Monday, May 30, 2016

Bibliophile's Corner

The Doldrums
by Nicholas Gannon

Flap Copy Description:
Archer B. Helmsley has grown up in a house full of oddities and treasures collected by his grandparents, the famous explorers. He knows every nook and cranny. He knows them all too well. After all, ever since his grandparents went missing on an iceberg, his mother barely lets him leave the house.

Archer longs for adventure. Grand adventures, with parachutes and exotic sunsets and interesting characters. But how can he have an adventure when he can’t leave his house?

It helps that he has friends like Adélaïde L. Belmont, who must have had many adventures to end up with a wooden leg. (Perhaps from a run-in with a crocodile. Perhaps not.) And Oliver Glub. Oliver will worry about all the details (so that Archer doesn’t have to).

And so Archer, Adélaïde, and Oliver make a plan. A plan to get out of the house, out of their town entirely. It’s a good plan.

Well, it’s not bad, anyway.

But nothing goes quite as they expect.

My Thoughts:
The Doldrums is the debut middle grade novel by Nicholas Gannon - it's wondrously whimsical! Young readers will fall in love with the trio of friends that author/illustrator Nicholas Gannon has created. Archer, Adelaide, and Oliver are extremely entertaining with their dry wit and zany shenanigans. Their wild imaginations ultimately lead them to plan an adventure far away from their homes on Willow Street. It's too much fun! This well-written tale is sure to delight readers of all ages. I anxiously anticipate the release of Book Two in The Doldrums series!

Click here to learn about the author Nicholas Gannon.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Storyteller's Journey

Planning an In-Home Writer's Retreat

Earlier this month my husband was away from home on a week-long business trip. Since I am only able to effectively write while he's gone anyway, I decided to make that week an "In-Home Writer's Retreat" for myself. It was extremely successful! (Photo Credit: Public Domain.)

Here are some of the tips & tools I used to plan my "in-home retreat:"

* I paid bills, did grocery shopping, etc. in preparation of being busy with my "retreat." Whatever tasks I could do prior to that week, I did.

* I cleared my week's schedule of my domestic/personal duties as best I could. I did have two appointments I couldn't break, but otherwise I attempted to keep my schedule full of writing-related activities.

*I made a goal for what I hoped to accomplish during the week. I decided to do some much needed research, write five thousand words, and generally stay in a literary mindset during my "in-home retreat."

* I made a list of acceptable tasks for my "in-home retreat," they included: Writing, blogging, reading, researching, and listening to podcasts. (The podcast with the National Ambassador for Young People's Literature, Gene Luen Yang, interviewing Pulitzer winner Michael Chabon, was so inspirational and informative. Mr. Chabon has written children's books - who knew! Click here if you'd like to listen.) SCBWI (The Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators) is a great resource for writers (& illustrators) of children's books. Click here. They feature a wonderful series of podcasts by professionals in the publishing industry that is available to its members on their website.

* For my evening entertainment I selected films that I might watch that were about authors - Miss Potter, Finding Forrester, Alex & Emma, and Midnight in Paris. (I also planned a dinner with a writer pal one night.)
There are dozens of writer-related films. Click here to view a list.

While I know not everyone has the freedom - or the time - to do this "in-home retreat,"  you can find a way to modify the idea:

* If you have small children at home, see if a friend or family member might help you by watching the children for a few hours each day. If your children are in school, work around their schedules.

* If you work outside the home, try planning a couple of hours each evening devoted to your "in-home retreat." Your spouse or significant other might help with meals & chores. If you live alone, let the house & your chores go for a few nights! (Writers are famous for that anyway.)

While an "in-home retreat" is not nearly as much fun as seeing your friends at a conference or retreat, it can still be entertaining and super inspirational - it was for me. It also gave me a chance to catch up on articles related to literary subjects that I'd not previously taken the time to read. The biggest benefit I gleaned from this experiment was gaining a clear mindset about my manuscript - which was huge. This idea for an "in-home retreat" can be modified in numerous ways. Good luck!

