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.

 

Nurturing Talent

Last Saturday, I participated in the Metro Mobile Reading Council’s Young Authors’ Conference and Teen Writing Fair. Besides it giving me a chance to hang out in the library for seven hours, I had the pleasure of working alongside some fabulous book lovers as we inspired the next generation of creative talent. Teachers, librarians, as well as local authors and illustrators pulled their resources together to present an informative and motivational day.

Photo by Candice Conner

Photo by Candice Conner

The morning began with the Young Authors’ Conference for third through sixth grade students. After a keynote speech from guest illustrator R. Gregory Christie (all the way from Georgia), the students split into groups for one of thirteen mini-workshops.
I was blessed to be able to run a “Visual Inspiration” workshop with fellow author and friend, Joyce Scarbrough. After sharing my own collection of maps, locations, and characters for my soon-to-be published novel and work-in-progress, I showed examples of visuals that make it into middle grade novels—using a few books as examples. 100_7046
Then, our plucky group of students set to work scouring magazines and catalogs for their own story prompts. They clipped and glued gardens, building, pets, and people. 100_7053Some even started character worksheets complete with backstories. It was awesome to be a part of, and better still, to see their excitement when they shared their work with other nearby workshop groups. (Yes, one lucky group had a crime scene as a story prompt. So cool!) 100_7055

After a brief lunch break and room reset, we went back to work with the Teen Writing Fair. I acted as MC for the event, and started the meeting by announcing the winners of the Fourth Annual Tracy Hurley Memorial Writing Contest, which was hosted by Mobile Writers’ Guild. As the Young Author Committee Chair for MWG, I worked alongside Joyce Scarbrough and Candice Marley Conner to read and score the middle and high school entries. The finalists received cash prizes, journals/pens, and a hand written critique of their short stories.

Joyce TWF 2015

Photo by Candice Conner

The seventh through twelve graders were then graced with fun and inspiring keynote addresses by Ms. Scarbrough and Mr. Christie. Following that, they students were free to meet and mingle among all ten guests at their tables, including authors, illustrators, poets, and biographers. The activity concluded with an open mic for the teens to share their stories and poems—a great way to close the event.

Whatever you do, be sure to take time to give of your talents to others. The experience has the ability to enrich all aspects of your life.

Bibliophile Problems

If you couldn’t tell from my previous posts, I’m a book girl. There are a lot of books in my house. I’m talking more than dozens, more than hundreds, probably a couple thousand. I’ve never counted them all—that would mean math, and me and numbers don’t always get along.

This afternoon, after answering yet another a post on a homeschool page for recommendations for books set in a specific time period (happens regularly, and as a children’s literature connoisseur with a passion for historicals, I have to respond.) This time, it was a call for Civil War books. So, after going to my “favorite author” shelf in the hall, I returned to my desk area to look over my general middle grade collection for more titles. But then I remembered my middle child’s quest for all things military, and that I’ve allowed him to adopt many of my middle grade novels dealing with war, so I had to go check the bookcase in his room.

I circled all around the house to gather information I could have grouped together. What’s a bibliophile to do?

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I’m seriously contemplating putting all my books in chronological order. Even though that would mean splitting up the Katherine Paterson, Avi, Richard Peck, and Laurie Halse Anderson novels, I think at this point in my life (hello, homeschool!) it would be beneficial. But then I’d have to worry about the fantasy, science fiction, and contemporary… where would they all fit? Group the contemporary at the end of the historicals, with books like Bridge to Terabithia (and it’s 1970’s references) toward the beginning of that section. What about classics, like Charlotte’s Web? Do I place it in the era it was written?

The stress!

But it’s a happy, first world problem to deal with. Now I just need to decide if I take the plunge. Photographic journal blog will follow if it comes to pass.

Halfway There

I’m halfway through my reading goal for the year. I finished the fiftieth book out of my one hundred book challenge. Out of those fifty, I currently have thirty books in my possession. Two of my nonfiction books and two fiction are out on loan, one title I borrowed from a friend, I read five books on my Nook, and the other ten were from the local library. Since the last book I finished (ONE NATION: WHAT WE CAN ALL DO TO SAVE AMERICA’S FUTURE by Ben Carson, MD) is a loaner to me from a friend, it all balances out.

Here are some pictures, in chronological order from oldest to newest read. (A couple of these were rereads, but most were first timers.) To see my complete list, check out my goodreads shelves.

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I read diverse books: from genres to subject matter to authors. The first half of the year I covered all types of fiction, from chapter books to adult, plus a graphic novel and poetry collection. Non-fiction featuring current events, education, self-help, and biography. Authors and characters with medical issues, from all walks of life, and of a variety of ethnic backgrounds—I read it all.

What have you been reading?

Surreal Reading Moment

My autistic teen goes to bed when the younger kids do, but he has permission to read a pre-determined number of chapters before turning his clip-on light out. Since chapter length varies by book, he’s learned the art of bartering. If I say “Two chapters” he’ll tell me, “Chapters too little. Five chapters.” I’m likely to say three, and he’ll say “five, five, five!” To which I’ll respond, with an offer of three or possibly accepted his request. It all depends on the time the bedtime routine is finished.

Last week he borrowed my library book—before I got a chance to read it. The Game of My Life: A True Story of Challenge, Triumph, and Growing Up Autistic by Jason (J-Mac) McElwain with Daniel Paisner is something I wanted to read, but I did hope he’d show an interest, too. (Yes, the J-Mac of the high school basketball video that went viral a few years ago—and still makes the rounds. He also finished the Boston Marathon this year.)
J-Mac

When my son’s done with his chapters, he comes in to tell me (proud that he read so much) and I try to ask about what’s happened in the book, or who it’s about. Usually, I’ve read the book but he’s branching out more—he read a Captain Underpants book the week before which isn’t a series I’ve tried out for myself. I asked him what happened in the J-Mac book and he got all excited and said “Big Bird! Sesame Street!” and repeated that a few times. Since he spent way too many years obsessed with the show, I thought he might have been flashing back to scripting or something, but I asked, “Does J-Mac like Sesame Street?” (I’ve heard it referenced in at least one other autobiography of a young adult on the spectrum.) My son said “yes” and smiled really big.

Did we just have a conversation?

Yes, this seemingly small exchange does count, especially when it takes years to get that far, but I wasn’t completely convinced because of his Sesame Street response.

Well, this weekend I got my chance with the book. Sure enough, J-Mac’s first words were “Big Bird”, said while he was watching the show with his brother.

Note to self: Don’t underestimate the power of books when it comes to opening communication with my child.

Has a book helped with discussions between you and someone you love?

P.S. Here’s the Fernando update:

Fernando of the Water Oak, 23 June, 2014

Fernando of the Water Oak, 23 June, 2014

He’s taking to the summer well, as long as water is provided on the non-thunderstorm days.
And is it just me, or does the moss/fungus on the right look a little corroded?