Marcia Strykowski

New England Blizzard

Bliz blog 3People from around the world have asked how we’re doing with all the snow. They’ve also asked for pictures, as it can be hard to imagine this winter bliss from certain balmy locations. So, bundle up, hang onto your hats and welcome to New England! This photo shows how we walk through the early stages of a blizzard.

Later, we locate our vehicles.

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Then we drive home.

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We check out the window to see if there are any wildlife passing through our backyards.Bliz blog 8Next day, the kids head off for school.

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What can I say, we’re New Englanders and there’s lots of fun to be had in the snow, too!

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Bliz blog 7Stay cozy!

February Author Spotlight

I’m very happy to post this month’s interview with another award-winning author. bobbi roundBobbi Miller earned her MFA in Writing for Children from Vermont College, and was awarded honors with distinction for her Master of Arts in Children’s Literature degree from Simmons College in Boston. She is represented by Karen Grencik, Red Fox Literary.

Please share a little about your books.

bobbi bookMy first middle grade novel (my fourth book), Big River’s Daughter, begins: “This here story is all true, as near as I can recollect. It ain’t a prettified story. Life as a river rat is stomping hard, and don’t I know it. It’s life wild and woolly, a real rough and tumble. But like Da said, life on the river is full of possible imaginations. And we river rats, we aim to see it through in our own way. That’s the honest truth of it.”  River’s story is an historical American fantasy, a blend of the tall tale tradition that captures so much of the American identity, and a unique form of fantasy. I have long been a student of tall tales, epitomized in the exploits of Annie Christmas and Mike Fink — two important characters in River’s life.  Annie Christmas in particular was an important, and yet forgotten, character in history. She was one of the first original heroines in African-American folklore. Her tales were a favorite of the Creoles and the American blacks in pre-Civil War southern Louisiana and Mississippi River. I used many characters from history to help re-create the unique society that was colonial New Orleans.  Another, Madame Rochon, is certainly a forgotten hero.  A black woman, intelligent and astute, she became a shrewd and successful businesswoman. And, one of her business partners was the pirate Jean Laffite, the antagonist of my story.

Even Tiger, the best friend of River, has some truth to him. In 1806, a sea captain brought the first two tiger cubs into America.

The setting of my book was an extraordinary time in American history. We were embroiled in the War of 1812. While the War of Independence set us free of British rule, the War of 1812 ultimately defined us as a force in world power. My story is also grounded in many events. In December 1811, a series of earthquakes shook the Mississippi River basin. Three of these earthquakes would have measured at magnitude of 8.0 on the modern-day Richter scale. Six others would have measured between 7.0 and 7.5. The quakes were felt as far away as Canada. It shook so hard, it forced the Mississippi River to run backwards, changing the very landscape. It also sets into motion River’s story.

A good story makes history personal. History isn’t dull or dry, as textbooks would have us believe. It isn’t a list of dates and names, like a shopping list that no one remembers once the task is complete. History is real and relevant. The study of history, in essence, is a way of making sense of the present.  As David McCullough once said, in one of my favorite quotes, “We are raising a generation of young Americans who are by-and-large historically illiterate. [But] there is literature in history.”  History enlarges our understanding of the human experience, suggests Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, and as such, it needs to include the “stories that dismay as well as inspire.”

bobbi book 2As I was researching another book, I came across a small newspaper article dated from 1863.  It told of a Union soldier on burial duty, following the Battle at Gettysburg, coming upon a shocking find: the body of a female Confederate soldier. It was shocking because she was disguised as a boy. At the time, everyone believed that girls were not strong enough to do any soldiering; they were too weak, too pure, too pious to be around roughhousing boys. It was against the law for girls to enlist. This girl carried no papers, so he could not identify her. She was buried in an unmarked grave. A Union general noted her presence at the bottom of his report, stating “one female (private) in rebel uniform.” The note became her epitaph. I decided I was going to write her story in my next novel, Girls of Gettysburg. And like Big River’s Daughter, many of the characters in this book are also found in history.  Ultimately, the story featured three perspectives that are rare in these historical fiction depictions: the daughter of a free black living seven miles north from the Mason-Dixon line, the daughter of the well-to-do local merchant, and a girl disguised as a Confederate soldier. The plot weaves together the fates of these girls, a tapestry that reflects their humanity, heartache and heroism in a battle that ultimately defined a nation.