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Whimsical Word of the Week

Ifrit (n.)
a large supernatural winged creature, who is made of fire or smoke, and who lives underground. Example: The ifrit lived between the boulders of the hidden cavern.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Bibliophile's Corner

by Ally Condie

Flap Copy Description:
It's been a year since the devastating car accident that killed Cedar's father and younger brother, Ben. But now Cedar and what's left of her family are spending the summer in her mother's hometown of Iron Creek and trying to mend the broken pieces. Memories surround Cedar, including strange gifts that begin to appear in the night - the type of small household items her brother Ben used to collect.

Until one day a boy named Leo, dressed in costume, rides by on his bike, and everything about Cedar's summer changes. Soon, Cedar not only has a job working at the renowned Summerlost theater festival, but also a growing friendship with Leo that will blossom as they piece together clues about the short and tragic life of one of Iron Creek's most famous residents.

My Thoughts:
Summerlost is the marvelous debut middle grade novel by bestselling author Ally Condie. What I love most about this book is the way it's written in a literary style, while still capturing the "middle grade voice." Its themes of family and friendship, amidst devastating loss, are written with authenticity, and are extremely inspirational. I highly recommend Summerlost to readers from the ages of eight to eighty!

Click here to learn more about the author, Ally Condie.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Storyteller's Journey

The Tides of a Writer's Life
The life of a writer can be lonely, yet beautiful; risky, yet powerful; and, scary, yet exhilarating. Like an ocean, it has its spontaneity, while also having predictable tides.

My life as a full-time writer is nearing the ten-year mark, and as I reflect I am pleasantly reminded that one thing the life of a writer does not include (at least for me), is boredom. I have never felt more alive.

If you can't say the same about your life as a writer, here are a few suggestions - some easy, some more challenging - that might help:

1- Attend a writing conference or retreat. Nearly every writing event I've ever attended has at the very least offered me a huge amount of inspiration. That inspiration has always fueled me for months past the event I attended. This is the season for conferences, so don't miss out. I'll be attending a small writers' retreat the third week of July, and then the Willamette Writers Conference in August in Portland, Oregon. (If you feel you can't afford to attend an organized event, check out my blog post next Friday when I discuss planning an in-home retreat!)

2- Make some practical changes. Change when or where you write. If you're a morning writer, try writing in the afternoon. While that might seem strange, that's when I write! Clean your desk, purchase some new writing supplies, or even a new laptop if needed. Begin a new project if you feel like your W.I.P is getting to be like yesterday's news.

3- Start a blog. Many writers are bloggers, but some find blogging a drudgery. I love it! I require some structure in my journey as a writer. Like the ocean, I like having some predictable tides in my life. Blogging teaches you discipline, organization, and is good practice at putting your writing out there. You can also meet other writers!

4- Receive feedback. Become an active member of a critique group;
if you're already a member of one, consider the services of an editor.
I recently hired an editor and her comments were a huge boost to my writing. One way or the other, we all need feedback.

5- Submit an article, short story, or manuscript. If you've been a serious writer for more than a few years, and have never submitted your work, it's time! While it might seem scary, it's part of the learning process. Even if your work is not accepted, you'll no doubt gain an invaluable education from submitting. It's just part of being a writer.

6- Publish independently. If you're a seasoned writer and have a manuscript that's been critiqued, edited, and submitted (numerous times) but you still cannot find it a home, consider publishing independently. I am an independently published author and have received numerous benefits from that experience. (That topic could be a blog post all on its own!) The biggest benefit I received from seeing my book in print was confidence. While I am still seeking an agent (for a different manuscript) I benefitted big time from going through the publishing process - in so many ways.

7- Keep moving forward! This point is the most important on my list. In the last decade I've met dozens of writers - some of them have been writing all their lives. Unfortunately, few of them have ever submitted their work. There are probably numerous reasons for that, but I am sure one big reason is fear. They might say, "Oh, I'm a perfectionist, my work isn't ready yet." Well, when? The worst thing you can do as a writer is to go around in circles. Truly living life requires forward motion.

