the AMY’S CHOICE cover are on Yvonne’s Friday Five feature today!

AMY’S CHOICE is a companion book to the critically acclaimed CALL ME AMY, published by Luminis Books. Bullies, boy trouble, and a talented painter who lives on the island keep Amy and her new BFF busy, but will Amy end up in court and will Craig ever return from Boston? Find out in this coming-of-age novel set in a tiny fishing village on the coast of Maine, during 1973.

Here are a few review blurbs for the first book, CALL ME AMY:

“Readers will cheer her on, and her splendid team, too.” —BOOKLIST

“Amy is a reliable narrator and easily relatable.” —SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL

“Strykowski lovingly captures seaside Maine.” —PUBLISHERS WEEKLY

“Well-drawn, sympathetic characters…create a pleasant, satisfying read.” —KIRKUS

“Highly recommended.” —MIDWEST BOOK REVIEW

Good luck with the contest!

Rodgers Memorial Library Celebration

I had a wonderful time participating in the 5th Anniversary Celebration of the Rodgers Memorial Library’s new building.

rodgers memorial library 2a

cupcakes-with-shiny-decorationsThe day was filled with music, crafts, clowns, face painting, book talk and–because of the annual cupcake contest–tons of cupcakes!???????????????????????????????

RML group double


Porch Musings

porch musings

My porch looked particularly inviting yesterday. Only trouble was it was time for me to leave for my library job. So…I snapped a picture instead. Do you have a favorite place to write, or read, or sit, or dream? My question makes me think of this poem, sung by Bilbo in The Fellowship of the Ring. What a perfect response–anyone else?

                                        I Sit And Think

I sit beside the fire and think of all that I have seen,
of meadow-flowers and butterflies in summers that have been;
Of yellow leaves and gossamer in autumns that there were,
with morning mist and silver sun and wind upon my hair.
I sit beside the fire and think of how the world will be
when winter comes without a spring that I shall ever see.

For still there are so many things that I have never seen:
in every wood in every spring there is a different green.
I sit beside the fire and think of people long ago,
and people who will see a world that I shall never know.
But all the while I sit and think of times there were before,
I listen for returning feet and voices at the door.

© J. R. R. Tolkien

Fancy Nancy Tea Party

Miss Patty is the children’s librarian at the public library where I work. On the day before Mother’s Day, she hosted a Fancy Nancy-style tea party. Here she is serving lemonade:???????????????????????????????

So many pretty dresses!fn tea 2

There’s always time to sneak in some reading:fn tea 1

Everyone enjoyed sipping lemonade, and nibbling on pretty sandwiches and cookies.???????????????????????????????

Sharing secrets and saying cheers! to a toast:fn tea 4

Then came crafts: high-heel cupcakes, tiaras, and more! ???????????????????????????????

Maybe it’s time to check out your own local library. If it’s anything like ours, there will be lots of fun programs for all ages.

YAY for Fancy Nancy and Miss Patty! fn tea 3


NESCBWI Spring Conference

I thoroughly enjoyed the 28th annual New England Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators conference. The conference was held at the Sheraton Springfield Monarch Place Hotel in Springfield, MA on the banks of the Connecticut River.

There is an abundance of knowledge at these conferences, being that there are about 2,300 members in the New England chapter. Each year the spring conference sells out quickly to more than 600 participants.

On Saturday, the keynote speaker was Peter H. Reynolds–award-winning author & illustrator of The North Star, The Dot and Ish.  “How to Extract a Fable,” was a moving, thoughtful address on  making the world a more creative place. nescbwi Peter Reynolds

There were many workshops on craft, along with expert panels. The picture below shows John Bell moderating a panel of agents (Sara Crowe, Mandy Hubbard, Emily Mitchell, and Kathleen Rushall) on “Publishing In and Out of New York.”

nescbwi agent panel

Throughout the weekend, in the ballroom, two giant screens featured new titles. Look who’s on the screen below: :)

nescbwi amy screen

Previously, I volunteered for about a decade when the conference was held in New Hampshire. After being away for several years, it was so much fun to attend again this year.

nescbwi 2014 badge

World Book Night 2014

Tomorrow, April 23rd, is World Book Night. (Freebie at the end of this post.) Here’s more about the program from their website: World Book Night is an annual celebration dedicated to spreading the love of reading, person to person. Each year on April 23, tens of thousands of people go out into their communities and give half a million free World Book Night paperbacks to light and non-readers.

World Book Night is about giving books and encouraging reading in those who don’t regularly do so. But it is also about more than that: It’s about people, communities and connections, about reaching out to others and touching lives in the simplest of ways—through the sharing of stories.

World Book Night is a nonprofit organization. They exist because of the support of thousands of book givers, booksellers, librarians, and financial supporters who believe in our mission. Successfully launched in the U.K. in 2011, World Book Night was first celebrated in the U.S. in 2012.

An independent panel of booksellers and librarians selects the books, using lists curated by experts in the bookselling and library world. All of the information comes from external, independent sources.

