Marcia Strykowski

Through Monet’s Eyes

800px-Claude_Monet_1899_NadarAs promised in my recent Seine River Cruise post, here is a post devoted to Monet and his beautifully preserved estate in Giverny where he lived for 43 years.

Claude Monet (Nov. 14, 1840 – Dec. 5, 1926) was the founder of French Impressionist painting.

He was also the first to paint a scene over and over in order to capture the changing of light and passing of the seasons, saying “I know that to paint the sea really well, you need to look at it every hour of every day in the same place so that you can understand its way in that particular spot and that is why I am working on the same motifs over and over again, four or six times even.

Here is a remarkable picture from 1922 of Monet in his beautifully landscaped garden, the same garden I recently strolled through. The grounds are kept up to remain in appearance as they were during his time.
Monet_in_Garden,_New_York_Times,_1922Below is how he painted the above view, saying “It took me time to understand my water lilies. I had planted them for the pleasure of it; I grew them without ever thinking of painting them.
monet frame 1His house is just as beautiful inside as out, with big bright rooms and many paintings, including his Japanese engravings.
Casa_de_Monet_Giverny_changedDSC00205 - CopyDSC00209 - CopyBack to the gardens—so lush and gorgeous. Monet once said: “My garden is my most beautiful masterpiece.
day 9 - CopyPlenty of inspiration there for him to paint.
monet frame 3I was also fortunate to see Monet’s famous water lilies filling the walls of the Musee de l’Orangerie  in Paris. In 1899 Monet began painting the lilies, first in vertical views with a Japanese bridge as a central feature (as shown at the beginning of this post), and later in a series of large-scale paintings that was to occupy him continuously for the next 20 years of his life. He once said, “These landscapes of water and reflection have become an obsession.” This final series depicts his pond in a set of mural-sized canvases where abstract renderings of plant and water emerge from broad strokes of color and intricately built-up textures. Shortly after he died, the French government installed this last water-lily series in specially constructed galleries at the Orangerie.
day 12 orangerie

As I traveled, it seemed Monet was everywhere. He painted all the beauty of France including the same cliffs of Entretat that I shared a picture of (the one with the jaunty seagull) in my previous post.
monet frame 2

One last quotation from this brilliant man: “When you go out to paint, try to forget what objects you have before you, a tree, a house, a field or whatever… merely think here is a little square of blue, here an oblong of pink, here a streak of yellow, and paint it just as it looks to you, the exact color and shape, until it gives you your own naive impression of the scene before you.

July Author Spotlight

Laurie J. Edwards_photoThis month I’m happy to introduce Laurie J. Edwards. Laurie started out as a librarian, but then began writing picture books and easy readers. Now she’s busy with YA novels. I don’t usually include the author’s baby pictures, but oh, my gosh, wait until you see the two below of Baby Laurie in Africa!

RihannaLet’s get right to our questions for Laurie: Please share a little about your books.

I’ve written a lot of nonfiction books, including Pirates Through the Ages and a biography of Rihanna, along with the 5-vol. Encyclopedia of Native American Tribes.

Cyber Self-DefenseMy most recent nonfiction book is Cyber Self-Defense, which gives good tips about staying safe online and protecting yourself from cyberbullies. The first half of the book has personality profiles and quizzes to help you identify possible cyberbullies and predators. Even if you aren’t having internet problems, you can learn a lot about different personalities and how to deal with them. It has great tips for dating and relationships, and the type of people to watch out for.
{248FB071-0383-4998-8AAA-4185C1CA49AD}Img100I have a 4-book YA series, WANTED, set in the Wild West that I’m writing as Erin Johnson. The first book, Grace and the Guiltless is out now. In it, Grace determines to get revenge on the gang that killed her family. She’s only sixteen, but she becomes a bounty hunter. But when she meets a rugged range rider named Joe, her heart is torn between love and justice.

Her Cold Revenge 9781630790073Book 2, Her Cold Revenge comes out in August. If you want a sneak peek at some of the early chapters, you can find them on
bom-cover-love-profanityI also have stories in several anthologies. The most recent one is Love & Profanity, which came out in February. It has true stories about the teenage years by many different authors, including Kwame Alexander, Adam Rex, Jon Scieszka, Carrie Mesrobian, and Pete Hautman.

How has where you’ve lived or traveled influenced your work?
I love to travel both in the U.S. and abroad, so I’ve had many experiences I’ve turned into stories. Laurie Edwards_readingWhen I was young, I lived in Africa. Someday I’ll write some of those adventures, but my love for Africa led me to write stories for students in Ethiopia who are learning English. To write that book, Eager for English, I worked with a Peace Corps volunteer.Africa Of course, I turned my time in Arizona into material for the WANTED series. And the time I spent on the Indian reservations helped when I was researching for the Native Tribes encyclopedia.
One of my favorite trips was to China. When I arrived at the Forbidden City, I felt as if a girl from ancient China started talking to me and begged me to tell her story. I’m working on that now. Dragons Unleashed has been one of my favorite stories to write.

Could you briefly tell us your writing process?
I write and edit long hours when I have deadlines. Often it means 12-hour writing days. When I don’t have deadlines, I often take off completely and spend time reading, doing art, and traveling.
I prefer to work late at night, so my most productive hours are from 11 pm to 3 am. That’s when I get most of my creative ideas too.

What advice would you give to new authors hoping to become published?
I have several suggestions for those who want to get published. The first is to read as much as you can. Then write as much as you can.
Many people think writing is easy, but to be a good writer, you need to learn your craft. Few people think they can pick up a violin and debut with an orchestra in a few weeks or months. Yet many people sit down, write a book, and expect it to be a best seller. Put time into learning the skills, work hard. Take classes, join writing organizations, attend conferences, spend time with other writers, and join a critique group.
Often when you’re starting out, you’ll get quite a few rejections. You need a thick skin and a lot of persistence. Write because you love it, not to get published. When you write from your heart, your passion shines through. Those are the books editors are eager to publish.

