Exploring those mysterious, underlying forces fueling a writing life

Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

our flaws, our strengths

“Do you grind them?”

The question threw me. It was my first craft show, first time selling my pieces of sea glass jewelry and she was a veteran. Was I doing something wrong?

Should I be grinding the sea glass? Smoothing out those rough spots, the dents, the imperfections? Would I sell more?

No.

Carved from the same tumbling sea forces, nature took what was discarded trash and created art. There are no two identical pieces of real sea glass.

The imperfections speak of their uniqueness, give them their beauty and strength.

Make them memorable.

Perfection has one grave defect: it is apt to be dull. W. Somerset Maugham

The same applies to the characters in the stories we love.

Would we have been so fascinated with Katniss if she weren’t so protective of the ones she loved?

Would we still be crying out “Oh, Mr. Darcy!” for another hundred years if he and Elizabeth did not let their pride keep them apart.

Flaws serve to add depth and conflict, establish empathy, and make the character more memorable. MJ Bush, WritinGeekery (www.writingeekery.com/flaw/).

I keep my sea glass just as I found them along the shoreline, flaws and all.  Those flaws inspire the design and I let them guide me into creating something beautiful and unique.

And as I revise (yet again) my middle grade novel, I am focusing on my own characters’ flaws and how their imperfections will shape and guide the story.

If only I could see my own flaws as my strength…

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Pushing Boulders

I had the speech all prepared.  I walked into the conference room with my group of six fifth graders, ready to console them when the principal would turn down their request to go on a field trip to visit the Mark Twain House. I had already been told that morning it would be a “no”.

Marktwainhouse

(marktwainhouse.org)

They call themselves the Mysterious Manning Society.  We started off with fourteen students, all interested in being part of a book club that met once a week during their lunch time.  I offered three choices of books based on their interests and we settled on The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

When we first started reading the book, I mentioned that the author had lived in Hartford (less than a half-hour drive from the school) and his house was now a museum. We all agreed it would be cool to go visit at the time, but didn’t pursue the idea.

We are now down to six members who have persevered through fence painting, Tom and Becky’s engagement, Injun Joe, runaway pirates, and Tom attending his own funeral, stolen treasure, and courtroom drama. The idea of visiting the museum had morphed into more than just an idea.

I explained to them that it was an unusual request – a field trip for only six students.  We would have to persuade the teachers, the principal, the curriculum director, maybe even the Superintendent.  But why not try? My consolation speech already began taking form in my head.

I was going to tell them to think of themselves as a river – the water that flows downstream to a destination.  The principal and others were the boulders in the way. The water does not stop, it simply finds a way around the boulders.  We would not get to go on the field trip, but we could always pick a day during the summer and tour the house together.   It would be a life lesson, a teachable moment for handling disappointment.

I was the one who learned a lesson. In perseverance and persuasion.  See for yourself:

The Mysterious Manning’s Society’s Magnificent Mark Twain Adventure Presentation

How could anyone say no after that?

The field trip is booked.

The river didn’t go around the boulders.  It pushed the boulder aside.

Valentines for the Ugliest

 

pink-is-for-blogfish

Today I shared Pink is for Blobfish with students during library time.

There were “eews”, “gross” and “yucks”.

According the author Jess Keating, the Blowfish has been voted the #1 Ugliest Animal in the World.

The students didn’t think he (or she) would get any Valentines today – so they made their own.

These two are my favorites:

blobfish-card-2

Aleya, 1st grade

 

blobfish-card

 Marin, 5th grade

It was always my hope that young readers would learn about these strange creatures, and develop a caring attitude and empathy toward them. We share the earth with them, after all, and caring about them is the first step to sharing spaces and taking care of them. It was my hope that kids saw that the diversity of these creatures mattered, despite how weird and bizarre they are. – Jess Keating

They saw. Intermingled with the “eews” and “yucks” were “cools” and “wows” and “Can I have this book?”  I expect this book won’t be staying on the shelf too long.

Thank you Jess Keating and Kenny Brechner from DDG Booksellers who originally had the idea for the Valentine’s Day for Blobfish contest.

Happy Valentine’s Day

Celebrating Multicultural Children’s Book Day

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Raising awareness for the kid’s books that celebrate diversity, and getting more of these of books into classrooms and libraries.

As an elementary school librarian, I am often asked by teachers and students for multicultural books; so I was pleased to have been offered the opportunity to review the following two books to celebrate Multicultural Children’s Book Day being held on January 27th.

51gsu06qoil-_sx329_bo1204203200_Amina’ Voice by Hena Khan (to be released March 14, 2017)
Salaam Reads, Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing
Ages 8-12   ISBN 978-1-4814-9206-5

Amina is a twelve-year old Pakistani-American girl trying to find her place in middle school. A talented  singer, she lacks the courage to face the spotlight and show her real self to others.  In addition to the typical middle school dramas of changing friendships and gossip, Amina also questions if she is a proper Muslim after her traditional uncle visits from Pakistan.  After her local mosque is vandalized and the community rallies around to help, Amina finds her voice and overcomes her fear of sharing her gift with others.

