Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Book Review: The Girl Who Drank the Moon

It wasn't hard to find the appeal of "The Girl Who Drank the Moon," by Kelly Barnhill, the book that earned the 2017 Newbery Medal. It has a tiny dragon that will fit in a little girl's pocket, a loving swamp monster, and magic in the moonlight.

As an infant, Luna was left in the forest as a sacrifice, and saved by the magical and kind Xan, who saved all the babies abandoned in the forest. She fed them starlight as she delivered them to a loving family who raised them. But with Luna, the trip was longer than usual, and Xan fed her from the moon. This gave Luna magic, which can be a dangerous thing for a child to have.

Her magic is hidden away. In fact, Luna doesn't even know what magic is until her 13th birthday approaches. At the same time, the severely scarred Antain is determined to stop the sacrifices of the youngest child in the village and kill the witch he believes is demanding them.

A colorful collection of characters make the reader believe in magic, if only for a little while, and may inspire some origami.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

New Release: A Spooky Story for Halloween

When my publisher suggested I try to write a spooky story for an anthology, it wasn't difficult to convince me. My love of literature started with now classic horror from Stephen King and John Saul. Halloween is my second favorite holiday (behind Valentine's day).

My short story, "You're Not Welcome Here" is written from an unusual perspective, because sometimes the dead have tales to tell. It appears in Volume 5 of the anthology "Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep," released today in honor of Halloween.

Nine other spooky tales, along with a standalone novella also appear as part of this anthology, giving you over 300 pages that will give you the creeps.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Book Review: El Deafo

The graphic novel, "El Deafo" is an autobiographical story about author Cece Bell's experience with going deaf at age 4. Written from the perspective of Cece, we get an inside peek at how it felt for this young girl to confront her loss of hearing, the strategies presented to her, and friendships. She adopts a secret identity as El Deafo when she decides the contraption she must use to hear her teacher is a super power. She often calls on her inner superhero to navigate difficult social situations.

The story is sweet, and relatable for anyone who is or has been a kid dealing with embarrassment, fitting in, and a first crush. The hearing loss details are a bonus.


Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Book Review: Every Soul A Star

I read "Every Soul a Star," by Wendy Mass, on a road trip to see the Great American Eclipse with my family. It was a last blast for my oldest, who was leaving for college in a handful of days. He wasn't too happy about this trip, and not seeing his friends to say goodbye. His emotions were perfectly matched in this book, which is about three children somewhere between ages 12 and 14 and their younger siblings. All of them have life changing things going on and meet at the Moon Shadow campground during a total solar eclipse.

I normally do not like books with multiple point of views, but this one was handled well. I felt equally invested in each of them. I only wish their stories went deeper and longer, but since it is MG fiction, I can't expect too much.

The descriptions of the total solar eclipse were pretty great, coming from a person who witnessed one of these while reading this book. Mass is great with description, and character development, and making interesting stories. I really like her work.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Book Review: The Nine Lives of Jacob Tibbs

I admit that I picked up this book because it is about a cat, but "The Nine Lives of Jacob Tibbs" by Cylin Busby turned out to be some real swashbuckling fun.



Jacob Tibbs is the runt of the litter who turns out to be a heroic ship's cat. This is not a cat to stand by on his white paws. He gets to work to prove himself a worthy mate like his mother, winning over the affections of his fellow sailors on the high seas in 1847. Life at sea is not easy for any of them as the story takes one surprising turn after another, facing foes of man and nature. This page turning adventure is great for animal lovers and those who like to read about times gone by, ages 8-10.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Where Do I Go From Here? Notes on Querying Your Manuscript.

I recently went to a workshop for writers ready to take their work to market. It was for those who wanted to get their manuscripts in front of agents and editors. I heard the question, "Where do I find them?" (Meaning agents and editors.)

I decided to share what I learned in the workshop, along with my favorite places for finding agents and editors who are taking unsolicited manuscripts. It goes without saying that joining organizations like SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) provides an abundance of resources on this topic, and attending conferences puts you in direct contact with the movers and shakers in the industry. Many of the success stories I hear among my fellow writers, their "big" breaks, happened as the result of a conference.

But you know you can't rest on your laurels and just submit to that one agent you made a contact with and hope all your dreams will come true. These days, it takes many, many queries, with no hope for a response unless they are interested.

So, where do you go? Of course, SCBWI has resources for market on the website, as do may other writing organizations.

I like querytracker.com. I do the free version, which gives me plenty of information. With a few clicks, you can check out an agent or editor, if they take unsolicited manuscripts, the genres they represent, links to other information about them, and add them to your list (interested, queried, even if they replied).