Favorite book = Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
Favorite movie = Fault in Our Stars
Favorite vacation = Korea
Favorite hobby = Art
Favorite color = Rainbows; I love them all.

If you weren’t a children’s book author, what career(s) would you like to try?
I’ve been a teacher, a cake decorator, a children’s librarian, an editor, and an illustrator. I have to say I prefer writing, illustrating, and editing. If I didn’t do that, I’d probably do something creative — act or sing — or spend time teaching other people to be creative.

Excellent, thank you! Keep in touch with Laurie via these links:   Website    Blog    Twitter    Facebook

Seine River Cruise

chalk mtsBonjour—I must share where I’ve been the past two weeks—I’ve been cruising along the coast of France! Our ship began its journey in the lovely village of Honfleur.painters

The next day, we rode by bus to the Normandy D-Day beaches.beach scene

We stopped at the American Cemetery. After a brief ceremony, it was especially moving when veterans from our group went up to stand at the memorial after we all sang The Star-Spangled Banner. Later, we placed red and yellow roses on many of the almost 10,000 grave markers.cemetary double

Next we sailed to Caudebec. Once there we visited Fecamp and the Cliffs of Etretat.seagull at cliffs 2

DSC00165 - CopyWe sailed on to Rouen. Later we spent a special afternoon with a good-humored French monk at the Abbaye St. Wandrille. Despite our language barrier, we learned a lot about his way of life.

Oh, and if you’re ever in Rouen, do NOT miss the sound & light show at Notre Dame Cathedral–every night from 11 to midnight (check for seasonal time changes).

The next day we set sail for Les Andelys. Although there was always lots to see while cruising (wild horses!) …wild horsesthere was also plenty of onboard activities held each day, as well, such as French lessons, watercolor and cooking classes, Impressionism study, and various entertainments.

Once in Les Andelys, we had a fun hike up to the Chateau Gaillard. What a view!DSC00184 - Copy

Next stop: Vernon. First thing in the morning, we piled onto a bus for Giverny to tour Monet‘s gorgeous home and gardens which I’ll be saving for an upcoming blog post.

DSC00211 - CopyLater that afternoon we visited French homes in small groups. At ours (which also happens to be a Bed & Breakfast) we were served cider, lemonade, croissants, and apple cake. Our host’s eclectic collections were interesting, to say the least. At one point we realized we were tiptoeing across a real zebra skin, complete from head to tail, that her father had hunted down years ago. :(

statue of liberty - CopyThe following day we found ourselves in Conflans-Saint-Honorine and then a trip to Auvers sur Oise to discover where Van Gogh was inspired.

Soon we arrived in Paris where an optional tour of the Palace of Versailles was offered. And if you go to the top of the Galaries Lafayette roof, you’ll find an awesome view of the whole city.

Too many WONDERFUL experiences to squeeze into one blog post, but have I mentioned the food? The chef kept telling us that all of his food was fat-free with no calories. Perhaps he spoke the truth, because after eating at least 10 courses a day, we couldn’t believe we hadn’t gained weight. I guess it’s all part of the magic of a French cruise. Bon appétit!time for dessert - CopyIsabelle, Mimi, Federica, 2nd capt., Capt. Jacky

Top picture is of one of the final desserts being served (Baked Alaska) and bottom: a few of the Grand Circle Travel crew bidding us farewell (our tour guide, Isabelle, on the left and Captain Jacky on the right).Sunset

Pickity Place and Little Red

houseBack in 1786 a small cottage was built in the scenic hills of Mason, New Hampshire. Many years later, Caldecott Medal winner Elizabeth Orton Jones (1910-2005) lived in the quaint little red house.  Red Riding Hood Jones Golden Bk 1948She used it as a model for her illustrations in Little Red Riding Hood, (Little Golden Books, 1948). I recently visited this idyllic setting–now called Pickity Place–with a group of fellow librarians. house sign

DSC00229 - CopySome of us couldn’t decide which was better: the amazing five-course gourmet meal accented with herbs and edible flowers grown and harvested on location or the gorgeous gardens and pathways where we wandered after lunch. DSC00247Let’s take a tour of a few highlights. I spy a little drying shed in the distance. drying shed distanceOnce inside, it feels like a worker has just stepped away. DSC00254Gift shopLook inside one of the gift shops to see lots of lovely items on display. And if you peek through the doorway into the next room, you’ll be surprised to find someone sleeping in Grandma’s bed! DSC00234Here are a few lines from Elizabeth’s Caldecott acceptance speech: Every child in the world has a hill, with a top to it. Every child–black, white, rich, poor, handicapped, unhandicapped. And singing is what the top of each hill is for. Singing-drawing-thinking-dreaming-sitting in silence … saying a prayer. I should like every child in the world to know that he has a hill, that that hill is his no matter what happens, his and his only, forever.”

me at pickity

I should have worn a red-hooded cape for my escape to this enchanted forest.

Just for fun, below are three illustrations from an earlier 1843 edition of Little Red Riding Hood. Do you have a favorite version? 1843 trio

June Author Spotlight

yvonneBecause June brings us halfway through this year of author spotlights, I have a special treat—a double delight if you will: two authors who released their beautiful turquoise-tinted young adult novels last year to great acclaim. Let’s get to it!

Before becoming a children’s writer, Yvonne Ventresca wrote computer programs and taught others how to use technology. Now she happily spends her days writing stories instead of code. Her YA book, Pandemic, has recently been awarded the prestigious SCBWI Crystal Kite Award for the Atlantic region. And, after this interview took place, I learned that Yvonne is one of twenty authors published in the “Prep For Doom” anthology which releases NEXT WEEK!

