Marcia Strykowski

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.

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.

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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.

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.

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