There is also agentquery.com. I have used this in the past, but abandoned it for querytracker. It might be useful for others who don't think like me, which is most of the population.

Literary rambles (http://www.literaryrambles.com/) was suggested by the moderator of this group. I know of this blog well. I refer to it frequently. She does interviews with agents and editors and often finds out what kind of manuscript this agent/editor is looking for.

Manuscript Wish List (http://mswishlist.com/) is another terrific source for finding agents and editors looking for the kind of story you have written. You can also find posts on this on Twitter at #mswl

Lastly, if you are serious about writing and getting published, you need to be on Twitter. There are reoccurring pitch parties during which agents and editors watch for 140 character story pitches tagged with the hashtag and the genre. It they favorite your pitch, it indicates that they are interested in seeing more. There are others, but the pitch contest I know best is #pitmad by Brenda Drake (http://www.brenda-drake.com/pitmad/). The #pitmad parties happen four times a year, and only last a day, so have our pitch ready and don't forget to tag it (#pitmad #YA) so agents and editors can find it.

So those are some places to search for the perfect agent or editor who is looking for a manuscript like yours. Make sure you do your homework and the manuscript is polished and ready for submission. You never get a second chance at a first impression.


Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Book Review: Alex and Eliza

I am not a fan of romance novels, except certain romance novels. I am also one of the few who hasn't been obsessed with Hamilton, the musical.

Still, "Alex & Eliza," by Melissa de la Cruz, is a perfect love story for the YA audience who love the musical "Hamilton," and those who don't. I haven't seen "Hamilton," and don't know much about it, but I still enjoyed the story of how Eliza Schuyler and Alexander Hamilton fell in love and worked around the arrangements of marriage for power and wealth to marry for love.  It was nail biting in the end, and the plot was not predictable. True love prevails, so you have to like that! Especially since that doesn't seem the case for Eliza's sisters.

This made me want to see "Hamilton!"

Monday, June 19, 2017

Gangbanger trailer

Finally! A book trailer for my latest book, "Gangbanger." This 45 second video is like a summary of the book. A picture really is worth 1000 words. Enjoy!




Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Famous Last Words - Some Thoughts on Writing Endings

Endings are difficult for me, especially when writing them. Sometimes I know what the ending is, or should look like, before I start writing the story. That does not make it any easier. As I approach the end of a novel I am working on, I'll want to rush to the finish line, or I'll worry about loose threads, or I'll wonder if the ending is satisfying enough.

There is reason to worry. A bad ending can ruin a book for a reader. An unsatisfying ending can leave them hanging. The goal is to bring a story full circle and to a satisfying conclusion. To leave the reader closing the book with a feeling of being swept away.

No pressure there.

A good ending feels like a natural conclusion to the story. Having someone or something new appear and save the day will not work. The characters have to drive the ending, with tools that were there earlier in the story. Author Raymond Chandler said, “The solution, once revealed, must seem to have been inevitable.”

A good ending shows growth in the character. Along with the external conflicts, a good story shows depth by taking its characters on an emotional path as well. This inner conflict is resolved by showing a change in the character, and gives the story heart.

It is satisfying to see a story come full circle. In some way, the end should resemble the beginning.

Make sure all subplots are resolved. Leaving loose ends is sloppy storytelling.

Don't philosophize to the reader. This is a common complaint about the ending of Dan Brown's novel, "The Lost Symbol" where the character spends too much time thinking about his experience while watching the sun rise. As James V. Smith Jr. explains in Writer's Digest, "Keep description to a minimum, but maximize action and conflict. You have placed all your charges. Now, light the fuse and run."

Monday, May 8, 2017

Book Review: Everything Everything

I read Everything Everything, by Nicola Yoon, because I heard it was coming out as a movie (on May 19!) The story sucked me in immediately and reminded me of the Bubble Boy on Seinfeld, because main character Madeline lives in a house sized bubble. Allergic to the outside world, her everything happens inside the same walls, with her loving and protective mother and a full time nurse she adores.


Then love changes everything.

Get it, read it, then see the movie. Or not. I can't tell you yet if the movie is worth seeing. I can tell you the book, with its interesting storytelling through texts, drawings, graphs as well as traditional chapters is compelling, and surprising. I'm not sure I like the ending, but I can accept it.

Monday, April 24, 2017

My Dream Author Panel

I have had the pleasure of "meeting" many authors going to book signings, promotional events, keynote speeches and conventions. My favorite format is a panel, where there is more than one voice being heard and answering questions. This is a great whether it be authors, editors, or agents. But the very best presentations come from authors, the creative individuals who make imaginative worlds come alive.

So, this is my dream author panel. I'd love to see these people get together and hear the advice they'd give the rest of us.