Please share a little about your books.

pandemicPandemic (Sky Pony Press, 2014), is a young adult novel about an emotionally traumatized teenager struggling to survive a deadly bird flu outbreak. School Library Journal called Pandemic “an engrossing apocalyptic story” and Kirkus Reviews said “this realistic page-turner will keep most readers enthralled.” My other writing credits include two nonfiction books for teens, Avril Lavigne (a biography of the singer) and Publishing (about careers in the field).

Could you briefly tell us your writing process?

For Pandemic, my main process was to intertwine my plot idea (deadly contagious disease strikes suburban NJ) with my character idea (Lilianna, who is recovering from trauma, must survive the illness without help from her family). While writing, I also researched historical and emerging illnesses, as well as public response to them, to make the story feel as real as possible. The fictionalized bird flu progressively spreads and worsens during the novel which creates a series of complications and events for Lilianna to overcome. It took me about two years to write and revise Pandemic so that these pieces came together in a compelling way.

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

Treat writing like any other job that requires certain skills. Evaluate what you are good at and what you need to improve. Maybe your weakness is unnatural sounding dialogue or adding too much description (or not enough!) for the target age group. After determining what needs work, focus on that area by reading craft books, doing research, etc. and concentrate on developing that skill. Just because we are good writers doesn’t mean we are good at every part of writing.

favorite book = My favorite from childhood was The Headless Cupid by Zilpha Keatley Snyder.
favorite movie = I’m not a big movie person, but I love the TV show Criminal Minds.
favorite vacation = Any place tropical!
favorite hobby = Genealogy. I love researching my family’s history.
favorite color = Blue for clothes and Pandemic’s cover. :) Red for everything else.

Thanks, Yvonne, great answers! Keep in touch with Yvonne via these links:
Twitter: @yvonneventresca


005 - CopyFor our second author, we’ll travel to the UK and meet Christina BanachShe is a former head teacher who lives in Scotland with her husband and two rescue dogs. Her young adult novel, Minty, was published last year by Three Hares Publishing and has been described as The Lovely Bones meets Ghost. It was The Scottish Book Trust Teen’s Book of the Month for December 2014, was nominated for a Cybils 2014 Children’s and Young Adult Blogger’s Literary Awards and has been shortlisted for the SCBWI Crystal Kite Award.

Here are Christina’s answers to my questions:

Please share a little about your books.

‘A compelling and ultimately heart-warming story’ – The Book Trust

‘A haunting, eerie and beautiful read that will resonate with you for days after you read it.’ – The Scottish Book Trust

Set in Scotland, Minty is a contemporary ghost story told from the point of view of the ghost. Fourteen-year-old twins Minty and Jess share a special bond; they are inseparable despite the occasional falling out. But, one fateful day while walking the dogs by the sea, the girls argue and the last thing Jess says to Minty is ‘drop dead’. How could she know what was to follow? When Minty tries to save their dog from drowning those words come back to haunt Jess as their sisterly bond is shattered.

The idea for the book appeared early one summer morning, just as the sun came up. During the night I thought I sensed my late father’s presence, after which, unable to get back to sleep, I sat in the sunroom contemplating what had actually happened. Whilst doing this I heard my dog panting and put out a hand to stroke her. Until it struck me – how could it be my pet? She had died the month before. That’s when Minty’s story came to me: one of love, loss, and friendship but over all, one of hope, resilience and strength of character.

Could you briefly tell us your writing process?

Once I decide to run with an idea, and the characters have entered the stage, I plunge into the research – surfing the Net, reading books, going on field trips etc – making notes as I go along. I usually add to this research throughout the writing of the book. When it comes to creating the story, I would describe myself as halfway between a plotter and a pantser. Once I have enough material, I do a lot of brainstorming: thinking of scenes, exploring character arcs, considering the structure and so on. I always know how the book will start and how it will end and yet I’m more than happy to deviate from my plans (that’s the pantser in me!) if this will improve upon the story I’m trying to tell.

Mostly, I write at my desk, in my office (a converted upstairs bedroom), typing straight into my computer. However, when I’m working on a first draft, I park myself in a comfy armchair in the sitting room or, occasionally I’ll work in a coffee shop or cafe. I rarely right longhand, but I always have a large journal by my side (I go through several per book) into which I write detailed notes, that are then used in self-editing the manuscript. It usually takes me a number of drafts to get the story right. From second draft onwards I seek feedback on the manuscript from trusted beta readers.

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

Gosh, Marcia, I’m only a debut novelist so I’m not sure that I’m qualified to give advice. I’ll try, though. The first thing I would suggest would be to read as widely as possible, especially within your chosen genre, because you learn so much about the craft of writing by studying other authors’ work. Also I’m a great fan of writing guides. I know some people believe that writing can’t be taught. My answer to that is that talent can’t be, but technique surely can. I have a study-full of helpful books that helped me on my journey to publication. I’d advise new writers to start with the more generic guides and, as their writing skills progress, to move on to the more in-depth books devoted to plot and structure, character, dialogue etc. For the self-editing process I’ve found James Scott Bells’ book on Plot and Structure indispensable. Websites can also be useful – there are lots of very helpful ones out there, including yours. One I highly recommend is the Words and Pictures online magazine from the British Isles chapter of the Society of Children’s Book writers and Illustrators (SCWBI). Another suggestion is to seek out other writers – join a critique group (impartial feedback on your work is essential), attend courses and conferences if possible. If you’re a children’s or YA writer then seriously consider joining SCBWI – the support from the other members is amazing. Above all, write as often as you can. Don’t be a perfectionist – give yourself permission to write drivel. But get that story written! OK you might think your first draft is rubbish, but you can always iron out any problems through the revision process. With each draft, the story that you are trying to tell will slowly evolve. Finally, if you love writing and dream of being published then don’t let anything stop you, least of all yourself. Try not to be discouraged by rejections from agents and publishers – easier said than done, I know (from experience!). The thing is, rejection comes with the territory but as someone wiser than I pointed out, try to look at each one as another step along the road to acceptance. Good luck!

favorite book= Children’s/YA: Skellig by David Almond because that’s the book that inspired me to write for young people.  Adults: It’s a toss up between Persuasion or Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.
favorite movie= A Long Walk to Freedom (Nelson Mandela is a hero of mine)
favorite vacation= anywhere by the sea, or soaring mountains. Better still, soaring mountains by the sea.
favorite hobby= reading!
favorite color= All shades of mint (pretty obvious, huh?)