Hena Khan seamlessly weaves the Pakistani and Muslim traditions into a heart-warming realistic story.  Given the current situations this country faces, this is the perfect book to show just how much alike we all really are despite our different religions and cultures.

I put this book on my To Buy List immediately after reading it.

unknownCry of the Sea by DG Driver
Fire and Ice, an imprint of Melange Books
Ages  13-17  ISBN 978-1-61235-786-7

Mermaids.  The mention on mermaids in the blurb and I immediately thought Fantasy. But this is no Fantasy. It is in fact a very realistic story of Juniper Sawfeather, a senior in high school whose parents are both well-known environmental activists. Their “tree hugger” status and her being half Chinook and ruins any chance of her winning the popularity contest. She plans to go to a college as far away from her parents as she can. When a tanker spills oil on a local beach, Juniper’s life dramatically changes when she finds three mermaids covered in oil. She, her parents, a good-looking college intern, and the popular clique from school become embroiled in a battle with the oil company to save the mermaids and the environment.

Regarding the multiculturalism in this book, I don’t think the Chinook heritage was fully developed within the story. While the characters had tribal origins, it seemed more of an added layer to the story, rather than an integral part.

DG Driver does offer an intriguing and fast-paced adventure in which the reader gets a realistic and timely portrayal of what could happen if a new species discovery impacted the oil industry.  In particular, how the media can easily distort the truth for either side.  I would recommend this book to any middle school or high school student interested in environmental thrillers.

Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2017 (1/27/17) is its fourth year and was founded by Valarie Budayr from Jump Into A Book and Mia Wenjen from PragmaticMom. Our mission is to raise awareness on the ongoing need to include kid’s books that celebrate diversity in home and school bookshelves while also working diligently to get more of these types of books into the hands of young readers, parents and educators.

Despite census data that shows 37% of the US population consists of people of color, only 10% of children’s books published have diversity content. Using the Multicultural Children’s Book Day holiday, the MCBD Team are on a mission to change all of that. This event has also proven to be an excellent way to compile a list of diverse children’s book titles and reviews for parents, grandparents, educators and librarians to use all year long.

Current Sponsors:  MCBD 2017 is honored to have some amazing Sponsors on board. Platinum Sponsors include ScholasticBarefoot Books and Broccoli. Other Medallion Level Sponsors include heavy-hitters like Author Carole P. RomanAudrey PressCandlewick Press,  Fathers IncorporatedKidLitTVCapstone Young Readers, Author Gayle SwiftWisdom Tales PressLee& Low BooksThe Pack-n-Go GirlsLive Oak MediaAuthor Charlotte RiggleChronicle Books and Pomello Books

Author Sponsor include: Karen Leggett AbourayaVeronica AppletonSusan Bernardo, Kathleen BurkinshawMaria DismondyD.G. DriverGeoff Griffin Savannah HendricksStephen HodgesCarmen Bernier-Grand,Vahid ImaniGwen Jackson,  Hena, Kahn, David Kelly, Mariana LlanosNatasha Moulton-LevyTeddy O’MalleyStacy McAnulty,  Cerece MurphyMiranda PaulAnnette PimentelGreg RansomSandra Richards, Elsa TakaokaGraciela Tiscareño-Sato,  Sarah StevensonAndrea Y. Wang

 

 

 

When the Universe Speaks

I’ve been meaning to take a day off from work to try and finish my forever-in-progress novel, but haven’t managed to get around to actually doing that.

Then…

…our dog developed started itching and scratching himself to the point where his hair was falling out. I thought, well, maybe I’ll take Friday off and take him to the vet and send the rest of the day writing. But it was spreading quickly. So I took him to the vet on Thursday night. $294 later, he’s is on antibiotics and steroids for a possible allergic reaction to either a particular food or something environmental and I went to work on Friday. Not a lot of writing done.

Then…

…Sunday evening, not even an hour after my husband left for work n Pennsylvania, water started gushing out of the ground by our septic tank. I called the septic company. He asked me if I thought it was an emergency. Well, no. We didn’t need to wash clothes, dishes, ourselves that night. Then he offered to try and fit me in on Monday instead. Only he wasn’t sure what time he could come. I’d have to take the day off and wait around for him to show up and pump out our septic tank. Oh, and it would cost $220.

phone_redRing…Ring…

Hello?

It’s the Universe calling. Quit complaining and listen. Take the day off. Write.

So I did.

I sat. Butt in chair. I wrote. I Iistened.

I finished it! (well, almost)

And I know I must listen to the Universe whenever it speaks.