Suzanne Collins
 I'd like to hear from Suzanne not only about The Hunger Games series, which I loved, but because she had several books published before her blockbuster hit. I'd like to hear about her earlier work, and what happened when The Hunger Games became a sensation. 






Neal Shusterman
I have been a fan of Neal Shusterman's work ever since I read "The Schwa Was Here" in my child's middle school book club. It was such a different and fun book to read. His newest book, "Scythe," won a Prinz medal honor in 2017. I'd love to hear how he gets his ideas, and more about his craft.






Gary Paulsen
Who hasn't read something by the author of "Hatchet?" Greg Paulsen's work is remains relevant and fresh, although it isn't always set in the modern day as newer writers are advised. I'd like to hear his thoughts on that.






Kate DiCamillo
She is the queen of middle school literature. Who wouldn't want to hear the secrets of her magic?




Amanda Hocking
 I have never read anything written by Amanda, but her success speaks for her. I would like to see her on the panel if only to detail how she succeeded as a self published author. Publishing is more and more accessible with small press and self publishing options, as entrance into the Big Six (or is is five now?) is more and more elusive. Amanda might feel a bit out of place, not being a writer of children's fiction, but I am including her for her "expert" knowledge on self promotion and nontraditional publishing.



Please post your suggestions in the comments. I'd love to hear about authors who inspire you. And if you are interested in hosting a conference or event, check out Eventbrite.


Monday, April 3, 2017

Book Review: Asking For It

Irish author Louise O'Neill does not shy away from the very heavy subject of rape in her YA novel, "Asking For It," where the beautiful, vain and somewhat superficial Emma O'Donovan wakes up to a reality that she can't remember and the terrible aftermath of shame, regret and suspicion.

For those who are hesitant, the violence happens off screen, as Emma blacks out and remembers nothing. The tone of the book is divided into two parts, the before and the after. Emma, at age 18, is confident that she is the best looking of her friends, that she can attract any guy she sets her sights on. Her friendships are shallow, and selfish, except for her longtime friendship with the boy next door, patient and level-headed Conor.

Her confidence is taken from her by the actions of others on a night she doesn't remember; and the reactions of her peers, her parents, her friends on social media, and her community. The reader is plunged into the darkness of her soul, feeling every emotion as Emma attempts to make sense of her world now.

"Asking For It" is a gripping read, it is an important one, too. It is a start of a conversation that has to happen about rape, consent, and slut shaming.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Giving your Creativity the Gift of Time

Like most people, I'm busy. I've got three kids, a job and a to do list that never seems to be finished. There are days I forget if I brushed my teeth that morning, but when I go back to check, my toothbrush is wet, every time. As busy as my days can be, I am taking the time for personal hygiene, because it needs to be done.

Lately, I've been feeling nostalgic. Maybe it is because my oldest son is about to turn 18, and this milestone marks the end of his childhood. It is natural to want to look back at that childhood and my part in it. Or maybe it is because some friends in my circle are still having babies and creating young families, and their experiences are bringing back memories of when my days were busy in a different way, filled with diaper changes and trying to keep small people alive or get them to go to sleep. Being a mother to small children was easily the most exhausting and busy time of my life, yet it was one of the most creative.

Although I was more busy than ever, there was natural downtime built into my days. Time to think about something other than my to do list. Time to just be and feel the sunshine on my face or notice the sound of the wind rustling the leaves on the trees. Time to sit in a rocking chair and let my mind drift to the motion and lilting music meant to convince a baby to nap. Time like that allows room for creativity. I wrote so many story ideas on the back of an envelope while a baby slept in the car or while I was sitting on a park bench watching at toddler play in the sand.  Entertaining toddlers meant walking to the park almost daily, or sitting in a chair in my driveway for the better part of an hour blowing bubbles or drawing on pavement with chunky sidewalk chalk pieces.



I need more time like that, and time doesn't just appear, I have to make it. I have to find some moments in my days to allow my mind to wander and give my creativity more space.

I started with a daily walk. This is something I enjoy, and tried to do when the weather was good or I felt determined to take better care of my health. It isn't just good for my body, it is good for my creativity. This had to stop being an occasional treat to something I do, like brushing my teeth. This makes me wish I had a dog, or a long walk to my mailbox.

Having that time makes me hungry for more. These days I am not spending much time on park benches watching children try to impress me with what they can do. Maybe I can find some time doing routine jobs at work, or during the commute, or while cooking dinner. Or maybe I need to stop and take 5 minutes to sit in a chair and watch the sunset and let my mind wander. I deserve it. Let's call it part of our mental hygiene.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Book Review: Stella By Starlight





"Stella by Starlight", by Sharon Draper, is set in Bumblebee, North Carolina in 1932. The nation is in the Depression and deeply segregated. Sometimes disturbing events are seen through the eyes of 11-year-old Stella, starting with a burning cross she and her little brother observe in the night.