What advice would you give to new authors hoping to become published?

Repeating what others have said:  learn your craft. Read everything. Take a class, or two, or three. Join SCBWI and other organizations that support your work.  Attend conferences and workshops. But more than this, learn the business of children’s publishing, too. After all, it is first a business. Even before you are published, you can start creating an online presence. Write reviews, write articles that establish your authority, contribute to a group blog, create your own blog. These become an important tool that demonstrates to editors that you are a marketable entity. Editors will research you online if they are interested in your story. Ultimately, if you want to be a writer, start by considering this as a job: you get up, you do your job the best way you can.

One piece of wisdom I learned early on: While writing reviews is an important element in your career,  reading reviews of your story, once you are published,  can be akin to entering an emotional minefield. This can be counter-productive. Writers by definition are empathic individuals. In order to write fully-realized characters, we have to get inside the hearts of our characters. Fiction is, after all, an emotional exchange. So, rejoice and celebrate in the positive reviews, because your story touched someone! Yea!  But let go of the not so positive. Readers bring to the page a slew of experience. Not all reviews are equally weighted. Some are more reactive then reflective. Some carry trunks of emotional baggage, full of assumptions on what a story should be, but offering little insight into the story you wrote. You can’t please everyone. The most you can do is write the very best story you can write.

Favorite books = Pandemic, by Yvonne Ventresca; Minty, by Christina Banach; Guilt and Guiltless, by Erin Johnson (Laurie J. Edwards); Call Me Amy and Amy’s Choice, by … gee, I wonder who!!

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Find out more about Bobbi by clicking here for her website!

Pop Music Hits of February 1973

music groupI had a lot of fun researching 1973 music, fashion, TV shows, and other popular pastimes when I was writing the Amy books. Call Me Amy takes place from March 1973 until August. And Amy’s Choice picks up right after, continuing through November 1973. But what about just before then; what were teens listening to on their transistor radios during the cold weeks of February 1973? Turns out there were some great hits happening exactly 42 years ago today.

Music turntableFirst, we’ve got American sensation Stevie Wonder who was born in 1950. He had two huge hits in February 1973 that reached #1: Superstition and You Are the Sunshine of My Life, both from his Talking Book album and both winning Grammy awards. Only 23 years old in 1973, Stevie already had fourteen previous albums to his name (first one at age 11!). He now has more than 25 albums and just as many Grammy awards. Here’s a link to his 1973 performance on Soul Train (wait ’til you see the dancers!): Superstition

Elton JohnNext up, from England, Sir Elton John, born in 1947. One of his enormous hits of February 1973 was Crocodile Rock, quickly followed by more #1 songs off his popular Goodbye Yellow Brick Road album, such as Candle in the Wind, Bennie and the Jets, and Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting. Still going strong, he has sold more than 300 million records. Here’s Elton in action (check out the shoes!): Crocodile Rock

Carly_Simon_-_1978American singer-songwriter Carly Simon was born in 1945. On this day in 1973, you’d most likely hear her number one hit You’re So Vain. She had many other hits, as well, but this particular song was always a bit of a mystery. Who is she singing about? She claims it’s not James Taylor (her former husband) or Mick Jagger who sings backup on the original song. Could it be Warren Beatty, as many suspect? Or, as she often says, is it really a combination of three different people? Live from Martha’s Vineyard, you decide: You’re So Vain

Roberta FlackLast, but not least, lovely singer-pianist Roberta Flack, born in 1937 in North Carolina and raised in Virginia. Her most popular song of February 1973 was Killing Me Softly with His Song. This hit, released soon after The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, remained at number one for five weeks—both songs won back-to-back Grammy awards. Sit back and enjoy her amazing talent: The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face music notes

Valentine’s Day Fun

valentine flower blue3Valentine’s Day will be here before we know it, so I thought I’d share some quick and easy crafts. To make a lollipop flower, cut out four hearts about 3″ tall from construction paper. Punch a hole in the point of each heart. Layer all the hearts on top of each other so that the punched holes line up, add a little glue if needed, and then stick a lollipop through to make a center and stem. For a fuller flower, layer with six hearts.???????????????????????????????

