Monday, March 30, 2015

Bibliophile's Corner

All the Answers
by Kate Messner

Flap Copy Description:
What if your pencil had all the answers? Would you ace every test? Would you know what your teachers were thinking? When Ava Anderson finds a scratched up pencil she doodles like she would with any other pencil. But when she writes a question in the margin of her math quiz, she hears a clear answer in a voice no one else seems to hear.

With the help of her friend Sophie, Ava figures out that the pencil will answer factual questions only – those with definite right or wrong answers – but won’t predict the future. Ava and Sophie discover all kinds of uses for the pencil, and Ava's confidence grows with each answer. But it's getting shorter with every sharpening, and when the pencil reveals a scary truth about Ava's family, she realizes that sometimes the bravest people are the ones who live without all the answers...

My Thoughts:
All the Answers is the first book I've read by Kate Messner, but it won't be the last. This well-written middle grade novel includes great character development, a ton of tension, and loads of laughs, but it is the story's ability to inspire readers to overcome fear, that is its calling card. The young protagonist Ava, is like so many of us - at any age - who hope to avoid the inevitable bumps and bruises of life; what she learns is life isn't about knowing all the answers before you make a move. Watching Ava slowly transform from a timid worry wart to a confident young woman is powerful. The all-knowing cryptic pencil adds a magical element to this entertaining and intriguing story.
I highly recommend All the Answers to readers aged eight to twelve.

Click here to learn more about the author, Kate Messner.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Champions of Creativity

         Beatrix Potter

As a writer I draw great inspiration from the life of the bestselling author-illustrator, Beatrix Potter. She, too, had a love and appreciation for animals and wildlife. 
And since it has been several months since I've written a Champions of Creativity post, I've chosen to feature the iconic creator of the beloved Peter Rabbit Books.
Photo Credit: Public Domain

Helen Beatrix Potter (28 July 1866 - 22 December 1943) was born in Kensington, London, to wealthy Unitarian parents. She and her younger brother Bertram kept numerous small animals as pets, and spent their summer holidays in Scotland, as well as the English Lake District. It was on these holidays that Beatrix developed a love of the natural world which inspired her paintings from an early age.

She had little social contact with other children, which drew her into her own world where she created stories based on her pets, and other animals. Early on, she revealed her talent as a gifted artist, which led to her taking private art lessons. On her education, Beatrix later wrote:

"Thank goodness I was never sent to school; it would have rubbed off some of the originality."

Beatrix was privately educated by governesses until she was eighteen.
In addition to her drawings of  animals, she painted insects, fossils, artifacts, and fungi. She attempted to become a student at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, but was rejected due to her gender.

Ms. Potter was a strong and independent woman, and had no desire to be married and tied down to domestic life. That was quite unusual for a Victorian woman, and caused no small degree of disagreement between Beatrix and her mother. Beatrix remained single and stayed at home writing and drawing her stories - that combined her love for both animals and the English countryside - for many years.

After writing and illustrating The Tale of Peter Rabbit, she privately published it in 1901; it was later published by Frederick Warne & Co.

Beatrix Potter was engaged to Norman Warne in 1906, but before they could marry Mr. Warne passed away. After his death, she moved to the Lakeland, where she lived at her previously purchased Hill Top farm in Sawry, Cumbria. She became devoted to conservation and farming. In 1913 she married William Heelis - she was forty-seven.

In her later life, the proceeds from her children's books allowed her to purchase substantial amounts of land in the Lake District. Upon her death, the land was donated to the National Trust, which helped preserve a significant part of the Lake District as a National Park.

What heaven can be more real than to retain the spirit-world of childhood, tempered and balanced by knowledge and common sense?
                                                                             ~ Beatrix Potter

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Whimsical Word of the Week

Obdurate - (adj.)
stubbornly refusing to change one's opinion or course of action.
Example: The politician refused to truly listen to his constituents, in part, due to his obdurate views.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Bibliophile's Corner

The Imaginary
by A. F. Harrold
Amazon Description:

Rudger is Amanda’s best friend. He doesn't exist, but nobody's perfect.

Only Amanda can see her imaginary friend – until the sinister Mr. Bunting arrives at Amanda's door. Mr. Bunting hunts imaginaries. Rumour says that he eats them. And he's sniffed out Rudger. Soon Rudger is alone, and running for his imaginary life. But can a boy who isn’t there survive without a friend to dream him up?

My Thoughts:
While A. F. Harrold's recently released middle grade novel is entitled, The Imaginary, it is the author's own imagination that is so impressive. Rarely do I read a children's book that makes me sit up and take notice for its sheer originality, but Mr. Harrold's novel did just that. This well-written story is funny, frightening, and fast-paced. In addition to that, the beautiful illustrations by Emily Gravett make The Imaginary a true gem. I highly recommend this novel to readers aged eight to twelve.