I just hope next time it isn’t such an expensive call.

Sh** Happens.

Sh** Happens

My family is convinced I keep a poo diary.

As a young(ish) first-time mother, I was a bit over concerned with certain aspects of taking care of a baby when my son was born – namely, his soiled nappies. I followed the maxim that if whatever went in one end came out the other end in proper form, then everything was fine.

Fifteen years later and my family still tease me about keeping track of every bowel movement. (I swear I didn’t).

When we got our German Shepherd puppy last May, we had some trouble finding him the right food. He kept getting diarrhea. Several vet visits and rounds of feeding him boiled chicken and rice, we finally figured out it was either the chicken or the rice and now feed him neither. And of course, I was once again checking output every day. And enduring the endless poo diary jokes.

Which is why I was thrilled to find the book Poop Happened (Walker Children’s 2010) by Sarah Albee, a writer who obviously understands the importance of poo.

poop-happened2-180x225 From Goodreads:

History finally comes out of the water-closet in this exploration of how people’s need to relieve themselves shaped human development from ancient times to the present. Throughout time, the most successful civilizations were the ones who realized that everyone poops, and they had better figure out how to get rid of it! From the world’s first flushing toilet invented by ancient Minoan plumbers to castle moats in the middle ages that used more than just water to repel enemies, Sarah Albee traces human civilization using one revolting yet fascinating theme.

A blend of historical photos and humorous illustrations bring the answers to these questions and more to life, plus extra-gross sidebar information adds to the potty humor. This is bathroom reading kids, teachers, librarians, and parents won’t be able to put down!

I wasn’t able to put it down, despite the wisecracks and giggles from my family. Yes, it’s a gross subject, but definitely worth reading about.

And now I must ask you to excuse me, I suddenly feel the urge to go wash my hands…

Giving Thanks

Me, age 6

Me, age 6

Most (sane) people go to college, start a career, get married, buy a house, then have kids, etc..  Me, not so sane. You might say I’ve taken more of a circuitous path, not only in life, but in writing as well.

Hence my official Acknowledgements page prior to the actual published book.

Why wait?

There are too many people I need to thank for just getting me to the place where I am at now:

  • Friends who have believed in me far longer than I have believed in myself and encouraged me to follow my heart: Billy Fallon, Peter Reeves, Dana Berenson, and Laurinda Hawkins (still have that engraved pen to sign my first  contract.)
  • Teachers who welcomed me into their classrooms to test-drive first chapters and talk about writing:  Mrs. Van Camp, Mrs. Monarca, Mrs. Govoni, Mrs. Sudol, and librarian, Mrs Phillips.
  • Those students who stopped me in the hallways of Hebron Elementary to ask me again and again “are you finished yet?” and then told me how much they liked it after they finally got to read it.  Many, many thanks to Meredith B., Brian H., Ben M., Zach S., Katelyn J., Sam B.,  I would never have finished the first draft if you hadn’t have kept asking.
  • Friends and family who graciously read the first draft and didn’t puke – Joe, Dylan, Elena, Mom, Tony, Andy, Natalie, Aunt Chele, Uncle Mike, Kathy, Tim, Julie, Scott, Esther, Sarah, Sierra, Angela, Olivia, the Oullette family, and Amy (the slow reader who I know will get it to one of these days).
  • My fellow SCBWI writers who continually offer gentle, yet honest criticism and support along with plenty of wine, chocolate and laughter: Nancy Tandon, Holly Howley, Jill Dailey, Jessica Loupos, Kristina O’Leary, Paula Wilson, Betsy Wittemann, Carol and Kelly.  I truly believe we will be popping champagne corks one day soon.  And thank you, Lynda Mullaly Hunt, for being so generous with your advice, and encouragement.
  • The very talented and supportive writers and poets of the Whispering River Writing Group – Merle and Arielle Potchinsky, Willa Correnti, Alice Kuzel and Kelly Parlin.
  • The lovely ladies of the Blue Crayon critique group – Heather Montgomery, Sharon Pegram and Linda Anderson.  Our monthly deadline has kept me moving forward many times.
  • Most especially, I must thank Carol and John Merrifield for not only opening up their home to five writers who desperately needed that quiet, uninterrupted time to create, but for raising the kindest, most thoughtful and talented daughter, Nancy Tandon, who suggested our (hopefully annual) Fireside Retreat.  And a special thank you, Mom, for being “on-call” that weekend, just in case Joe had to work and couldn’t take care of the kids and the dog.
  • And finally, I thank the Twitter/blog followers whom I am not related to, nor have ever actually met  –  thank you for that tiny thrill of knowing I’ve touched another life, giving me reason to keep writing.

I could not have come this far without you all.

I thank you all and invite you to my future book launch (date and location TBD, hopefully in this century).

Cheers –

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