Friday, April 29, 2016

Storyteller's Journey

Photo Courtesy of the Public Domain
May the Flow Be with You!

My family members have always been big Star Wars fans. During the Christmas holiday we saw The Force Awakens not once, but twice, and recently we purchased our own copy. Over the years we were constantly watching one Jedi movie or another - not surprising with three sons! With all that magic of Midi-chlorians in the air, you'd think a scene with Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader wielding their lightsabers would be one of my favorites.

You'd be wrong.

My all-time favorite scene is from Episode IV: A New Hope (1977).
If you're a Star Wars fan you can vividly recall the scene where Luke Skywalker attacked the Death Star. (If you're not a fan, click here to view that portion of the fantasy/sci-fi film that changed movies forever.)

The reason that scene is my favorite, is due to the fact that while Luke was flying his X Wing Fighter, he heard Obi-Wan Kenobi instruct him to use the force. We're all familiar with the phrase, probably even those few people who have never seen the films. (Those folks must be from Tatooine.) But think about it: Luke had been trained to fly that fighter. Now he's being told to let go of his knowledge as a pilot...and wing it.

So why is that so important to me as a writer?

Simply stated, it comes back to a quote that is one of my favorites:
“May what I do flow from me like a river, no forcing and no holding back, the way it is with children.”
Rainer Maria Rilke

While the above quote by Rilke is powerful, it also requires us to live a somewhat precarious existence. Like Skywalker, most of us are more comfortable trusting what we know, rather than trusting the flow. That skill takes a certain amount of creativity, confidence, and courage as a writer - it doesn't happen overnight. Trusting the flow of our writing is where the magic happens. It's the place where we'll write something so special that others will read it... and truly love it. In addition to that, trusting the flow is the only way we'll take down our fears as writers.

So, pick up those pens and write. May the flow be with you!

(This post was written in honor of Star Wars Day next Wednesday!)

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Whimsical Word of the Week

Diaphanous - (adj.)
light, delicate, and translucent.
Example: The diaphanous wings of the forest dryad fluttered in a blur.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Bibliophile's Corner

The Blackthorn Key
by Kevin Sands

Flap Copy Description:
“Tell no one what I’ve given you.”

Until he got that cryptic warning, Christopher Rowe was happy, learning how to solve complex codes and puzzles and creating powerful medicines, potions, and weapons as an apprentice to Master Benedict Blackthorn—with maybe an explosion or two along the way.

But when a mysterious cult begins to prey on London’s apothecaries, the trail of murders grows closer and closer to Blackthorn’s shop. With time running out, Christopher must use every skill he’s learned to discover the key to a terrible secret with the power to tear the world apart.

My Thoughts:
For fans of the Artemis Fowl series, run don't walk to grab a copy of The Blackthorn Key! This debut upper middle grade novel by Kevin Sands is full of action, adventure, and alchemy, all mixed together with a measure of magic - I thoroughly enjoyed it. Plot and character development, as well as setting descriptions, are all beautifully well-written by the pen of Mr. Sands. I highly recommend this upper middle grade novel to readers aged ten and up, and anxiously await the sequel to The Blackthorn Key. Bravo, Kevin Sands!

Click here to learn more about the author Kevin Sands.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Storyteller's Journey

Kneeling next to one of my favorite trees in the Olympic National Forest.
Happy Earth Day!

In the Pacific Northwest we take Earth Day very seriously. In addition to the vast and beautiful environment all around us, the coordinator of Earth Day - Denis Hayes - grew up along the Columbia River in Camas, Washington. He graduated from Clark College in Vancouver, WA (my alma mater) and then went on to attend Stanford University, and ultimately graduated from Harvard.

While I am a nature buff myself, today it's also important to ponder what each of us can do to promote the protection of our environment. As writers, we can contribute to the cause in numerous ways:

1- Include the importance of our natural environment in the books we write for children.

2- For traditionally published authors, Authors for Earth Day is a wonderful coalition that contributes a portion of their authors' school visits to a non-profit conservation organization.

3- Be a good steward of the natural resources in your own local area. Volunteer with a conservation organization in your town or region.

4- Make a donation to a conservation organization that you feel particularly drawn to - I'm a supporter of Polar Bears International as well as the National Park Service, celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. However, there are numerous organizations to check out.

5- Obviously we're in a presidential election year. If you have the time, expertise, and motivation to volunteer for your favorite candidate, by all means do so. (Hopefully he or she is a strong advocate for conserving our natural resources!)

Whatever you decide to do this Earth Day, know that your contribution will make a positive impact not only on your life, but the lives of others!

