Marcia Strykowski

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 www.kathleenduble.com, 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 www.juliefulton.com.

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.

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???????????????????????????????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):

leighkempphotography

bluefishtwofish

anneumonic

joaneylesjohnson

lizannelloyd

bugburrypond

zampettilw

cadenceraelyn

smilingbluefish

thesilverofhisfining

bookishana

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: www.alisonashleyformento.com

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

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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

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.

broyles books

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.

ar-inspiringblogger

 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.

DSC06659 - Copy

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

hpl book tree 1 - Copy

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

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