Talking Books in Online Readers Groups

It’s been a busy summer around here but there’s always time to talk books. I now have two active “Readers Groups” on Facebook. The first one I started several months ago: Young at Heart MG-YA Readers Group. This is the place to be if you enjoy coming-of-age stories traditionally marketed for readers 8-18. (My personal favorites tend to be the ones labeled 10-14 or simply 10+.) It’s a great group for those who love middle grade and young adult literature as well as teachers and parents looking for recommendations or those who like to reminisce about their favorite books from childhood.
The second group is new as of last week. I officially kicked it off July eighth to coincide with the six-months-until-release of Perilous Confessions, book one of The Possession Chronicles. (It will be here before we know it!) Possessed: Timeless Gothic Reads covers Gothic books from British classics like The Castle Otranto and Jane Eyre to the American standards like House of the Seven Gables and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow to the twentieth century offerings from author like Victoria Holt and Dorothy Eden as well as modern Gothics. Classic Gothics, Southern Gothic, Gothic Romance, Gothic family sagas, and more are open for discussion and recommendation. The group is still growing, but we’ve already had some great conversations so far about Southern Gothic literature from middle grade to adult books.

I invite you to join one or both if they fit your reading style. While you’re there, invite a friend too. There is room for all in these virtual discussions.

Literary Reflections

Last Saturday I gave my “Kid Lit 101” presentation to a group of writers in Gulfport, Mississippi. While what is categorized as (upper) middle grade is my first literary love, the past few years I’ve been focusing the majority of my reading time on Gothic—classic Gothic, Southern Gothic, Gothic Romance, etc.—to be sure I’m doing the category justice with my own stories.

Revisiting the books I touch on in the presentation (which are everything from baby books to young adult novels) was like visiting old friends. I haven’t given the presentation in about two years, much less dove so deep into conversation about my favorite coming-of-age genre, so it was refreshing. I remembered why I started writing—awesome books like these. And rereading Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson this weekend helped solidify that.

The past few days I’ve forced a separation for myself from The Possession Chronicles. While I’ve been writing and editing the eight books in the series almost non-stop for over two and a half years, I still love everything about it. I’m not sick of the characters or the story lines. I could happily move to round ten of edits on book six, or any other draft, but I know I need to distance myself from this epic project before I tackle professional edits for book one, Perilous Confessions (releasing January 8, 2019.)

So in the meantime, I’ll be exploring the scary world of the MG/YA manuscripts I wrote as a teenager. Maybe I’ll find a nugget of hope within one of the stories that with major resuscitation (thanks to decades of acquired experience) would be able to bring one of them to life. If not, at least I’ll be able to see how far I’ve come as a writer.

What helps you rediscover your literary roots?

Kid Lit 101

As many of you know, my first passion in the book word is middle grade literature. Though a late reader, I began devouring novels like The Babysitters-Club Series as they were published and ghost stories by Betty Ren Wright in fourth grade, but by sixth grade I was ready for more. I fell in love with the power of words in my middle school library when I found Katherine Paterson and Richard Peck. Bridge to Terabithia was the first book to make me cry and Ghosts I Have Been the first to engage me with history through the guise of my fascination with the Titanic and Gothic-feels. From there I dove into the world of teen books, eagerly awaiting the newest from authors like Christopher Pike on my trips to the bookstore in the mall.

By the time I was fourteen, I was writing my own stories and following the marketplace. I continued to read and collected these authors and never gave them up, even as I aged out of the genres. When I was twenty and landed my dream job at a Books-A-Million, I let them know I wanted the kids’ section of the store. It took a few months, but when the position opened, I embraced the colorful area from baby books to young adult reads. It took several weeks, but I physically handled every book in that corner of the store as I organized and then shelved all the new shipments during the time I was employed there. Most often when someone was looking for a book in one of my categories I could say what shelf it was on without looking. I knew the books, the authors. It was my home away from home.

All this, plus more decades of reading and following the marketplace, and five years serving as Local Liaison for my region of Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, has helped shape my knowledge of the book world as it relates to children’s literature. I’ve wrapped my years of experience and passion into a tidy presentation titled “Kid Lit 101”, which I’ve been blessed to share at several events, including multiple writers groups and a literary festival over the past few years. This Saturday, June 23, 2018, I’ll present this fast-moving, informative presentation in Gulfport, Mississippi, to Gulf Coast Writers Association at 11am at Gulfport Galleria of Fine Art. Join me if you can.