Click here to learn more about the author, A. F. Harrold.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Storyteller's Journey

        Spring has Sprung!

While we here in the Pacific Northwest experienced one of our mildest winters on record, the East Coast survived one of their most severe. Needless to say, I'm sure we're all glad that the calendar indicates spring has arrived, even if the weather isn't cooperating everywhere.

(We've had bulbs blooming for several weeks - this archived photo was taken in our backyard. Photo below taken at nearby Mimsi Marsh.)

Reflecting on my last three months brings a quote by Jacob M. Braude to mind: "Always behave like a duck - keep calm and unruffled on the surface, but paddle like the devil underneath."

Researching and writing my W.I.P. - and proceeding toward publication of The Tale of Willaby Creek - has kept me extremely busy the first quarter of the year. The rest of my time was filled with reading, some traveling, adding steps to my Fitbit, and doing housework or yard work!

   ~ Click here if you'd like to view my recent quarterly newsletter. ~

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Here's to warmer, sunnier days ahead - and a great season of writing!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Whimsical Word of the Week

Moiety (n.)
a part or portion, especially a lesser share.
Example: The boy was disappointed with his miniscule moiety of his brother's birthday cake.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Bibliophile's Corner

The Crossover
by Kwame Alexander

Amazon Description:
"With a bolt of lightning on my kicks . . .The court is SIZZLING. My sweat is DRIZZLING. Stop all that quivering. Cuz tonight I'm delivering," announces dread-locked, 12-year old Josh Bell. He and his twin brother Jordan are awesome on the court. But Josh has more than basketball in his blood, he's got mad beats, too, that tell his family's story in verse, in this fast and furious middle grade novel of family and brotherhood.

Josh and Jordan must come to grips with growing up on and off the court to realize breaking the rules comes at a terrible price, as their story's heart-stopping climax proves a game-changer for the entire family.

My Thoughts:
Mr. Alexander recently received the Newbery Medal for his unique and imaginative novel, The Crossover. Who would have thought a story about competitive athletes consumed by the sound of a three-point swish and the adrenalin from a slam dunk, could be written in verse? That's just what the uber-talented author Kwame Alexander did! For me, this novel is ground-breaking. Subjects of sibling rivalry and the painful challenges of family life intertwine with beautiful basketball metaphors throughout all four quarters of this fast-break winner.
I highly recommend Crossover to boys and girls aged eight to twelve.

Click here to learn about the talented author/poet, Kwame Alexander.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Storyteller's Journey

Mindsets and Manuscripts
One of the things I love about writing is that I can have multiple projects going at the same time. This mindset has reinvigorated my manuscripts. (Public Domain Photo.)

It's as though one of my stories feeds the other, and vice versa.

Right now my work in progress is a picture book, but I'm also revising a middle grade novel, and preparing a third manuscript - another MG novel - for publication in a few months. (I blogged about that last week.) What I've realized is that my mind enjoys "shifting gears" from time to time. Also, it's healthy to step away from a manuscript for a few weeks; when I return my eyes see the story in a fresh and critical way.

I've learned a few things about this mindset regarding my manuscripts:
*Have a set deadline for each manuscript - prioritize your stories.
  (In what order do you hope your books might be published?)
*Keep organized outlines, notes, & diagrams for each project.
  (This is the only way to keep your stories straight!)
*When you've completed a manuscript, send it to your editor.
  (While it's with the editor, keep working on another project.)
*Treat your stories like you would your children.
  (Give them equal time and attention, as best you can.)
*Occasionally, let your mood decide which story you'll work on.
  (This is one way to avoid writer's block, & to inspire fresh ideas.)

I know this mindset will probably not be for every writer, but I love it!

The essence of the beautiful is unity in variety.
                                                            ~ William Somerset Maugham

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Whimsical Word of the Week

Hamartia - (n.)
a fatal flaw leading to the downfall of a hero or heroine.
Example: In the end, the knight's hamartia was his poor eyesight; it caused him to lose the duel, and thus, his life.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Bibliophile's Corner

Listen, Slowly
by Thanhha Lai

Amazon Description:
A California girl born and raised, Mai can't wait to spend her vacation at the beach. Instead, though, she has to travel to Vietnam with her grandmother, who is going back to find out what really happened to her husband during the Vietnam War. Mai's parents think this trip will be a great opportunity for their out-of-touch daughter to learn more about her culture. But to Mai, those are their roots, not her own. Vietnam is hot, smelly, and the last place she wants to be. Besides barely speaking the language, she doesn't know the geography, the local customs, or even her distant relatives. To survive her trip, Mai must find a balance between her two completely different worlds.