While we all need to keep moving forward, we also need predictable tides in our lives. The above list can be used by both a novice writer & a veteran writer. These seven tips are tasks we all need to keep in mind - no matter where we're at along our own storyteller's journey.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Whimsical Word of the Week

Rapacious - (adj.)
greedy or grasping.
Example: The rapacious bank executives were the main cause of the country's recession.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Bibliophile's Corner

A Drop of Night
by Stefan Bachmann

Amazon Description:
Seventeen-year-old Anouk has finally caught the break she’s been looking for—she's been selected out of hundreds of other candidates to fly to France and help with the excavation of a vast, underground palace buried a hundred feet below the suburbs of Paris. Built in the 1780's to hide an aristocratic family and a mad duke during the French Revolution, the palace has lain hidden and forgotten ever since. Anouk, along with several other gifted teenagers, will be the first to set foot in it in over two centuries.

Or so she thought.

But nothing is as it seems, and the teens soon find themselves embroiled in a game far more sinister, and dangerous, than they could possibly have imagined. An evil spanning centuries is waiting for them in the depths. . .

My Thoughts:
This multi-genre novel by Stefan Bachmann was recently released and is full of mystery and intrigue. I'm a big fan of Mr. Bachmann's MG novels and was happy to see his eloquent & creative style carried over to his debut YA novel. A Drop of Night is one of those books that you just can't put down due to its fast-paced plot and cliff-hanger chapter endings. I highly recommend this novel to readers aged fourteen & up.

Click here to learn more about author Stefan Bachmann.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Storyteller's Journey

Photo Credit: Public Domain
Books Can Be Stepping Stones

Childhood can be an extremely challenging phase for youngsters - I know it was for me. During that time of "ups & downs" reading novels can be a lifesaver for a young person.

When I began reading as a child I had no idea how impactful my love affair with books would be on my own development as a person. I was so enthralled with reading A.A. Milne, Gertrude Chandler Warner, Carolyn Keene, and later, Louisa May Alcott, Charles Dickens, and numerous other authors, that it wasn't until I was a college graduate that I realized how important being a bookworm had been. Reading all those novels, by a wide variety of authors, had aided me in navigating the challenges of adolescence & young adulthood. It was as though each book had been a stepping stone across the turbulent waters of my young life. When I completed one book, I went right on to the next. I believe it was no coincidence that my reading increased during the most challenging of times. It was as if the protagonist in each novel was a mentor and friend. A friend that I was able to lean on.

I remember one particularly difficult time in my "tweens" because I can vividly recall reading Nancy Drew - The Clue of the Whistling Bagpipes with tears streaming down my face. I wished with all my heart I could be somewhere Scotland. I would even go see the mountain Ben Nevis, just like Nancy did. Little did I know that many years later - in 2014 - I would have my picture taken near the base of Ben Nevis.

No one can tell me that children's books aren't extremely important!
That one little book made such an impact on me that I read every Nancy Drew book ever written. As an adult, I collected the entire series.

Nancy Drew Books with yellow spines.

I believe writing books for young readers is one of the most powerful things a person can do to help improve our society.
Some well-meaning people might say, "That's great that you write children's books, but how does that help improve our society?"

Since I'm not only a reader and a writer, but a parent, I can tell you that getting a child's heart into a book is the best way to get his head thinking about something other than himself. Yes, well-written books help develop a child's imagination, which in turn helps develop intellect, but ultimately what we all need in our society is more souls who look out for one another. Hopefully the next generation will be more compassionate, kind, and generous. If a book includes a character &/or plot that leads a child in that direction, it's a winner as far as I'm concerned.

While reading exciting and entertaining novels will bring strength and joy to a child, hopefully some well-written children's books will do even more. They might just act as stepping stones for the next generation, providing them with the courage to help make the changes that are so needed in our society.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Whimsical Word of the Week

Doyenne - (n.)
a woman who is the most respected or prominent person in a particular field. Example: For years Martha Stewart was considered the doyenne of domesticity.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Bibliophile's Corner

Written by Sara Pennypacker
& illustrated by Jon Klassen

Flap copy Description:
Pax and Peter have been inseparable ever since Peter rescued him as a kit. But one day the unimaginable happens: Peter's dad enlists in the military and makes him return the fox to the wild.
At his grandfather's house three hundred miles away from home, Peter knows he isn't where he should be - with Pax. He strikes out on his own despite the encroaching war, spurred by love, loyalty, and grief, to be reunited with his fox. Meanwhile Pax, steadfastly waiting for his boy, embarks on adventures and discoveries of his own..