“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature -- the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.”
Rachel Carson, Silent Spring    

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Whimsical Word of the Week

Malodorous - (adj.)
smelling very unpleasant.
Example: The apothecary added strange herbs to his steaming cauldron, creating a malodorous concoction.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Bibliophile's Corner

Beatrix Potter's Gardening Life by Marta McDowell

Flap Copy Description:
There aren’t many books more beloved than The Tale of Peter Rabbit and even fewer authors as iconic as Beatrix Potter. More than 150 million copies of her books have sold worldwide and interest in her work and life remains high. And her characters—Peter Rabbit, Jemima Puddle Duck, and all the rest—exist in a charmed world filled with flowers and gardens. Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life is the first book to explore the origins of Beatrix Potter’s love of gardening and plants and show how this passion came to be reflected in her work. The book begins with a gardener’s biography, highlighting the key moments and places throughout her life that helped define her, including her home Hill Top Farm in England's Lake District. Next, the reader follows Beatrix Potter through a year in her garden, with a season-by-season overview of what is blooming that truly brings her gardens alive. The book culminates in a traveler’s guide, with information on how and where to visit Potter’s gardens today.

My Thoughts:
While most of my reviews are for children's books, I just had to feature this fantastic book by Marta McDowell. And, since I just planted my own little vegetable garden, this treasured tome was most inspirational. The 300+ page book is full of some of Potter's beautiful illustrations, as well as how her passion for plants and animals inspired her iconic tales for children. I highly recommend Beatrix Potter's Gardening Life to all gardeners, as well as to serious fans of the beloved children's author.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Storyteller's Journey

Two Sides of the Same Coin

Definition: If two things are two sides of the same coin, they are very closely related although they seem different.

There are so many subjects in all of our lives that the above idiom could refer to; whether in politics, religion, or even the arts, there are issues that many times seem to be polar opposites, but in fact are really just "two sides of the same coin." (While we're in a presidential election year that would be a great topic for this discussion. However, this is a blog that focuses on writing related issues, so don't despair!)

The subjects of craft and creativity as they apply to writing could definitely be referred to as "two sides of the same coin."

Over the years I've noticed that most writers seem to have either craft or creativity as their strength and so work hard to include the other element in their manuscript. For me, I definitely come at my writing from a creative place; I'm constantly working at improving my craft.

Why do I bring this up?

Because as humans we tend to hold onto our strengths, it's only natural. However, it's imperative that we understand that the thing that is our weakness must be developed; it may well be the key that opens the door to our future. Nearly every novel that I have ever read, and truly enjoyed, has been written by an author who has a balance of craft and creativity in her writing. There is a sense of wholeness and complexity to a story that was written by a veteran author.

The other benefit from working on our weakness (rather that sticking only to our strength) is that we're always reminded of how much more we need to improve. It keeps us humble; we're always learning. is Tax Day. I'm not sure if there are "two sides of the same coin" or not when it comes to paying taxes! Probably not.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Whimsical Word of the Week

Ennui - (noun)
a feeling of listlessness and dissatisfaction arising from a lack of occupation or excitement.
Example: The political prisoner attempted to diminish his ennui by reading books.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Bibliophile's Corner

A Girl From Yamhill
A Memoir
by Beverly Cleary

Flap Copy Description:
Generations of children have grown up with Henry Huggins, Ramona Quimby, and all of their friends, families, and assorted pets. For everyone who has enjoyed the pranks and schemes, embarrassing moments, and all of the other poignant and colorful images of childhood brought to life in Beverly Cleary books, here is the fascinating true story of the remarkable woman who created them.

My Thoughts:
It is difficult to give an objective review of this memoir by Ms. Cleary, for while her childhood took place long before my own, it took place mere miles from where I grew up, and where I still live. Those familiar settings included in Ms. Cleary's biography leapt from the pages of her book, partly from the author's gifted pen, but also due to my own knowledge of many of the places mentioned. That being said, I read this book in one sitting - I could not put it down! A Girl From Yamhill is a look inside the amazing life of one of the true champions of children's literature. I highly recommend it to readers, and writers, of all ages.

Happy birthday to Beverly Cleary who turns 100 tomorrow!

Friday, April 8, 2016

Champions of Creativity

Hans Christian Andersen

The fairy tales written by Hans Christian Andersen are among some of my very favorites, including: The Snow Queen, The Little Match Girl, and The Princess and the Pea, to name just a few. Since last Saturday marked the birthday of the iconic children's author, today his life is the focus of Champions of Creativity.
Photo Credit: Christian Albrecht Jensen - H.C. Andersen 1836

Hans Christian Andersen was born in Odense, Denmark on April 2, 1805, he was an only child. He grew up in a family that was not wealthy, nonetheless, his father introduced him to literature, and thanks to a grant, Hans later attended schools for privileged children.