Wonderful, thank you, Christina! Here are links to keep in touch with her:

Twitter: @ChristinaBanach

Tick-Tock Lots of Clocks

Have you ever been to the National Watch & Clock Museum in Columbia, Pennsylvania? So many beautiful clocks of all shapes and sizes. The most impressive clock in the museum is featured at the end of this post.


12,000 clocks and watches!


Wait for it, my favorite is still to come…



At the age of 20, Stephen D. Engle, a self-taught dentist, began making the first known monumental clock. It took the father of seven more than 20 years to complete, but WOW, what a clock! The clock went on tour for the next 70 years and then disappeared until the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors tracked it down. Major restoration began and now it can be enjoyed by all visitors to the museum. There are 48 moving figures, as well as music and intricate details. To see Stephen’s clock in action, click on the picture below.DSC00115See you next time! (Time, get it?)

Mark Twain

DSC00068I recently visited the beautiful home of Samuel Langhorne Clemens (1835 – 1910), better known as “Mark Twain.” If you’re ever in Hartford, CT, I highly recommend the tour. He lived here for seventeen years and nearly every room holds a fascinating story. His next-door neighbor was Harriet Beecher Stowe (her lovely home is open for tours, too). Rather than babble on about his accomplishments, I’d like to share the following thoughts from his own words.

800px-Mark_Twain_House_-_HABS_photo_023204pu“The man who doesn’t read good books has no advantage over the man who can’t read them.”

640px-Mark_Twain_by_Mora,_1882“In writing “Tom Sawyer” I had no idea of laying down rules for the bringing up of small families, but merely to throw out hints as to how they might bring themselves up, and the boys seemed to have caught the idea nicely.”

“Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words.”

“I like a good story well told. That is the reason I am sometimes forced to tell them myself.”

480px-Tom_Sawyer_-_bookcover“The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter—it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”

“The secret of getting ahead is getting started.”

“The right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause.”

Tom_Sawyer_-_01-017We are always more anxious to be distinguished for a talent which we do not possess, than to be praised for the fifteen which we do possess.”

“It is human nature to take delight in exciting admiration. It is what prompts children to say “smart” things, and do absurd ones, and in other ways “show off” when company is present. It is what makes gossips turn out in rain and storm to be the first to tell a startling bit of news.”

640px-MarkTwain.LOC“To get the right word in the right place is a rare achievement. To condense the diffused light of a page of thought into the luminous flash of a single sentence, is worthy to rank as a prize composition just by itself…Anybody can have ideas–the difficulty is to express them without squandering a quire of paper on an idea that ought to be reduced to one glittering paragraph.”

Huckleberry_Finn_book“A successful book is not made of what is in it, but what is left out of it.”

“There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages.”

“Don’t say the old lady screamed. Bring her on and let her scream.”

“Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest.”

Mark_Twain_DLitt“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing you can do is keep your mind young.”

“Learning softeneth the heart and breedeth gentleness and charity.”

At left is the official portrait of Mark Twain in his Doctor of Letters academic dress, awarded by Oxford University in 1907.

DSC00211The above statue stands in front of the Hartford Public Library. Back at the Twain house it was fun to find him built entirely of Legos. I hear there is a large Lego rendition of the house itself at Bradley International Airport in Connecticut. The portrait of Twain with his beloved corn-cob pipe (below) was created by James Carroll Beckwith in 1890.


If you are interested in other famous author homes you can tour, please see my earlier post here.

May Author Spotlight

kathi dubleStopping in today for our May Author Spotlight is prolific author Kathleen Benner Duble. Let’s get right to her words of wisdom and learn more about her award-winning books. Please share a little about your books.  I write historical fiction for middle schoolers and young adults. I love finding interesting ways to bring history alive for students and parents alike.  For me the writing is less about the time period and more about a little known tidbit from some period that I have stumbled across.  So for instance, when I discovered that my great (nine times back grandmother) was accused of witchcraft at age 10 and put in the Salem Town Prison in 1692, I knew this was a perfect way to write about the Salem Witch Trials. For my newest book,  I heard the story of Madame Tussaud, the wax-worker, when visiting her museum. l learned how she had worked with the King’s sister and was imprisoned when the Revolution came about. And when I read more, I discovered that the way she had kept herself from being guillotined was to agree to make wax heads of those who were actually beheaded. Then, I knew I had a story and a way to introduce students to the turmoil of the French Revolution.

May bk1How has where you’ve lived or traveled influenced your work? Traveling is a big part of my life and I’ve managed to collect some amazing stories during my adventures. I have been to Colorado and seen the training grounds of the soldier skiers I wrote about in Phantoms in the Snow. I was even shocked to find out that for years, I had known a real live Phantom and that he was a friend of mine from our summer home in the mountains. I have sailed in a lot of places, including Croatia and Sicily and this certainly helped me when writing about the last and fateful voyage of the explorer Henry Hudson in my book Quest.  And of course, I HAD to go to Paris when working on Madame Tussaud. I visited the Palais-Royal where my main character is caught stealing and I walked the grounds of the beautiful palace, Versailles. Nothing like a warm croissant to aid in anyone’s writing efforts!