Stella's story is poignant and unnerving, but has a sense of hope in the human spirit and a community coming together to help those in need. Stella's father and others show bravery when standing up for their rights, and a tenacity that Stella shares in trying to improve her writing skills. One can't help but root for Stella and the families of Bumblebee.


Monday, February 6, 2017

What About Love?

In the spirit of Valentine's Day, I thought I would share some book recommendations that are love stories. All of these are YA novels, because it is my favorite genre. Whether you are in love, wish to fall in love, have loved and lost, believe in love, or maybe don't yet know what love is all about, you can find a little bit of it in the pages of these books.




Sloppy Firsts, by Jessica Darling
First love can be sloppy. Jessica Darling, a sassy New Jersey high school student, finds that out when she meets bad boy Marcus. This book pokes at the hilarious side of love.





Beautiful Creatures, by Margaret Stohl, Kami Garcia
Love isn't always easy, and sometimes overcoming the hardships reveals the beauty of a relationship. Ethan and Lena's relationship shows the joy, the fun and the pain of being in love.







Wherever You Go, by Heather Davis
If you like a little paranormal romance, this may be the book for you. Seventeen year old Holly is devastated when she loses her boyfriend Rob in a tragic accident. She doesn't know that Rob's ghost looks over her, and gets jealous when his best friend Jason makes a move.







This Lullaby, by Sarah Dessen
Dessen has authored dozens of books for YA readers to consume with gusto. She doesn't fail with her YA romance, in which Remy meets Dexter, who defies all she ever knew about love and relationships, yet she can't resist him.







The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, by Jennifer E. Smith
Love happens in the most unexpected places, and for Hadley and Oliver, it happens in an airport.



Forget the chocolates this year, and curl up with a good book and feel all the feels in the world of make believe.







Thursday, January 19, 2017

Book Review: When the Sea Turned to Silver

"When the Sea Turned to Silver" by Grace Lin is a magical read of a journey that begins when soldiers invade and kidnap Pinmei's grandmother (Amah) and burn down her home. Pinmei and Yishan go out to rescue Amah, using a variety of magical tools and making friends along their way.

What I like about this story is that it is about the value of storytelling. Amah is kidnapped because she is a storyteller, and her granddaughter, Pinmei, is called upon to tell the stories she knows by heart. Through the stories, they discover clues to finding their beloved Amah and learn to trust each other.

Author Grace Lin is an award winning and best selling author of several books, including the 2010 Newbery Honor winner, "Where The Mountain Meets the Moon."

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Taking a Leap of Faith - Are You Making a Good Decision?

Every once in a while, you make a leap, not sure of where you are going to land. How do you know if you are making the right decision?

You don't. Nobody knows what is going to happen, and if 2016 didn't teach us that, I don't know what can. I don't know about you, but I read all the analyses, the polls, listened to the experts, yet the results of November 2016 left me gobsmacked. You don't know what will happen. You do the best with the information you have now.

Follow your heart, or your gut, whatever speaks to you. Nobody can tell you if you are doing the right thing, unless they will live the consequences. Even then, they might have their own agenda in mind, or not fully think through how it affects you. This is where you have to rely on what feels right in your heart, or your gut, or your conscience. One of these should give you an indication if the choice is right for you.

Consider your long range plans. When assessing a decision, I often look at how it affects me now. How my daily routines will be disrupted. What changes now. My view can lack long range goals, like how I want my life to took 10 years from now, or 15, or 20. It is important to look at the long range effects when making a big decision. When deciding between two jobs, this was helpful. While one was inconvenient now, making it a poor immediate choice, I could see myself being there for the long haul, even retiring there. While the other job, while convenient now, did not offer long range opportunities.

Remove fear from the equation. When making a decision, fear is the what often holds us back. Take it out of the equation. If you weren't afraid, what would you do?

Know your core. Dig deep to find what makes you tick, what motivates you, what you love and what drains you. If this opportunity feeds that, it is right. They say if you do what you love, you will never work a day in your life. If the opportunity you are debating qualifies as something you love, something that feeds your soul, that matters.

This month, I am taking a leap and changing my life. It will be an adjustment for me and my family, but I hope it will lead to better things. I have some worries, as I am going into unknown territory for me, but I am trusting my gut, my long range plans, my unknowing of what will happen and trusting the universe is bringing me what I need. Bless you all on your paths.