This second valentine craft will add a fancy touch to your cup of tea. First, cut out two small hearts (I used a cookie cutter for my template). Tape a teabag string between the hearts, and glue the two hearts together to cover the end of the string. Write a saying on the front and you’re all set to drop your teabag into a mug of steaming water.

???????????????????????????????Amy has been busy choosing Valentine’s Day cards for her friends.valentine trio blueUh oh. She has one extra. Should she give a second Valentine to Ricky or to Craig? If you’ve read Amy’s Choice, you’ll already know who she ends up going with to the Fall Harvest dance. :)ValentineDanceTime

For more crafts and recipes, click on tab at top of page.

American Painters of the 1970s

artist-paintbrushesIf you’ve read Amy’s Choice, then you’ve met Finn. He is a lighthouse keeper and talented painter. In 1973, he lives on a small island across from Amy’s home in Port Wells. Finn paints beautiful coastal scenery using oils and canvas.

This of course is NOT from the 70s, but is Winslow Homer's famous Sunlight on the Coast from 1890.

Winslow Homer’s famous Sunlight on the Coast from 1890.

Obviously, the above painting is not from the 70s, but at least it’s a gorgeous scene of Maine, the same location where Finn paints. Due to copyright laws, I’m not able to post any of the artwork from more recent artists (Google them!).

Two times in Amy’s Choice, Finn mentions his admiration for real-life painter Andrew Wyeth (1917-2009). A good place to view Andy’s work is at the Wyeth Center, a part of the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland, Maine. Click here for another post about Andrew Wyeth and here to view illustrations by his famous father N. C. Wyeth.

A few other American painters who were popular during the 1970s were Norman Rockwell (1894-1978)

“Some people have been kind enough to call me a fine artist. I’ve always called myself an illustrator. I’m not sure what the difference is. All I know is that whatever type of work I do, I try to give it my very best. Art has been my life.” Norman Rockwell

Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986)

I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way–things I had no words for.” Georgia O’Keeffe

and Andy Warhol (1928-1987)

Don’t think about making art, just get it done.  Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it.  While they are deciding, make even more art.” Andy Warhol

Peter_Max_-_Stamp_2Speaking of pop art, who remembers Peter Max (1937–)? This old stamp will remind you of his bold cosmic style. More recently, you may have seen his colorful artwork covering a Continental Airlines super jet or the hull of the Norwegian Breakaway cruise ship.

peter max 2 - Copy - CopyI wish I could post paintings by these amazing American artists, but hardly any of their works are in the public domain. We’ll have to settle for a photograph of Peter Max and me hanging out at the Ritz-Carlton in Boston last summer—long story!

  “I never know what I’m going to put on the canvas. The canvas paints itself. I’m just the middleman.” Peter Max

January Author Spotlight

ann broylesWelcome to a new series I’ll be hosting on this blog. Once a month we’ll meet an accomplished author or illustrator in the field of children’s books. For our first author, I’m happy to introduce Anne Broyles. To learn more about Anne and her award-winning books, please scroll down to the bottom of this interview and click on her website link. But first, check out her interesting answers to my questions!

1. Please share a little about your books.

17267265ARTURO AND THE NAVIDAD BIRDS, a bilingual Spanish-English book about a boy and his grandmother decorating their Christmas tree, is a tale of love, forgiveness and the power of stories.