His father died in 1816, and two years later Hans left for Copenhagen to study theatre after being told he had a lovely voice. Unfortunately, his voice soon changed and any hopes of an acting career faded away. However, an acting colleague told Hans he considered him to be a poet, so the young man turned his focus onto writing, a choice that was to positively affect children's literature forever.

Through 1835-1837 H. C. Andersen had his first Fairy Tales published. While they were not initially recognized, he was on his way as an author. Soon after that he traveled to Sweden, and was so taken with "Scandinavism" (the relatedness of Swedes, Danes, & Norwegians) that he wrote a poem entitled: I Am a Scandinavian.

He was to make many travels throughout his life, all of them had an impact on his writing. In 1847 he traveled to England and there met Charles Dickens. He said, "I was so happy to see and speak to England's now living writer, whom I love the most." Both authors had a passion for children of the underclass, and also those souls whose lives were being negatively affected by the Industrial Revolution.

In the spring of 1872 Hans Christian Andersen had a severe fall and never fully recovered. He also developed what is believed to have been cancer of the liver. He died on August 4, 1875 in the home of close friends in Copenhagen.

It is a widely held belief that he influenced such authors as Kenneth Grahame, Beatrix Potter, A. A. Milne, and C. S. Lewis with his storytelling technique of bringing inanimate objects to life.
Hans Christian Andersen wrote dozens of stories and poems by the end of his seventy years, many of which have been put to music or made into film or stage productions. As recently as 2013 the Walt Disney Animation Studios produced Frozen, which initially was to be based on The Snow Queen, but which was altered so much that the finished film bore little or no resemblance to Andersen's original story.

Copenhagen, Denmark
The iconic and accomplished Danish author has been honored in numerous cities around the world with beautiful monuments and sculptures. One way Hans Christian Andersen's talent, passion, and commitment to children's literature is remembered is by the award that bears his name: The Hans Christian Andersen Award - it is the highest international recognition given to an author and an illustrator of children's books. (Click on the link to view this year's recent winners.)

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Whimsical Word of the Week

Portmanteau - (n.)
a word blending the sounds and combining the meanings of two others. Example: The writer was preoccupied with creating a daily portmanteau, such as: Cabila (Cabin + Lake).

Monday, April 4, 2016

Bibliophile's Corner

Beatrix Potter
& the Unfortunate Tale
of a Borrowed Guinea Pig
by Deborah Hopkinson and
illustrated by Charlotte Voake

Flap Copy Description:
Young Beatrix Potter - who will grow up to be perhaps the most beloved children's book author of all time - adores animals. She probably has more pets than any young lady in London, and she especially loves to draw them.

And when Beatrix decides to paint a picture of her neighbor's guinea pig, the magnificent Queen Elizabeth, she promises that no harm will befall the regal rodent. After all, what could possibly go wrong?

Well...unfortunately, quite a lot.

My Thoughts:
This review (and recommendation!) is being written only minutes after I finished reading this remarkable picture book! Ms. Hopkinson and Ms. Voake have collaborated to create a delightful tale based on a true story in the life of Beatrix Potter. The text is exquisite, and the illustrations are sublime. I can only imagine how pleased Ms. Potter would have been to have seen such a lovely book based on her young life. Like so many other writers, the iconic author/illustrator is one of my inspirational heroines in the world of children's literature.
Beatrix Potter & the Unfortunate Tale of a Borrowed Guinea Pig will have a special place in my library - right next to my complete collection of The Tales of Peter Rabbit. I highly recommend this beautiful picture book to readers from the ages of eight to eighty!

Click here to learn about the author Deborah Hopkinson
Click here to learn about the illustrator Charlotte Voake

Friday, April 1, 2016

Storyteller's Journey

Winners of My Book Giveaway!
It's time to announce the lucky winners of the book giveaway for The Tale of Willaby Creek. The SCBWI Book Launch Party was so much fun!

Thanks to the Society of Children's Book Authors & Illustrators for hosting the fantastic event. There were so many great books featured!

So, without further ado, here are the names of the four winners of a signed copy of my middle grade novel The Tale of Willaby Creek:

Judy Scott, Esperanza Gailliard, Constance Messmer, and
Elizabeth Varadan. Congratulations, to each one of you!
(Each of you was notified of winning via the e-mail address you left on the book launch party site.)

Thanks so much for participating in my book's launch party!