May bk2

Could you briefly tell us your writing process?  Because I am at my most creative in the morning, I am in my office by 8:30 every day and I write until about 2:30-3:00. In the afternoons, I work on marketing or returning emails or running all those wonderful little trips we call errands and exercising! If I am not writing, I am doing school visits. And when I really get stuck on one of my writing projects and I have folded laundry and done dishes and made beds and am still stuck, I go to the movies! Oh, and I always write in my pj’s! – Two of the perks of being an at-home author!

May bk3

What advice would you give to new authors hoping to become published? On my website, I have a list of twenty tips for aspiring writers. But if I was going to choose just one, I would say that you have to believe in yourself – no matter what happens.  In this field, you will get many rejections. It’s part of the job. You have to be able to lift yourself up from these disappointments and move on. You will also receive a lot of criticism on your work. You have to be able to see criticism as a positive – a way for you to grow and learn and improve as a writer. Hearing what’s good about my work makes me feel great and is nice, but it’s the criticism that makes me a better writer. So in my opinion, the most important factor and key elements to being a successful writer is determination and belief in yourself.

May bk4

Favorite book = For Kids – Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbit   For Adults – Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner
Favorite movie = It’s a Wonderful Life followed closely by Dead Poets Society and Out of Africa
Favorite vacation = Any place I get to go with my husband and my girls.  I treasure those times.  But my favorite places I’ve visited so far have to be Africa and Thailand.
Favorite hobby = Reading is Number One – always.  But I also like to needlepoint.  I am learning Italian.  And I am trying (poorly) to play the piano.
Favorite color = Green, green, green!

pilot_lrgIf you weren’t a children’s book author, what career(s) would you like to try?  A rock star!  Just kidding.  But it would still have involved music as I would have liked to have been a great violinist or cellist.  I love the symphony, especially the strings.

Thanks for your interesting answers, Kathi!

Comic Books

ka-powBefore the recent boom in graphic novels there were comic books! For many years, comic books have been available for all tastes and ages. From stories about super-heroes to science fiction, action/adventure, romance, humor, and horror.

Here is a comic book from 1922:

comic book 1922

And here is the first appearance of Captain Marvel in 1940:

whiz comicsIt was believed this new super hero was too similar to Superman and publications were halted until the late 1960s when Marvel gained the trademark. A variety of Captain Marvels followed.

I can remember sitting outside on a hot summer day and the excitement of flipping through a new comic book. I loved reading them front to back over and over–unlike the currently popular Japanese Manga comics which read back to front. My old stack of comic books is only valuable to me (and anyone else interested). Rather like old record albums, too many people have them, so there’s no real monetary value. That’s okay though, not sure I could ever part with them. :)

Here’s a picture of a few comic books in my collection:

comic books

You’ll notice several Archie comic books in the above picture. Archie, drawn by Bob Montana and written by Vic Bloom, first appeared in Pep Comics in 1941 and now more than 70 years later, he’s still a familiar face.

There are so many fun facts to sort through online, but since I’ve mentioned Archie (who was once nicknamed Chick) here’s the full name of his buddy Jughead: Forsythe Pendleton Jones III.

I also discovered I have something in common with Superman. His favorite book is To Kill A Mocking Bird, as mentioned in Detective Comics #27 – and later it was also said to be his favorite film.

Another fascinating character I discovered in my research was the Green Lama, a practicing Buddhist, who became popular in comic book form during the 1940s.

If you’re ever in D. C., the Library of Congress holds the world’s largest collection of comic books. They have 5,000 titles and 100,000 issues. The oldest comic book in their collection is “Popular Comics,” Feb. 1936.

girl_rolling_pinDo you still have your comic books or maybe a favorite comic book memory?

Seal or Sea Lion?

Have you ever wondered what the differences are between a seal and a sea lion?

Seal post 3Seals have small earholes and short, hairy front flippers with a claw on each toe. On land, they move by wiggling along on their bellies like caterpillars, with their hind flippers straight out. Seals swim by steering with fore flippers  and powering with hind flippers. They are more streamlined in water. Their whiskers are rounded and their grunts are usually soft-spoken.

Although sometimes with a mate, seals can be more solitary than sea lions who are usually hanging out in large groups. 

Seal post 4Sea lions have the following characteristics: External visible earflaps and long hairless fore flippers. Their hind flippers rotate underneath so they are able to walk on land. They swim underwater using their fore flippers like wings. Sea Lions have long smooth whiskers and can bark quite loud.

Seal post 1

A year or so ago I had an opportunity to participate in a seal release where healthy seal pups return to the ocean after their wounds have healed. Here’s a link to my seal release adventure.

Seal post 2

Although it can be exciting to see seals in the wild, please keep your distance. They may have come ashore merely to relax or because they need help, but it’s better to call your local authorities. About the time period of my first novel, Call Me Amy, which features Pup the harbor seal, the Marine Mammal Protection Act went into effect. This law prohibits the taking of marine mammals without a permit.

There is one more marine mammal in the pinniped family and I bet you can guess who that is!Pacific_walrus_bull_odobenus_rosmarus

April Author Spotlight

julie fulton roundI’m thrilled to introduce you to Julie Fulton from all the way across the pond. Born and raised in Buckinghamshire, she lives in the UK! Julie excels in music as well as writing and has shared some fun and fascinating answers to my questions about her delightful picture book series.

Please share a little about your books.

My ‘Ever So’ series of picture books takes place in the weird and wonderful (and totally fictitious!) town of Hamilton Shady. As one reviewer put it, ‘It’s a crazy town and there’s always something going on. Not the place for a peaceful holiday.’

There are four in the series so far, with a fifth set for release in January 2016, plus more currently working their way out of my imagination.

Mrs MacCready Was Ever So Greedy –

In the small town of Hamilton Shady there is a rather large problem. Mrs MacCready won’t stop eating and is soon towering above the town. There can only be one outcome…..

Tabitha Posy Was Ever So Nosy –

Tabitha Posy annoys all her neighbours by sticking her nose into their business. However, on a school trip to the zoo, she discovers there are just some times when it’s better not to be too curious with oversized cats!