2189831In the true story of PRISCILLA AND THE HOLLYHOCKS, a young enslaved girl is forced to walk the Cherokee Trail of Tears and is “saved by hollyhocks and a white man’s kindness.” I love Priscilla’s resilient spirit.

1380138841SHY MAMA’S HALLOWEEN tells how a Russian immigrant family in the 1940s begins to feel comfortable in their new home (Lower East Side NYC) as they experience “the trick or treat” for the first time.

2. How has where you’ve lived or travelled influenced your work?

AB: I grew up in the multiethnic/multilingual Southwest, and have lived in many parts of the USA, England and Peru. I led work teams to Cuba, the Hopi and Navajo reservations, and the Clear Creek people of northern California. I’ve travelled to about 40 countries so I write from a large worldview. I’ve had the privilege of making friends with a wide variety of people from different nations, ethnicities, languages. I think this is why my published books have been so varied: a Russian immigrant family in New York’s Lower East Side; an enslaved child forced to walk the Cherokee Trail of Tears; an Hispanic boy and his grandmother. My other works-in-progress also focus on underrepresented populations—a poor West Virginia miner’s family during the Depression; a 14-year-old Cherokee girl who survives the 1838 Trail of Tears; people of Hopi, Navajo, Hispanic, Filipino, and Korean-American ancestry.

I want young readers to grow up embracing diversity and treating every person with respect. The more any of us know about people who may feel “different” from us, the less important those differences are.

3. Could you briefly tell us your writing process?

AB: Ideas fly at me every day. I usually need some gestation time before I’m ready to write– sometimes many years—but I write out a brief summary of the idea, date I had it, and enough to get me started in my thinking/musing/daydreaming about it process. Once the idea percolates, I do initial research (since many of my books are historical and/or about cultures other than my own) and write the first draft.

I usually write 5-6 days/week, taking breaks to exercise, walk the dog, and occasionally have lunch with friends. Since I work on multiple projects simultaneously, if I feel stuck on one book, I switch to another or work on the business/school visit/social media side of my job. I go on several writing retreats each year, meet with two critique groups each month, and I’m in two (reading) book groups, including one with other children’s authors.

I love the idea part of writing best and writing second. I find revision the hardest. It can be like constructing an extremely difficult jigsaw puzzle with no picture as guidance, no stated size, and pieces of all shapes and sizes. But there is little more satisfying than when the revision comes together.

4. What advice would you give to new authors hoping to become published?

AB: Work on your craft. All of us can continue to learn and improve. Write for the love of writing, and lean on that passion because the publishing process can be brutal. Fortunately, there is great support in the SCBWI. Keep up with trends in the field as much as possible, but most importantly, write from your heart and believe in yourself.
If you feel discouraged, connect with other writers.

5. Five favorites:

a. favorite book = Charlotte’s Web (children’s)  A Prayer for Owen Meaney by John Irving (adult)

b. favorite movie =  Bringing Up Baby

c. favorite vacation = hiking in Bhutan

d. favorite hobby = photography

e. favorite color = azure blue

6. If you weren’t a children’s book author, what career(s) would you like to try?

AB:  I loved my 20 years as a United Methodist minister, and if I needed to find a new career, might choose social worker or political organizer.

Thank you, Anne–your beautiful books are certainly making a difference.

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Click here to find out more about Anne Broyles and her award-winning books!

Inspiring Blogger Award

Happy New Year! WordPress sends out an annual update on how our blogs are doing. Here’s a sample from mine: A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 5,500 times in 2014. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 5 trips to carry that many people. Viewers were from 77 countries in all. Most visitors came from the United States. Brazil & U.K. were not far behind. The busiest day of the year was November 2nd.   The most popular post that day was Release Day Signing.

Thank you everyone for keeping this blog hopping! And now in other news:

Thank you to Rachel Tey! I’m excited to announce she has nominated me for the Very Inspiring Blogger Award. You can read more about Rachel here.

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 Keeping the Blogisphere a Beautiful Place

The original award image was a bit fuzzy, so I found the above version in a higher resolution.

