Friday, November 30, 2018

Storyteller's Journey

Santa Catalina Arch - Antigua, Guatemala
Inspiration from Locations; Inspiration from Illustrations

While I was in Antigua, Guatemala, an idea for a middle grade novel began rattling around in my brain. (Most of my inspiration comes from a specific place.) I wanted to document my experience not only in photos, but in some sort of creativity. And since I was on a tour with a group of artists, I decided it was about time I try my hand at a watercolor!

As I got into painting the clock tower, I could see right away how boring my painting looked. So, I decided to try the technique made famous by Georges Seurat - painting in small dots of color. It was a good idea, but Seurat was a wizard at creating patterns and textures. Oh well...

Here's the thing: It's not about how well you can paint, draw, or sketch; it's about your rendition of the place you want to remember. Especially if it's meant as a reference for a future story. In that sense, my watercolor was a success. I remember much more about the clock tower & arch from looking at my painting. Because I labored over it, studied the subject, and remember that white cloud that was behind the cross. I feel much more connected to that spot than if I'd just snapped a photo. (Don't get me wrong, I love taking photos!)

My point is, whenever it's possible, attempt to create a sketch, drawing, painting, etc. that will help you connect to a person, place, or thing that is significant in your story. Remember: this exercise is for you, to help you connect with your story. You need not share it with anyone else.

In September I had the most magical experience that ties into this subject. While I was at the SCBWI Fall Retreat in Silverton, OR, several illustrators in attendance were kind enough to sketch or draw a small snippet of stories written by the writers who were also in attendance. The talented artist that sketched a scene from my MG novel, Livvi Biddle - The Secret at Stonehenge, was Erin Hourigan.

Illustration by Erin Hourigan - 9/20/18
What Erin created brought tears to my eyes. I have worked on Livvi Biddle for seven years (I'm now sending out queries), and never seen an actual sketch or drawing of any part of my story. I love what Ms. Hourigan sketched! In fact, she somehow captured the feeling I was hoping to create by the words on the first page of my book. Thanks again, Erin! (Click here to see her work.)

So, whether you create a sketch, drawing, or painting of your story - or you're lucky enough to have a talented artist do it - having a visual rendition of a person, place or thing is invaluable as you work through your manuscript. Besides, it's a great way to take a break & have fun!

Good luck!

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Whimsical Word of the Week

Miscellany - (n.)
a group or collection of different items; a mixture.
Example: The wizard's hut was cluttered with a miscellany of magical items.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Bibliophile's Corner

Little Man Little Man
by James Baldwin
Illustrated by Yoran Cazac

Flap Copy Description:
Four-year-old TJ spends his days on his lively Harlem block playing with his best friends WT and Blinky and running errands for neighbors. As he comes of age as a "Little Man' with big dreams, TJ faces a world of grown-up adventures and realities. Baldwin's only children's book, Little Man, Little Man celebrates and explores the challenges and joys of black childhood.

My Thoughts:
This unique children's book by one of America's greatest writers is just as relevant today as when it was first published in 1976. This new edition includes a foreword by Baldwin's nephew Tejan "TJ" Karefa-Smart and an afterword by his niece Aisha Karefa-Smart, with an introduction by two Baldwin scholars. I absolutely loved reading Little Man, Little Man! The colloquial language used by Mr. Baldwin is wonderful, and the story (in vignettes) provides an authentic look at life in Harlem from a black child's perspective. Additionally, the book's 96 pages were charmingly illustrated by the Parisian artist, Yoran Cazac. I highly recommend Little Man, Little Man to readers of all ages!

Click here to learn about legendary writer/intellectual, James Baldwin.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Storyteller's Journey

Public Domain Photo
Reflections on Thankfulness

As the years in my life have elapsed one by one, I've slowly realized that I'm really thankful for everything. Yes, everything. 

Those experiences, situations, or even people who have seemed negative at first, I now see that they were sent to teach me, strengthen me, and/or humble me. Once I realized that, it became clear to me that relaxing, and going with the flow, was what I needed to work on - the rest will be what it will be. God and his universe will have His way.

That being said, family and friends will always be what I am most thankful for. This holiday season Michael (my husband) and I will be joined by all three of our adult sons, as well as our amazing daughter-in-law, for Christmas. It's been a while since we've all been home for the holidays. (Last year, we were in Arizona for my father's funeral.)