Miss Dorothy-Jane Was Ever So Vain –

Dorothy-Jane thinks her good looks and stylish clothes make her popular. However, on her way to take part in Hamilton Shady’s Best Lady Competition, she has to choose whether or not to put aside her vanity and save the day.

Daniel O’Dowd Was Ever So Loud –

Daniel O’Dowd has a very loud voice and annoys everyone with it. One day, on a school trip to Professor McWhizzit’s house, he spies a comet heading towards Earth. Is this the end for everyone? The Professor has an idea how Daniel’s supersonic voice might save the day….

julie's books

How has your upbringing influenced your work?

My mother used to read all sorts of books to me when I was little, but those that have stayed with me most (and I remember enjoying most at the time) are the nonsense, rhyming poems and stories of the likes of Edward Lear, Hillaire Belloc, Spike Milligan and Dr Seuss to name a few. The rhythm of their writing and the fantastic tales they told have stuck with me.

My father would make up stories for me at bed time and I often drifted off to sleep continuing the adventures of ‘Little Mouse’ in my own mind.

If you factor in to the above that I am a musician by ‘proper’ trade, I suppose I was bound to end up writing my own crazy, rhythmic, rhyming stories at some point in my life!

Could you briefly tell us your writing process?

I usually have to grab small bursts of time to sit down and write intentionally. Most of my ideas occur at the most difficult times – in the checkout queue, in the middle of teaching, when I’ve woken up in the night. I’ve learnt to carry a notebook with me wherever I go. First drafts get hurriedly scribbled down, are later transferred to my computer for safe keeping, then edited and honed when I have the time. On the whole I’ve found I work better with my picture book ideas and poetry (I do sometimes write things other than picture books!) if I use pen and paper. Sitting at the computer from the start is something I save for my ‘older’ writing.

So, my process for picture books boils down to – have an idea, scribble it down, work on it in fits and starts, throw my rhyming dictionary out the window several times when it refuses to come up with the perfect word, edit, edit again, have a fit when my publisher’s editor says something else needs changing, work it out and breathe a sigh of relief when everything’s finished.

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

I can only tell you what I have experienced and found useful….there may be lots of other things I haven’t come across yet. Please do let me know if so!

Definitely find and join a critique group of the genre/age range for which you wish to write. The insight and support of fellow writers is invaluable.

Definitely read everything you can lay your hands on that is current and of the genre/age range.

Join a general, tutor-led writing class to hone your basic skills. I love mine and find the knowledge I have gained has dripped into all my writing.

Join SCBWI – the best thing I have done since becoming a published writer, though you do not have to be published to be a member. Being able to share successes and disappointments with people who really understand is essential.

Write because you want to and because you love doing it. It’s a hard business with no promise of ever seeing your work in print. I still count myself as incredibly lucky and often feel the urge to pinch myself to check it’s all true. But, even if I wasn’t able to see my words in a real book on real bookshelves, I’d still write….because I can’t imagine not doing it.

Five Favourites:

Book – Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte)

Movie – Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (sing along every time!)

Vacation – spending days on a certain North Cornish beach, surfing, building dens out of driftwood, baking potatoes on a fire, spending time with good friends.

Hobby – ballroom and Latin dance

Colour – this depends…on me, turquoise or cerise. On anything else (except cars and walls!) purple. Don’t know what I like on cars or walls, which often leads to difficulties when redecorating. Who’d have thought a simple question like that would lead to such a protracted answer.

If you weren’t a children’s book author, what career/s would you like to try?

I love my other job – teaching music and playing piano/singing in choirs – so can’t really think of much else I’d rather do. If you pushed me, probably a librarian!

Be sure to check out Julie’s cool website at

Cape Celebrates Literacy!

The third annual Cape AuthorFest was held yesterday in Cape Elizabeth, Maine. It was a privilege to participate in this impressive event.???????????????????????????????The fair is run by a super-powered team, led by Superintendent of Schools Meredith Nadeau and her husband Travis Nadeau. I’m sure it took many volunteers and sponsors, as well. A friendly group of Bull Moose staffers handled all the book sales. I wished I could buy books from all 70 authors, but there were way too many choices (all at discounted prices!). I’ll certainly be suggesting some favorite titles for our children’s librarian to consider. As you can see from the picture below, the AuthorFest team does a wonderful job promoting the festival to members of the close-knit community and beyond.The event was perfectly timed with a Maine Association of School Libraries conference being held across the street. The enthusiastic librarians popped over during their breaks.

really big crowdLovely designed T-shirts (with all our names on the back) along with snacks and drinks were passed out to the authors and illustrators. And then, after we packed up our displays, I thought there might be a few cold cuts and rolls, but nope, we were presented with an authentic Maine lobster luncheon, complete with all the fixings and blueberry cake to follow.

lobster dinner finalThank you Cape Elizabeth AuthorFest team for everything!

I couldn’t be that close to Portland Head Light without stopping by on the way home. Aside from a very brisk wind, it was picture perfect.

???????????????????????????????All in all a great day! Click here if you’d like to know more about the fair and who participated. 

Picture Books Around the World

Without even trying I’ve accumulated a great little collection of picture books from other countries. These first two handsome editions were given to me by my son after he toured with fellow musicians in Germany and Poland.


???????????????????????????????This book of Swedish folk tales was published in Stockholm in 1946. They have been producing anthologies since 1907. I bought the book many years ago from Antiquarian Booksellers of NY for about $12. It’s gorgeous with attached illustrated plates, although unfortunately when I pulled it out to snap a picture, I discovered some of the pages have come loose.

???????????????????????????????The title translates to “Among Gnomes and Trolls.” Included in the book are illustrations by the amazing John Bauer. Famous for sympathetic trolls, his paintings have a lovely mythical quality to them. Sadly, he died in a shipwreck at age 36, along with his wife (also an artist, but better known as the model for the Fairy Princess) and their two-year-old son.