The Award rules are:

  • Display the award on your blog
  • Link back to the person who nominated you
  • State 7 things about yourself
  • Nominate 15 bloggers, link to them, and notify them about their nominations

So, here we go…7 things about me:

1. I haven’t watched TV in years, but I love movies.

2. I don’t like jello, but I enjoy chocolate desserts.

3. I’ve never had a cup of coffee, but I like green tea.

4. I eat gluten-free and love NYAJ’s carrot cake.

5. I work in a library and will never tire of books.

6. I don’t have pets, but there are lots of fish in our house.

7. I love art and will return to painting someday.

There are so many inspiring blogs out there and I had tremendous trouble keeping my list to 15 (I may have left in a few extra, while missing others just as deserving). I’m thinking of them as I type–the list goes on and on! With no further ado and in no particular order, I nominate the following bloggers:

Jama at Jama’s Alphabet Soup 

Leandra at Le&ndra Wallace 

Mirka at Mirka Muse 

Barbara at March House Books

Bobbi and friends at Teaching Authors

Mei-Mei at Jedi by Knight

Wendy at Wendy L. MacDonald

Yvonne at Yvonne Ventresca

Laurie at Laurie J. Edwards  

Claudine at Carry Us Off Books

Greg at Always in the Middle

Kenne at Becoming is Superior to Being

Cindy at Cindy Rice Designs

Sally at Wee Folk Studio

S. L. at Eagle-Eyed Editor

Dan at redstuffdan

Neil at Neil Murray   

Marcia and friends at The Write Stuff

Marianne and friends at Writers’ Rumpus

To those who choose to participate, have fun with it and congratulations!

Writer’s Resolutions

“Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.”–Ralph Waldo Emerson

Oh, to be like Mary Pickford sitting serenely at her writing desk with nary an internet to distract her.

“Your success and happiness lies in you. Resolve to keep happy, and your joy and you shall form an invincible host against difficulties.”– Helen Keller

I haven’t had the best of luck with New Year’s resolutions. For example, that year I decided to give up chocolate and fat, or at the very least, cut way back on them? By 8:15 AM on New Year’s Day, I’d already failed, thanks to a lone chocolate cruller.

As for writing, I came up with at least a dozen resolutions, but then realized I was heading for failure again. I’ve narrowed them down to my top five.

1. Writing for 20 minutes a day might be a good start. This may not seem like a very long time, but believe me I’ve had trouble accomplishing this task many times. Set goals that are easy to achieve.

2. Read more often. Not just the genre you write, but reach outside the box. Maybe choose a book everyone’s talking about (they must have done something right!). Reread the classics that remain popular a century later. Perhaps a book that had special meaning to you before you decided to become an author.

3. Take more risks in your writing. Step outside your comfort zone with either characters, dialogue, or plot. For example, your characters are happily going along through their story, but what would happen if you suddenly threw them a curve ball? Or, say if you always write third person female historical fiction. Try first person contemporary male and see how your story turns out.

4. Stay focussed on what’s important. If improving your craft is near the top of your list, try not to waste valuable time scanning book sales and reviews. Things which depend on others can’t be controlled, so why waste time worrying about them? Less stressful multi-tasking equals more creative downtime. And, hard to believe, but the social media world will carry on without us even if we don’t check it constantly.

5. Give back to the writing community. Have you read a book you loved? Don’t keep it to yourself. Request it at your local library, review it on Goodreads, Amazon, and any other sites you find. Tell the world! One thing I plan to do is to start interviewing my fellow authors on this blog—stay tuned—there’ll be some great ones coming up!

Whatever happens with your New Year’s resolutions, don’t be hard on yourself. Just take a deep breath, learn from your mistakes and try again the next day.

“Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could; some blunders and absurdities have crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; you shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Here are a few other posts to inspire your writing:

Just Do It!

Best Writing Tips 

Guest Author

Writing Groups

Good luck and best wishes for a productive peaceful 2015!