What are you literary passions?

Guest Post: MeLeesa Swann

After all the blog hopping I did last month, I’m returning the favor by inviting a few of my writer friends to stop by and share a bit about their stories.
Please welcome MeLeesa Swann, author of the middle grade fantasy series
Legendary Lex.

I Live with Evil Geniuses

With four kids, I frequently just want to run away. Go on a cruise or take some type of luxurious vacation. The endless “I’m hungry”, “He’s being mean”, and “Can we buy this?” is enough to drive even the most patient person insane!

But I owe my career, my dream, to the monsters.

I couldn’t create half the things I do without my little evil geniuses. I once asked my youngest boy to bring me an ice cream sandwich and he brought me a scoop of vanilla between two pieces of bread. My youngest girl recently had a conversation with a dragonfly and declared it the protector of her college campus. My oldest boy never seems to get sarcasm and takes everything so literally. (I’ve never had to be more careful about the things I say.) And my oldest girl is probably one of the most positive people I’ve ever met. (I didn’t think people like that really existed. She’s always smiling!)

Through the four of my little demons (and yes, they all have their mischievous streak) and my loving hubby (who is the king of horrible puns), I am blessed with a large variety of inspirations for the tales I weave.

So, even though I frequently fantasize about escaping to Scotland for a few weeks, I totally love living with my my evil geniuses.

MeLeesa Swann lives with her husband and four children in the lavish land of Imagica. She spends her time teaching her children the ways of the mortal world while showing them the beauty of her homeland. She also burns mystical designs on wooden boxes that allow people to store their secret items while on their journeys. Her hope for all who are touched by her works is that they find a piece of their own magic in their lives. MeLeesa recently published her first book, Legendary Lex: An ODD Beginning. It’s sequel is soon to follow. She is also the local liaison for the Mobile branch of Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

www.meleesaswann.com

https://www.facebook.com/MeLeesaSwann/

https://twitter.com/MeLeesaSwann

March Madness

There’s some catching up to do! This month’s been a productive time, and I still haven’t shared some fun news from February. Seeing how I labeled this post with the current month’s name, I’ll stick with the newest information this time around.

Last Saturday I crossed Mobile Bay and did a presentation for Baldwin Writers Group titled “Kid Lit 101”, in which I discussed what differentiates children book categories including board books, picture books, early readers, chapter books, middle grade, and young adult novels. It was my second time doing the presentation (the first was in December 2015 with my “home” crew at Mobile Writers Guild) and I enjoyed it just as much. If there’s one thing I can geek out about (other than my favorite musicians) it’s children’s literature. I converted at least one person to the Kid Lit side, so hooray!

Kid Lit 101

The first slide on my KID LIT 101 Power Point.

Then, on Monday four of my fabulously creative friends and I held a panel discussion on writing and illustrating with a local 4-H Arts group in an amazing meeting room in a contemporary art gallery downtown.

 

4-H presentation

Thanks to Candice and Robina for the picture.

After a short introduction we fielded questions ranging from research to plotting. It was energetic and fun, just like the original work created by Steven Moore for the event: The Inscribables. (Can you guess which one is me?)

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Original art by Steven Moore. Find him at http://www.grimtrojan.com

The past several days have been a great transition for me in my roll change from writer to author. I can’t imagine more supportive people to start my journey with than these two welcoming groups and my friends.

Bonus: I’ve kept my writing cap on, managing to add well over seven thousand words to my current project, plus completing final line edits on Corroded, out April 12, 2016. March/Spring is definitely going great here—I hope it’s shiny for you as well.

 

Spotlight on Jacqueline

Today I’m happy to share a Question and Answer session I had with another Anaiah Press author, Jackie Minniti. Her middle grade historical novel, Jacqueline, was one of my favorite reads in 2015. It’s now available in print as well as e-formats.

JacquelineWere you nervous about how family/friends would feel about reading a fictionalized account of a treasured family tale?