Here’s another closeup of the inside–illustration by Einar Norelius.

???????????????????????????????DSC09964Other favorite books in my collection were gifts from faraway friends. Maryse airmailed me Petit Renard perdu all the way from France. The story about a little lost fox is told from two viewpoints. You flip it over halfway to read Mama Fox’s version.

display cabinet - Copy - CopyThis photo shows how my collection looked while on display at a public library. The little Clifford (the Big Red Dog) book is in Spanish. The very bottom, as well as the top shelf holds more French books. The two on the second shelf up from the bottom are Danish. The one on the right was written by Hans Christian Andersen–very appropriate since today is his birthday! The little brown-trimmed ones in the center are German. Do you have any foreign language books or maybe a different type of collection from a faraway land? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments. I love to hear from you and appreciate when these posts bring readers together for discussion.


Liebster Award

Liebster award - CopyI’m pleased to announce I’ve been awarded a Liebster Award! Thank you very much to Maca for nominating me. Maca has been speedily reviewing lots of great books–check out her interesting blog here: booksaremylovers. The Liebster Award is a chain tradition for bloggers to share other blogs they enjoy.

Here are the rules:
1. Thank and link the person who nominated you.
2. Answer the questions given by the nominator.
3. Nominate 11 other bloggers who have less than 200 followers and link them. (I have over 200, but it can be tricky to figure that out and also, I am quite late in posting this award.)
4. Create 11 new questions for the nominees to answer.
5. Notify all nominees via social media/blogs.

OK, now on to Maca’s fun questions:

1. What is the book that you are currently reading right now? I’ll be sitting in as my library’s book club leader in a few weeks and they have chosen to discuss THE CHAPERONE by Laura Moriarty. So, not only am I giving it a careful reading, but I’m also listening to an audio version during my commute. I like to be prepared. :)

2. Do you like movie adaptations of books? What adaptation lived up to your expectations and you would recommend? Ones that come to mind are TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, GONE WITH THE WIND, and many of Jane Austen’s titles.

3. In your opinion what book has the best cover ever? No way can I choose just one. So, after a quick search these are today’s choices, although I have to confess I haven’t read most of them.

book covers4. What is your favorite/s book genre? Historical Fiction and just about anything in YA.

5. What is the book that you’ve read the most number of times? I don’t tend to read books over and over, although I know I’ve read THE GREAT GATSBY, as well as TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, at least twice. That said, I do read my own books (in manuscript form) over and over, along with the manuscripts written by members of my critique group.

6. In case of calamity (fire, flood, etc.) and you only have a chance to save a few books that you can carry in your arms. What are those books? Easy. I would grab my photo books. I love to make fancy books using all my favorite photos of family, friends, and memorable events.

7. What do you enjoy doing aside from reading? I enjoy writing, working in a library, painting, travel, music, paper-cutting, and holidays.

8. What do you prefer, physical copy or ebook? Why? Definitely ones made from paper. I like to hold them and flip through their pages. I spend enough time in front of the computer without wanting to read another screen during my downtime. I’m also fond of audio books for my car.

9. If you are given a chance, who is the author you would want to be close friends with? Hmm, this is a tough one. I know many authors who I consider to be friends already. Instead, I’ll go back a few years and choose Lucy Maud Montgomery.

10. What is your favorite part of the year? Spring, especially after this extra long winter.

11. What is the first book you would instantly recommend to someone you just met? Like me?  How about my own books CALL ME AMY and AMY’S CHOICE! :)

In turn, I nominate the following people for the Liebster Award (I had to nominate a bunch back in January for a different award, so these will be all new ones):












And here are your quick and easy questions:

1. What’s your favorite pastime?

2. Favorite ice cream?

3. Favorite book?

4. Favorite movie?

5. Favorite climate?

6. Favorite vacation?

7. Favorite color?

8. Favorite hot meal?

9. Favorite song?

10. Favorite season?

11. Favorite candy?

Congratulations to the new nominees and thanks for playing!

March Author Spotlight

alisonSpring is just around the corner, perfect timing to feature Alison Ashley Formento on this month’s author showcase. Welcome, Alison! Your award-winning books are sure to bring us some long overdue warmth and sunshine.

Please share a little about your books.

I love writing short stories so I’m very proud of my published picture book series THESE THINGS COUNT! Five books, so far, and they all illustrate my love of nature and how what we do in our surroundings counts in this world. I happen to love writing for teens, too, and I’m happy to share my debut young adult novel TWIGS, featuring a main character by the same name, who is small of stature, and of spirit, but finds the way to face to the weirdness in her life.

alison pic books

alison twigs photoHow has where you’ve lived or traveled influenced your work?
Anywhere I’ve hiked from the Sierra Madre Mountains in California to the Ozarks to the Appalachian Trail has nurtured my interest and love of nature. This interest in hiking and especially in caring for our natural world spurred my picture books series. Growing up in Arkansas definitely inspired the small town characters I’ve written about in TWIGS. Currently, I’m inspired by a certain famous skyscraper in New York as one of the settings in a new novel I’m writing.

Could you briefly tell us your writing process?

Walk, think, shower, think, walk, think.
Sit and doodle. Draw several trees. Stop doodling.
Write what I’ve thought about. Write, write, write. Write like the wind!
Time passes…
Revise, revise, revise.
Doodle, eat chocolate, and reread story many times.
Take a deep breath and finally send story to writing friends.
Revise again based on notes from friends.
Send story to agent. Fill heart with hope that she can sell it to a publisher.
Walk, think, shower, think, walk, think about a new story while waiting for news.

What advice would you give to new authors hoping to become published?
Don’t stop writing just because your work is rejected. It will get rejected time and time again—that’s part of this writing business. Keep improving your craft, and keep submitting, until some agent or editor says yes to your story.