“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re doing something.”–Neil Gaiman

Holiday Magic

winter-day-painting

For those of you who enjoyed my Massachusetts-based Thanksgiving post: here, the above winter scene was painted by F. Gleason, who was also from the Boston area. And now for another historic gem from the Bay State–the world famous tune of Jingle Bells (The One Horse Open Sleigh) was written by James Pierpont of Medford, MA in 1850. Click Jingle Bells for a delightful version sung by Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters in the early 1940s.

jingle bells medford 2

There are so many events and activities to choose from during the holidays. One year we attended a dinner theater performance where Charles Dickens’s great great grandson performed A Christmas Carol. He is shown below, after the show, signing our programs. Here is his events schedule.

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Our Children’s Librarian made this attractive display from old books we had in storage.

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snowflake1These three-dimensional snowflakes are fun to create. You can choose to make giant ones to hang from the ceiling, or tiny shiny flakes to decorate packages. Here are the easy instructions: Paper Snowflakes.

gingerbread cookiesClick the tab at top for more Recipes & Crafts.

Enjoy the season!

Nydia the Blind Flower Girl of Pompeii

NydiaAs I bumped into Nydia the Blind Flower Girl at yet another museum last weekend, I realized I’d seen her several times before. I remembered taking a picture with her once, so I enlisted my daughter to take another one. A docent wandering by, caught us in the act (photos are allowed :) ) and I said, “You must see people posing with Nydia like this all the time.” “No, not really,” she replied. She proceeded to tell us about the beautiful marble sculpture created by Randolph Rogers in 1855.

Randolph Rogers (1825-1892) was born in Waterloo, NY and grew up in Ann Arbor, MI. A neoclassical sculptor, he spent most of his professional life in Florence and Rome. Rogers began his career carving statues of children and portrait busts of tourists. He didn’t enjoy working with marble, so the marble statues were created in his studio by Italian artisans under his supervision, from an original produced by him in plaster. His first large-scale work was Ruth Gleaning (1853), based on a figure in the Old Testament. It proved extremely popular, and up to 20 marble replicas were produced by his studio.

His next large-scale work was Nydia, the Blind Girl of Pompeii (1854–55), based on a character in Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s best-selling 1834 novel, The Last Days of Pompeii. It proved even more popular, and his studio produced more than 100 marble replicas in two different sizes. This beautiful sculpture shows Nydia as she escapes from the erupting Mount Vesuvius and searches for her lost companions, including the man she loves. 

I looked through my pictures to see if I could find the other photograph I’d remembered and lo and behold I came up with a total of three goofy poses. Usually life-size, you may notice the statue on the left is done in the smaller scale. These photos of us together are from Washington, D.C., Boston, MA, and Manchester, NH, respectively. Am I the only one who feels a strong need to share a secret with Nydia?

nydia the blind flower girl

Thanksgiving Thoughts & Traditions

Although there are many discrepancies about what went on, who attended, and what they ate, most people agree the first Thanksgiving was held in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1621. I find it interesting that this famous Currier & Ives Lithograph along with the popular tune of “Over the River and Through the Wood,” both created in the mid 1800s, also had roots in Massachusetts.

c&i american homestead winter

Over the River and Through the Wood

By Lydia Maria Child

Over the river and through the wood,
To Grandfather’s house we go;
The horse knows the way
To carry the sleigh
Through the white and drifted snow.

Over the river and through the wood,
Oh, how the wind does blow!
It stings the toes,
And bites the nose,
As over the ground we go.

Over the river and through the wood,
Trot fast, my dapple gray!
Spring over the ground,
Like a hunting hound,
For this is Thanksgiving-Day.

Over the river and through the wood,
And straight through the barnyard gate!
We seem to go
Extremely slow,
It is so hard to wait!

Over the river and through the wood;
Now Grandmother’s cap I spy!
Hurrah for the fun!
Is the pudding done?
Hurrah for the pumpkin pie!