This year I’ll be giving out Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson. If you haven’t already read it, or seen the movie, here’s a short synopsis:

Jess Aaron’s greatest ambition is to be the fastest runner in the fifth grade. He’s been practicing all summer and can’t wait to see his classmates’ faces when he beats them all. But on the first day of school, a new kid, a new girl, boldly crosses over to the boy’s side of the playground and outruns everyone.

That’s not a very promising beginning for a friendship, but Jess and Leslie Burke become inseparable. It doesn’t matter to Jess that Leslie dresses funny, or that her family has a lot of money — but no TV. Leslie has imagination. Together, she and Jess create Terabithia, a magical kingdom in the woods where the two of them reign as king and queen, and their imaginations set the only limits. Then one morning a terrible tragedy occurs. Only when Jess is able to come to grips with this tragedy does he finally understand the strength and courage Leslie has given him.

Click here to see which book I gave out last year.

To receive a free e-book from World Book Night, click here .

April in England

“Oh, to be in England now that April’s there.” —Robert Browning

Cottage & tulips

I thought I’d do a bit of armchair traveling today. A few years ago, when my son was studying at Oxford, I visited England in April. We saw all the London sights, enjoyed plenty of banoffee pie, visited the haunts of Dickens, Keats, Lewis, Barrie, Carroll, and Tolkien, and took the Chunnel to Paris. But nothing compared to the beauty of April in England. Kensington Gardens, Hampstead Heath, Kew Gardens, and Oxford, all in full bloom, are unforgettable.


new 9

I don’t know the men in the photographs below, one in Hampstead Heath, the other in Oxford, but don’t they look like they are thinking grand thoughts?

poets perhaps

“I wonder anybody does anything at Oxford but dream and remember, the place is so beautiful. One almost expects the people to sing instead of speaking.” —William Butler Yeats

Favorite Audio Books

I only average about an hour a day in the car on weekdays, but even with that amount of time, I’ve listened to lots of audio books over the past few years. It was difficult to narrow down my favorites. Here are the winners in no particular order and why I chose them:

audio favorites

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee—partly because it’s one of my favorite books, and partly because Sissy Spacek reads it—can’t beat that combination.

Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman—mostly because Neil reads as beautifully as he writes, transporting the listener to another time and place.

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd—a beautifully written and researched historical novel. I loved the characters, setting, and significance of this book.

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson—the Major is a wonderful character and Peter Altschuler’s narration is spot on.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett—well written and well performed by three actresses—very entertaining.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society—with five readers, it’s like live theater right in your car.

Wonder by R. J. Palacio makes the list, not for the audio in particular, but because it’s an amazing story for readers of all ages. A sample line: “Courage. Kindness. Friendship. Character. These are the qualities that define us as human beings, and propel us, on occasion, to greatness.”

Additional children’s books I’ve especially enjoyed listening to were by Richard Peck and Jeanne Birdsall. And right now, I’m in the middle of The Book Thief. Took a chapter or two to get into it (mostly ‘telling’ and not much ‘showing’) but the writing and reading are strong and I’m now thoroughly enjoying.

There are many others I’ve liked, but haven’t mentioned (Night Circus, Hunger Games, Room, etc. etc.), yet I can still hear the characters’ voices. Once in a great while there will be an audio version that doesn’t work for me—sometimes because the performer’s voice has a slight inflection that makes all characters sound too similar in the same odd manner, but for the most part audio books are a wonderful way to read on the go.

To see a post of my favorite picture books, click here:

The Story of Snips

The Story of Snips by Angusine Macgregor is my oldest picture book, copyright circa 1909. I always felt it had a rather homemade look and I was therefore very surprised to discover a different version is owned by Barbara of March House Books. I promised her I’d share pictures of my copy as well, so here it is. The 48 page book is 9 1/2″ wide by 7″ high with 23 full page illustrations. Hard back binding is publisher’s original illustrated grey paper covered boards with a red cloth spine.

Snips was a very naughty mouse, so his parents packed him off to boarding school. When he did not know his lessons, he was made dunce by the strict schoolmasters. :( BUT, to give away the happy ending, he escapes and eventually becomes a model mouse!

Cover Reveal

I’m very excited to share the cover of my upcoming book with you for the first time. Amy’s Choice is a companion book to Call Me Amy, both published by Luminis Books. The release date for Amy’s Choice is October 1, 2014. Isn’t it a gorgeous cover? They did such a great job. Stay tuned for more details…

AmyChoice_Front - smaller

The Best Writing Tips

Every day, more and more people take pen to paper (or put fingers to keys) in search of their inner muse. Many would-be authors do not want to take the time to study the craft on their own. (Good reason to join a critique group!) If you’re really short on time though, why reinvent the wheel of good writing when there are volumes of how-to-books already published? Despite these short-cuts, it still takes a long time to become a skilled writer.  For those who want a very condensed basic course, I thought I’d share my favorite writing rules. Rather than foolishly trying to improve on the masters, I searched through the hundreds of quotations already out there. It was difficult to narrow the list down, but I especially agree with the following words from the wise. (I’ve also boldly added in one of my own suggestions at the end.)