L-R: Michael, Victoria, Kevin, Brian, Jessica, & David 

Whether you have family close to you or not this holiday season, reach out to your friends. They need you just as much as you need them. My extended family is a typical American family: Different political parties and different religions, all combined together into a beautiful blended family. Maybe that's the way it was supposed to be: To teach us about a deeper love, a more enduring bond, and a better understanding of one another. May this holiday season find you closer to those you love.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Whimsical Word of the Week

Orison - (n.)
a prayer.
Example: The father began his family's Thanksgiving dinner with a brief orison.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Bibliophile's Corner

A Boy, a Mouse, and a Spider
by Barbara Herkert

Flap Copy Description:
When young Elwyn White lay in bed as a sickly child, a bold house mouse befriended him. When the time came for kindergarten, an anxious Elwyn longed for the farm, where animal friends awaited him at the end of each day. Propelled by his fascination with the outside world, he began to jot down his reflections in a journal. Writing filled him with joy, and words became his world.

My Thoughts:
The recently released A Boy, a Mouse, and a Spider by Barbara Herkert is magical on multiple levels! For fans of Charlotte's Web, learning about the life of that book's author, E. B. White, will add to their knowledge of the classic children's book. For lovers of beautiful illustrations, readers will be entranced by the artwork of Lauren Castillo. For writers, learning about the journey that Mr. White took on his way to becoming the author of some of America's best-loved classics will be inspirational. Finally, for children with health issues or insecurities, learning that E. B. White had his own health challenges - and battled fears for most of his childhood - will be relatable and encouraging. I highly recommend this extraordinary picture book to readers aged four to seven. Ms. Herkert has penned another beautiful biography!

Click here to learn more about the author, Barbara Herkert.
Click here to learn more about the illustrator, Lauren Castillo.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Storyteller's Journey

Yuly Hoffens Elis receives my book donation at Xela Aid in San Martin, Guatemala
An Amazing Adventure!

My trip to Guatemala was beyond anything I ever could have imagined! There are many reasons for that, but the main reason was the Guatemalan people, for sure.

Prior to registering for this extraordinary trip (which was a collaboration between Art Ambassador for a Colorful World and Xela AID) we began sponsoring this little girl. Her name is Catarina. When we decided we wanted to pledge to support a child in Guatemala, Catarina's biography stood out to me because she stated she liked to read, and wanted to become a teacher so that she could provide for her family. The other factor in making our decision was that we were hoping to support a girl - since we have three awesome, grown sons already! To say that we hit it off with Catarina would be a gross understatement. She's absolutely wonderful in so many ways: Kind, considerate, appreciative, and so intelligent. We're honored she is in our lives.

Since Catarina likes to read, we gave her these two books in Spanish: A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L'Engle and An Old Gray Cat, by Tono Malpica. (I bought the latter book in a tiny bookstore in Antigua, Guatemala.)

While Catarina loves to read, she discovered for the first time that she also loves to paint! My husband Michael, is so smitten with this lovely little girl - and so am I. We hope to return to Guatemala in 2019 to see her.

I was honored to be pictured with these women & little girl who live in San Martin.
The Mayan people are hesitant to be photographed, believing that a piece of their soul might be stolen. However, I was able to "visit" with these three for some time, while Michael painted nearby. They were actually anxious to be photographed!

All of the beauty, color, and love of the Guatemalan people filled my senses while I was there. I have completed an outline for a middle grade novel inspired by Catarina. The picture on the left is of me writing the very first sentences of the new book (albeit it the first draft), while sitting in the Xela AID center in San Martin, Guatemala.

I did more research for the proposed MG novel while we were at Lake Atitlan in Jaibalito, Guatemala. If you are interested in receiving updates to this current project, click the link, then scroll down that page to register to receive my author quarterly newsletters:  

Lake Atitlan - Jaibalito, Guatemala

There are so many positive things I took away from Guatemala, far more than I gave. (If you've ever done any volunteering, you know what I mean.) However, during this season of thanksgiving I'm reminded that not only do I have so much to be thankful for, but so do the people of Guatemala. Their dignity, work ethic, kindness, and love brought me to tears while I was there. Prior to actually meeting a person we all sometimes make negative prejudgments - I know I did about Guatemala. However, I now see that country as a hidden jewel among other more affluent nations. I was honored and blessed to meet so many extraordinary people while we were there. The Mayans of Guatemala, in there traditional colorful clothing, are the most stunning people. We're already planning to return to that beautiful country, with its deep valleys, soaring volcanic mountains, and historic cathedrals and architecture. Then, too, there is the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Antigua! All in all, Guatemala truly is the Land of Eternal Spring.