Lydia_Maria_ChildLydia Maria Francis Child, born in Medford, Massachusetts (February 11, 1802 – October 20, 1880), was an American abolitionist, women’s rights activist, opponent of American expansionism, Indian rights activist, novelist, and journalist. Here she is in 1870 reading a book.

Currier and Ives was a successful American printmaking firm headed by Nathaniel Currier (1813–1888) born in Roxbury, Massachusetts and James Merritt Ives (1824–1895) of New York. Currier & Ives produced at least 7,500 lithographs during its seven decades. Artists created two to three new images every week on lithographic stones. The images were printed in black and white and then colored by hand in assembly-line fashion, with each worker applying one color.  Currier & Ives sold more than a million prints, through peddlers, pushcart vendors and bookstores, through the mail and through an international office in London.

In Amy’s Choice, Amy teaches her friends how to make turkey apples to start off their traditional Thanksgiving celebration. Shown below are a few turkeys the kids in my family made to decorate our Thanksgiving table one year. Any holiday traditions going on in your house?

turkey apples

cornucopiaHave a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Art Around Town

As you may have noticed from earlier posts, art has always been a big part of my life, so it’s no surprise that a painter plays an important role in Amy’s Choice (sequel to Call Me Amy is now available!). Haverhill shoe - small

Art is everywhere and sometimes where you least expect it. Over the last few years, amazing shoes have popped up all over my city to celebrate its shoe industry history. Some of the newer shoes also serve as benches, like this one which stands in front of the elementary school my children attended.???????????????????????????????

???????????????????????????????I love this scholarly lion!

???????????????????????????????Downtown there are gorgeous murals and twice I’ve run into displays of giant dog sculptures on the common.

giant dogs newburyport

Giant Dogs in Bradford - smallDo you have interesting outdoor art where you live?

Release Day Signing

A huge thank you to everyone who came out yesterday during heavy downpours to get a copy of Amy’s Choice. Even all of you who didn’t make the pictures, I remember and appreciate your support. If it weren’t for readers like you, there’d be no books. :)

Best of luck to those who entered yesterday’s blog contest to win a Visa card or books. I’ll take entries through Nov. 9th and then draw winners that day. To enter contest, please click here.

BN launch line

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Happy Release Day!

book birthday ac 2

Today, Amy’s Choice is officially out in the world and I’ll be signing hot-off-the-press copies at Barnes & Noble in Salem, NH from 2–4. Seems fitting, since today is also National Author’s Day.

Be sure to scroll down to win prizes, but first, check out these great blogs that are helping me celebrate:

Lots of good questions on Laurie J. Edward‘s blog along with pictures of my workspace and hobbies.

Seven interesting thoughts on Stacy McAnulty‘s blog.

Leandra Wallace‘s unique questions almost stumped me. And she’s got a giveaway happening now.

And one more interview on a new blog for authors: The Write Stuff.balloons 2

Other recent postings: 

A letter to my teenage self is included on the popular Dear Teen Me site.

Jorie Loves a Story did in-depth reviews of both of the Amy books!

Even Little Miss Trainwreck enjoyed reading Call Me Amy and Amy’s Choice.

Check out Roxy’s wonderful review here!

Thank you ALL for joining in the celebration! But wait…what’s a party without prizes? Here they are:

1st prize = $25 VISA card

2nd prize = signed hardcover copy of Amy’s Choice plus 70’s swag

3rd prize = signed paperback copy of Amy’s Choice plus bookmark

Everyone who comments on this post will get one entry. Those who also ‘follow’ this blog will be entered twice. Prize winners will be drawn on Nov. 9th. Good luck!

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Frost in Fall

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October by Robert Frost (from A Boy’s Will, 1915)

O hushed October morning mild,

Thy leaves have ripened to the fall;

Tomorrow’s wind, if it be wild,

Should waste them all.

The crows above the forest call;

Tomorrow they may form and go.

O hushed October morning mild,

Begin the hours of this day slow.