My Thoughts:
Once again Thanhha Lai has created a beautiful piece of literature for young readers. While her Newbery Honor book, Inside Out and Back Again was an autobiography written in verse; Listen, Slowly is a captivating novel. The character development and voice that Ms. Lai has employed in this extraordinary story are, for me, the elements that make this book so special. Right from the first few pages I was hooked on the character of Mai - a somewhat selfish young teen. Watching the slow, struggling transition of this complex protagonist was so inspiring. I highly recommend Listen, Slowly to readers aged eight to twelve.

Click here to learn more about the amazing author, Thanhha Lai.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Storyteller's Journey

     A Passion for Creativity

I've blogged many times about creativity here on Writ of Whimsy, but recently I had an ah-ha moment about my own creativity. When it comes to books, I not only have a passion to read them, and write them...but also to make them!
On the left is a mock cover for my upper middle grade novel:
The Tale of Willaby Creek - the official cover reveal and release date will be coming soon!

Here's the flap copy description for The Tale of Willaby Creek:
A magical tale of amazing sacrifice...
When a violent windstorm strikes an enchanted rain forest many of the woodland creatures of Willaby Creek are stranded, injured, or lost forever to the frenzied force of the tempest.
Basil, a black bear full of doubt and fear, becomes the unlikely leader to head the woodland creatures' rescue. He is joined by Daphne, a spunky dryad; Oliver, a wise horned owl; Elbert, a noble elk; and a host of other creatures who inhabit the enchanted rain forest.
Dangerous twists and turns in this animal adventure-fantasy cause Basil to discover a courage, and a conviction, he never knew he had. The answers to the ancient mysteries in this magical tale emerge in an extraordinary finale under the tall timbers of the hidden hinterland.

I had a blast making this mock dust jacket. There is something about creating a children's book from start to finish that I love.

Cover art and photography by Michael Lindstrom 2015

I've also acquired the help of a cover designer and a formatter to help me see this novel come to life. (The Tale of Willaby Creek was written several years ago and was the first manuscript I ever completed. It has also been rewritten, revised, and edited.) What I've recently learned about myself as a writer, is that I truly desire to be a hybrid author. (Here is a recent article that states we should possibly use the term Partner Publishing.) While I still hope to gain traditional publication for my MG fantasy series, Livvi Biddle, I also want to write stories for a niche market and retain control of the style of my books by publishing independently.

My husband and I hope to collaborate on many more projects similar to The Scandinavian Santa, such as my current work in progress: Journey to Snowdonia. We would also very much like to spend a summer visiting as many National Parks as possible while painting and writing poetry along the way. The idea of a resulting book from a trip like that truly appeals to me - but again, it would be for a niche market.

I hesitated for some time before deciding to proceed with independent publication of The Tale of Willaby Creek. However, I believe it's a tale worth being told, and in the years since the novel was written, options within the world of book publishing have exploded. I plan to promote my novel this summer in the Olympic National Forest/Park where the story is set. I'll also be attending the Northwest Book Festival with a writer friend where we'll share an author booth at Pioneer Courthouse Square in Portland, Oregon. It's shaping up to be another busy year.

    I'll be sure and keep you updated on the progress of this project.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Whimsical Word of the Week

Instauration - (n.)
the action of renewing or restoring something.
Example: After decades of tenacious work by determined craftsmen, the instauration of the historic cathedral was finally complete.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Bibliophile's Corner

The Fourteenth Goldfish
by Jennifer L. Holm

Amazon Description:
Galileo. Newton. Salk. Oppenheimer.
Science can change the world . . . but can it go too far?

Eleven-year-old Ellie has never liked change. She misses fifth grade. She misses her old best friend. She even misses her dearly departed goldfish. Then one day a strange boy shows up. He’s bossy. He’s cranky. And weirdly enough . . . he looks a lot like Ellie’s grandfather, a scientist who’s always been slightly obsessed with immortality. Could this pimply boy really be Grandpa Melvin? Has he finally found the secret to eternal youth?

My Thoughts:
Jennifer L. Holm is a three time Newbery Honor winner, so I'm always keen to review her work; I was not disappointed with The Fourteenth Goldfish! This middle grade novel features realistic relationships, dialogue, and humor, with a heavy dose of science, and a dash of fantasy. The result is a creative and original concoction that is sure to entice all young readers. The way the author was able to weave significant scientists and their discoveries into her story is amazing - it only added to the interesting plot. I highly recommend The Fourteenth Goldfish to readers from the ages of eight to twelve.

Click here to learn more about the author, Jennifer L. Holm.