No, not at all! In fact, my dad, a 99-year-old WWII veteran whose experience inspired the story, had been asking me to write a book about Jacqueline for years. It was the only war story he was willing to share, and it became part of our family lore. I tried to explain to him that although our family loved the story, there wasn’t enough material for a book and no general audience for it. Then a chance encounter with a guest at my son’s wedding sparked a “Eureka!” moment. A man who’d been sitting with my dad came up to me. “I hear you’re a writer,” he said. “Your father’s been telling me the most amazing story. You should write a book about it.” I began to tell him why it couldn’t be done, but he interrupted me. “I have a daughter in 6th grade. She doesn’t know anything about WWII. She’d love to read a book like this, and it would help her learn history.” To this day, I don’t know why it never occurred to me to write the story for younger readers, especially since I’d taught middle school reading for so many years and Jacqueline was the same age as my students. But once I started looking at the story from that perspective,the plot began to form and I couldn’t wait to start writing.

 

Which character was the hardest to write about? Why?

I’d have to say that it was Yvonne Jamet, the young French “collaborateur” who was keeping company with the Nazi soldier. She was a controversial character because she was considered a traitor and was hated by Maman and the adults in the story, but Jacqueline saw her softer, more vulnerable side and had conflicted feelings about her. Since younger readers tend to see characters as either good or bad, I tried to present Yvonne as more of a “gray” character so they’d have to make their own decisions about her. It was a real effort to keep my personal feelings about Yvonne from leaking into my writing.

 

What are some of the most interesting historical tidbits you came across in your research?

As a Baby Boomer, just one generation removed from WWII, I was surprised at how little I really knew about this historical period. I’d read a lot about the Holocaust and the plight of the Jews in Germany, Poland, and Austria, but there wasn’t as much written about France during that time. I learned that there was a sizable Jewish population in Rennes, and that many French Jews were sent to Drancy, a “transit camp” outside Paris that was actually a temporary stop on the way to the death camps in Auschwitz and Buchenwald. I was also amazed at the hardships the French endured under the occupation – food rationing, curfews, censorship, air raids, constant surveillance. It renewed my appreciation for the freedom we enjoy here in America. And I can’t express the depth of my admiration for the bravery and sacrifice of the American troops who fought so valiantly to defeat the evil that was Nazi Germany. Most of them were mere boys, many away from home for the first time, and yet they transformed history and secured freedom for millions of people. They truly were the Greatest Generation.

 Jackie

Did the story go as planned or did you write some surprises?

Since Jacqueline is based on a true story, most of it went as planned. But some of the characters took unexpected turns. The biggest change from my original vision was the fate of the Bergiers. Since I don’t want to spoil the ending, I’ll just say that I originally planned something more catastrophic but decided it might be too intense for the younger readers.

 

What’s been the most rewarding part of Jacqueline being published?

I’ve dreamed of becoming a published author for as long as I can remember. The submission process was difficult and stressful, but it was all worth it when I was offered the contract from Anaiah Press. They’ve been extremely professional and a pleasure to work with. But the most rewarding part of the entire experience was putting that first copy of Jacqueline in my father’s hands. It was definitely one of the proudest moments of my life.

 

Ready for more?

Check out http://www.jackieminniti.com/

and

For More Stops On The Tour, Click Here.

Shelfies

Since I’ve been in editing mode this year—and under deadline—many things around the house have fallen into states of disarray. Some of the most noticeable cluttered spaces are my bookshelves. After turning in the first round of content edits on my second novel I took a few days to organize my wall of books.

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But before I could tackle all those, I went to my other shelves and organized them so I could relocate some of the reference collection, among other things.

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Not too shabby.
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The Shannara books are out of the cabinet.

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Some of my favorite authors—and writing reference books—are located on the side of my standing desk.

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Many of my YA (and other) books are now located on the other side of my desk.

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Besides organizing I’m donating a box of MG-YA books to a friend who’s a first year middle school English teacher.

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But rather than totally streamlining, being the bibliophile that I am, I’ve already added fourteen new books to my collection so I now have some stacks in front of the stacks…

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I tried, really I did.

What’s your (book) weakness?

 

P.S. For those who subscribe to my newsletter, I skipped September because I hope to have some exciting news to share early this month, so be on the lookout.