Make the day seem to us less brief.

Hearts not averse to being beguiled,

Beguile us in the way you know.

Release one leaf at break of day;

At noon release another leaf;

One from our trees, one far away.

Retard the sun with gentle mist;

Enchant the land with amethyst.

Slow, slow!

For the grapes’ sake, if they were all,

Whose leaves already are burnt with frost,

Whose clustered fruit must else be lost—

For the grapes’ sake along the wall.

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Robert Frost’s home in Franconia, NH

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Two of my favorite songs to listen to in October are Moondance by Van Morrison and Harvest Moon by Neil Young–click on the song titles to watch & enjoy!

HarvestMoon

ENCORE 2014

Rhode Island College campus

Rhode Island College campus

It was a beautiful day at Rhode Island College for the 8th annual ENCORE event. Due to overwhelming attendance and interest in the NESCBWI yearly spring conferences, a special one day workshop is added on a few months later. Five of the most popular workshops from the big conference are presented. The function room and parking were both comfortable and convenient, and breakfast awaited us upon arrival. Emcee Sally Riley did a great job introducing everyone. I’d guess about 100 participants gathered for the following fascinating workshops:

First, writer and editor J. L. Bell discussed the physics of a fast-paced story in Building Narrative Momentum. We learned about stronger openings, adding conflict and tension, and attaching emotional weight. Who knew that p = mv?

Second was picture book pro Janet Lawler who taught us how to get those word counts down and let illustrators help tell our stories. After hearing Janet’s talk, I’m inspired to chop!

Sally Riley & Mark Peter Hughes get ready for Act 3

Sally Riley & Mark Peter Hughes get ready for Act 3

Then we broke for a hot buffet lunch. I eat gluten-free, so I didn’t partake, but it looked delicious. Throughout the breaks there were plenty of books to buy and have autographed.

After lunch, award-winning novelist Mark Peter Hughes started us off with an energetic discussion about creating and maintaining suspense for more effective stories.

Mark Peter Hughes

Mark Peter Hughes

Next up was Kendra Levin, Penguin senior editor. She had us step outside our comfort zones. Literally. We got up, switched tables, and wrote genres and point-of-views we weren’t used to trying. (Surprisingly fun!) This was the one workshop I’d actually been to before at the bigger conference, but Kendra changed it up enough to make it seem new.

Last, but not least, popular author Anna Staniszewski took us through 7 common storytelling missteps and offered tips and tools for how to avoid them.

Anna Staniszewski speaks to a full house.

Anna Staniszewski speaks to a full house.

ENCORE presenters: Janet Lawler, Mark Peter Hughes, Kendra Levin, J. L. Bell, Anna Staniszewski

Presenters: Janet Lawler, Mark Peter Hughes, Kendra Levin, J. L. Bell, Anna Staniszewski

 All in all, a very productive day, thanks to the conference committee. Oh, and guess who got a door prize? I won a copy of Deborah Freedman’s The Story of Fish & Snail!

Miss Cogshell’s Recipe Box

Miss Cogshell has an important roll in Call Me Amy. When we first meet her, she’s an enormous, terrifying woman who the kids call Old Coot. Some say she’s a witch and her weathered gray house by the sea, with the creepy widow’s walk on top, certainly doesn’t look inviting. If Amy hadn’t found her courage to stop by Miss Cogshell’s house, so many events would never have come into play that summer. Or, should we go back even further? If Sally, the nosiest postmistress in Maine, hadn’t told Amy to stop in at Miss Cogshell’s…. But, enough about Sally (until she returns in Amy’s Choice). Let’s go back to Miss Cogshell who makes the BEST ginger cookies in the world. And guess what, Amy found her recipe, so here it is:

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Watch for Amy’s Choice, the sequel to Call Me Amy, where you can revisit Port Wells and meet some fun new characters with their own tasty treats and traditions—available for preorder now!

For more recipes and crafts, click the tab at the top of this page.

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.

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

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

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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.

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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.

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

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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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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