My Thoughts:
Pax is a deeply moving and thought provoking middle grade novel by Sara Pennypacker. Its compelling story about the bond between a boy and his rescued fox is brought to life with exquisite character development and heartfelt dialogue. Even more than that, it brings to light issues of war, peace, love and loss. This masterpiece is one not to miss. I highly recommend Pax to readers aged eight to eighty.

Click here to learn about the author, Sara Pennypacker.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Storyteller's Journey

Photo Credit: Public Domain
    My True North

While "True North" is usually a navigational term, it is also a metaphor for the values &/or goals that guide us, primarily the ones that we hold dear.

My "True North" is complex, but if I had to summarize it, it would be Faith. Not the kind of faith one seeks in a church, synagogue, or mosque, but the kind of faith one finds inside the heart. Faith in my dreams, faith in my family & friends, faith in the future, etc. It implies moving forward, living to the fullest, and conquering challenges. Believing that when I leave this planet my life will have made a difference - that I touched lives and left a positive legacy. And while I do have faith in God, it's not a religious sort of faith, but a faith that just knows He's there, that He's guiding me, and that He loves me.

Why is that important to a writer? Well, it means everything to a writer. We've signed up to write across the years of our lives, navigating through tests and trials, challenges and chaos. If we're not equipped with a properly working compass, we'll never see our journey through to the end. It takes a heart that knows what is important - what is "True North" - to see us through. We must have a significant reason to write.

A writer might believe becoming a published author is her "True North." But will that help her if she never gains agent representation, or never gets published? How will that help her if her dreams don't come true?
I believe we all must have a bigger "True North" than what our writing goals can provide to be happy. There must be substance in our lives.

While I do stay motivated by always working toward my goals, I try to never lose sight of why I made those goals: It comes back to Faith.

Knowing what you value as a human being - no matter what your occupation - is the best way to find strength amidst the storms of life. If you know your "True North" you'll always know which direction to go.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Whimsical Word of the Week

Polymath - (n.)
a person of wide-ranging knowledge or learning. Example: The jedi was not only a knight, but a polymath.
Happy Star Wars Day!
May the Force be with you!

Monday, May 2, 2016

Bibliophile's Corner

Wing & Claw
Forest of Wonders
by Linda Sue Park

Flap Copy Description:
Raffa Santana has always loved the mysterious Forest of Wonders. For a gifted young apothecary like him, every leaf has the potential to unleash a kind of magic. If only Raffa's cautious father would allow him to experiment freely, Raffa knows he could discover miracles.

When an injured bat crashes into Raffa's life, he invents a cure from a rare crimson vine that he finds deep in the forest. The powers of the vine are stronger than Raffa could have imagined. His remedy saves the animal but also transforms it into something much more than an ordinary bat, with far-reaching consequences. Raffa's experiments lead him away from home to the forbidding city of Gilden, where troubling discoveries make him question who he can trust . . . and whether exciting botanical inventions, including his own, might actually threaten the very creatures of the forest he wants to protect.

My Thoughts:
The award-winning author Linda Sue Park has created a beautiful middle grade novel full of whimsical animals, magical potions, and complex characters. This first book in the new series Wing & Claw introduces us to the wondrous world of the young apothecary Raffa, as well as his animal friends. The protagonist in this well-written Old World tale is faced with problems all around, as well as within his own heart; he is assisted by the strong supporting cast of Garith, Kuma, and Trixin. I highly recommend Forest of Wonders - the first book in the Wing & Claw series - to readers from the ages of eight to twelve.

Click here to learn more about the author Linda Sue Park.