Five favorites:
a. favorite book = I’ll have to keep reading until I can answer this question.
b. favorite movie = This changes like the moon for me. Wizard of Oz, Forest Gump, Birdman (this year)
c. favorite vacation = Jamaica for the lovely people and beaches. New York City for character, not to mention great theatre and museums.
d. favorite hobby = Reading, of course, followed by nature hikes.
e. favorite color = Green!

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

Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Expert travel guide capable of speaking any language
Royal tea taster at Buckingham Palace

Thanks, Alison, great answers! Please check out her website here:

The Concord Authors

Have you ever toured the home of a famous long-ago author? There are so many interesting stories behind writers and their homes, but I’m going to limit today’s brief visit to Concord, Massachusetts.

The Old Manse

The Old Manse

In 1834, Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882) went to live in what we now call the Old Manse. He completed the first draft of his first published work, Nature, in the upstairs study. Another famous author who lived there was Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804–1864). He arrived in 1842 with his new bride for what he referred to as three of their happiest years. Hawthorne is the one who named it the Old Manse which means minister’s home.

Nathaniel Hawthorne

Nathaniel Hawthorne

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ralph Waldo Emerson


Ralph Waldo Emerson House

Ralph Waldo Emerson House

In 1835 Emerson purchased Bush which is now called the Ralph Waldo Emerson House. He moved in shortly after his second marriage and they raised their family there.

Thoreau (1817–1862) lived there briefly, as well, and was a frequent visitor. He later built his well-known cabin on Emerson’s property.

Henry David Thoreau   July 12, 1817--May 6, 1862

Henry David Thoreau

Louisa May Alcott  November 29, 1832--March 6, 1882

Louisa May Alcott

The Alcott family’s longest permanent residence was Orchard House where they lived from 1858 through 1877. Appropriately named, their land was filled with apple trees. This lovely location is where Louisa May Alcott (1832–1888) wrote Little Women.

Orchard House

Orchard House

Before Orchard House, the Alcotts lived in a home they called Hillside. You can see Louisa’s father’s signature on this sketch of their home. They bought Hillside in 1845 and then sold it to Nathaniel Hawthorne in 1852. Following his tradition of naming his homes, he renamed this one The Wayside and it is still called that to this day. Isn’t it interesting to find two amazing authors who lived in the same house? But wait, there’s one more!

The Wayside

The Wayside


Margaret Sidney

Margaret Sidney


Harriett Mulford Stone Lothrop (1844–1924) also lived at The Wayside. Who? Harriett wrote under the pen name of Margaret Sidney. Her most famous series was The Five Little Peppers. The first book was published in 1881, the same year she married the founder of the company who published it. (How convenient!) In 1883, the Lothrops bought The Wayside. After her husband died (their daughter was 9 years old at the time) Harriett continued to run the publishing company. Eventually she sold the company which later became Lothrop, Lee & Shepard. Oh, and by the way The Wayside is next door to Orchard House (did she move in to be next to Louisa?) Either way, Harriet worked hard to preserve both homes.

I’ve barely touched the surface here, but I hope you’ll look up more on this subject. There is a vast amount of fascinating history about these homes and the authors who lived in them. All of the above houses are open to visitors and can be found in Concord, Massachusetts. There are many other places of literary interest to visit in New England, but I’d like to point out two especially notable stops: Mark Twain’s gorgeous home in Hartford, CT (check out his neighbor’s place, too–Harriet Beecher Stowe!) and Edith Wharton’s estate in Lenox, MA.

Log Your Books!

ralph waldo emerson round“If we encounter a man of rare intellect, we should ask him what books he reads.— In the highest civilization, the book is still the highest delight.”      —Ralph Waldo Emerson

Do you read a lot? Have you ever walked into a library or bookstore and checked-out or purchased a title only to arrive home and realize you’ve already read it before? Believe me, you’re not alone. I see it often at my library. But things are changing. Many readers now keep track of their books.

I use Goodreads. Another one to try is Shelfari. Shelfari can be visually pleasing, but sometimes the graphics are slow to load and the email ads too frequent. LibraryThing is another popular venue, although many prefer to use this just to list those books they actually own, rather than for books they’ve borrowed or would like to read at a future date. LibraryThing might be the best choice for those who collect old and rare books, since their cataloging reaches farther. Keep in mind, unlike the first two sites, after your first 200 books are recorded, LibraryThing charges a fee ($10 per year, or $25 for life). There are also a variety of phone apps that work well for some people, such as Reader Tracker.

There’ll always be a few naysayers for any online program, but since I feel Goodreads (ages 13 & up) is the most user-friendly (along with 30 million other readers), I’ll show you the steps below—follow the big blue arrows. :)

It’s very easy to sign up for Goodreads, just put in your name (or a nickname if you’d like to remain private), add in your email (this will also be kept private), and lastly make up a password.

goodreads2To start your book list, type in a title (see below). The books show up immediately and you click on them to choose. It only takes a few minutes to build up your list. Later, if you decide to get more involved, you can enter giveaways for free books, check lists for recommendations, and maybe even find a new friend or two in the discussion threads. All of these optional adventures can be found under the Explore tab.

goodreads1The next picture shows how the screen looks after you select a title. When you click the Want to Read tab there are two other choices as well: Read, or Currently Reading. It’s up to you if you want to add ratings or reviews to help you remember what you thought of the book. I find this useful in recommending books to others. All I have to do is glance at my list to jog my memory, no more saying: “Oh, I read this great book last year. I think it was about a boy in Italy, no France, and it had a greenish-blue cover.” Goodreads keeps me organized. Click here to join.

goodreads3I’d love to hear how you track your reading!

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.

Bliz blog 6

Then we drive home.

Bliz blog 5

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.

Bliz blog 2

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

Bliz Blog 1

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!!

bobbi's pic books

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


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