From their workspace to yours, from top left: F. Scott Fitzgerald, E. B. White, Ezra Pound,
Mark Twain, Phyllis A. Whitney, Jack London, Ernest Hemingway, and Stephen King.

“You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.” Jack London
“Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It’s the one and only thing you have to offer.” Barbara Kingsolver
“If you want to be a writer you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” Stephen King
“Beginning writers must appreciate the prerequisites if they hope to become writers. You pay your dues—which takes years.” Alex Haley
“Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” E.L. Doctorow
“Get it down. Take chances. It may be bad, but it’s the only way you can do anything really good.” William Faulkner
“You must want to enough. Enough to take all the rejections, enough to pay the price of disappointment and discouragement while you are learning. Like any other artist you must learn your craft—then you can add all the genius you like.” Phyllis A. Whitney
“Not that the story need be long, but it will take a long while to make it short.” Henry David Thoreau
“My aim is to put down what I see and what I feel in the best and simplest way I can tell it.” Ernest Hemingway
“I write as straight as I can, just as I walk as straight as I can, because that is the best way to get there.” H.G. Wells
“Good writers are those who keep the language efficient. That is to say, keep it accurate, keep it clear.” Ezra Pound
“No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.”
Robert Frost
“Good writing is supposed to evoke sensation in the reader—not the fact that it is raining, but the feeling of being rained upon.” E.L. Doctorow
“As for the adjective, when in doubt leave it out.” Mark Twain
“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” Anton Chekhov
“Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water. Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.” Kurt Vonnegut
“Cut out all those exclamation marks. An exclamation mark is like laughing at your own joke.” F. Scott Fitzgerald
“If you are using dialogue—say it aloud as you write it. Only then will it have the sound of speech.” John Steinbeck
“There is no satisfactory explanation of style, no infallible guide to good writing, no assurance that a person who thinks clearly will be able to write clearly, no key that unlocks the door, no inflexible rules by which the young writer may steer his course. He will often find himself steering by stars that are disturbingly in motion.” E. B. White
“When you get in a tight place & everything goes against you, till it seems you could not hold on a minute longer, never give up then, for that is just the place & time that the tide will turn.”  Harriet Beecher Stowe
“Shut down the internet, set a timer for 15 minutes, and write. Hopefully, when the timer goes off, you will be involved in your story enough to keep going.” Marcia Strykowski

Are you a Collector, or a Saver?

As a nice tribute, several people recently posted pictures of their Shirley Temple dolls, so I decided to dig out a few of my vintage dolls, too. I did a quick search online, but couldn’t find any Annette dolls wearing this same outfit. There was a Sweetie-Pie and an old Minnie Mouse on Ebay (in poor condition). I also had to look up the terms to make sure I’m using them right. Apparently, over 100 years old equals antique. Over 40-50 years old means vintage. And retro would be more recent, like 1980s and 90s. Other old dolls I remember were Kewpie and the Campbell’s Soup Kids.

Three vintage dolls plus a troll to hide Annette’s bare feet.

To connect this post to the rest of the website, I’ll give you another sneak peek into Amy’s Choice, the companion book to Call Me Amy. In Amy’s Choice, there is a mention of trolls—along with rat fink rings, does anyone else remember those?

I don’t consider myself to be a collector, but I am definitely a saver. Not everything, just things that somehow end up becoming a collection. For example, I never planned to collect PEZ, but my kids liked the candy. Every time they tossed a container, I’d stash it away.


Below is proof that I was a girl scout! Me in my ‘brownie’ shirt. I didn’t have too many badges, and I remember I focused on the easy ones. Now I see there were a few more checked off in my handbook, but I never received them. ( Rip-off! I guess I should have thought about those missing badges sooner.) The ones shown (from top left) are My HomeMagic Carpet (described as: To discover what you can do with stories and books to give pleasure to others—yes!) Collector (looks like I lied about collecting…) Health Aid, and My Camera. I never did sew on the last badge—Troop Dramatics. The little yellow elf shoe emblem still hangs from a pin.

girl scout stuff

For more of my treasures, see  Beloved Old Treasures , Trixie Belden , and Foreign Language Picture Books.

What do you collect or save?

Hearty Stew

We haven’t dipped into Miss Cogshell’s recipe box in a while and what could be better than a steaming bowl of beef stew on a cold day in New England? This hearty stew can be changed up by adding different vegetables, or by using chicken, or no meat at all! For more quick and tasty recipes, click on the Recipes & Crafts button.

oven beef stew 2 - Copy

Authors Night at the Vineyard

Authors Night at the Vineyard - Copy

I joined 45 other New England authors for an event at the always enchanting Zorvino Vineyards in New Hampshire. We had a wonderful turnout. Clientele sipped wine, perused books, and enjoyed musical entertainment while a cozy fire roared in the hearth.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 140 other followers