June 2018 Introduction

“The fire of literacy is created by the emotional sparks between a child, the book, and the person reading.”

Mem Fox, from “Reading Magic”

 

This month, as school wraps up, library reading programs are gearing up. Sure, kids can be reading without being involved in an official “program,” but I feel that library-sponsored summer reading initiatives are well-worth the time and effort. I encourage parents to get their readers enrolled. Some of the advantages that libraries offer include (but are not limited to):

  1. Library programs are free, safe, and educational – not to mention fun. (And in case you have forgotten, summers can be longgggggg….)
  2. Libraries offer lots of variety and give readers of all ages a no-commitment way to explore new genres and authors.
  3. Library programs encourage readers to reach goals, which means they practice reading. Long breaks in reading cause children to lose some of their skills, while regular reading keeps their progress steady.
  4. Connecting your kids with other readers helps keep them motivated to read more on their own.
  5. Libraries offer wonderful resources for the whole family. In addition to a reading program, your library may offer all kinds of opportunities and activities for your kids. (Mine has a craft day, a Lego day, a movie day, and a weekly author visit.) Plus, you may be able to get passes to local museums or exhibits. You can check out movies and games. Maybe some music or an audiobook are just what is needed for a long road trip.

During the month, I will be posting reviews of some fun summer reads you and your young readers may want to check out. I will be reviewing a newly-published book by Running Press. Watch for Annie B., Made for TV by Amy Dixon (middle grade). For a wonderful escapist romantic fantasy, young adults might want to check out The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee. It is definitely a steamy summer read! For those who like nonfiction, I will be reviewing the Young Readers Edition of National Geographic’s Startalk with Neil deGrasse Tyson.

On June 9th, the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art will be sponsoring a discussion, “Why We Write Middle Grade.” Panelists include Jeanne Birdsall, Cammie McGovern, Catherine Newman, Liz Rosenberg, and Lisa Yee. Following this discussion, I will be reviewing some of their works on a one author per week basis. All have wonderful books  to offer our young readers.

Happy Reading!

May 2018 Introduction

“From April 30-May 6, 2018, children, families, entire schools, and communities will rediscover the joys of life beyond the screen. Plan to unplug from digital entertainment and spend all that free time playing, reading, daydreaming, creating, exploring, and connecting with family and friends!”

-From the official 2018 Screen Free website, http://www.screenfree.org/

May has plenty of opportunities for reading new books. As quoted above, the first week of May is screen-free week and to help readers and their families unplug, I will be reviewing a selection of activity books. I hope to include something for everyone’s interests, no matter if readers enjoy art and crafts, or science activities.

May is also National Short Story month, which I always enjoy reviewing. You get a nice, quick fix – the whole reading experience in a relatively short amount of time. Yes, sometimes I will read a book in a single day. Most often, however, I don’t get the pleasure of getting to the end for several days. Short stories, however, I can almost always finish in a sitting. It is very satisfying! Happily, I have a new collection, Because You Love to Hate Us, for readers to explore in order to satisfy their quick-fix craving.

I have some newly published books to suggest, from picture books to a new YA novel. Two of these new books share a theme. Loosely based on The Odyssey, Argos and Elektra’s Adventures in Tragedy, will put a modern-day spin on the classic. I was inspired by one of these new books to write up some discussion questions. I have also reviewed plenty of nonfiction this month, including some excellent new selections from National Geographic Kids.

Happy Reading!

Interview: Kelly Jones (Murder, Magic, and What We Wore)

I’m sure many of you will recall that a few months ago I reviewed Murder, Magic, and What We Wore by Kelly Jones. That was one of my favorite titles from 2017, so I’m very excited to have had the opportunity to interview Ms. Jones about her work. Check out our conversation below

1. I had been reading your blog and know that Murder, Magic and What We Wore had originally been written years earlier with a different title. Many writers think of their books as their children. Tell me how you developed that professional objectivity/attitude that allowed you to rewrite your novel. (By the way, the title is what caught my attention. I bought it without even reading the jacket!)

I taught myself to write novels with Glamour (the story that eventually became Murder, Magic, and What We Wore), alternating with a couple of other projects. I worked on it from around 2005 – 2008, spent a lot of time on sentence-level edits (choosing the perfect word here and there), and almost none on structural work (thinking about whether the plot made any sense or not.) I shelved it in 2009, when it didn’t find a fit with the agents I’d queried.

But, I still loved the characters, the world, and the ideas. So, my agent and I pitched it to my editor after my debut novel Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer was published, and she was interested in seeing a proposal.

Turns out, four years away from a project really helps with perspective! I’d worked on four more novels since I’d shelved Glamour, as well as critiquing many projects for other writers, and I’d learned so much from each project. Now, I could see issues that I hadn’t been focused on before, and I thought of ways to handle what critiquers had pointed out wasn’t working before. And, once I could see them, I really wanted to fix them. Perhaps my perspective is more that of a homeowner who looks up and notices the roof is leaking, than that of a parent?

The new version’s full title was originally How to Sew a Glamour, or, Murder, Magic, and What We Wore — a mouthful, to say the least! I’m glad the final version worked for you.

2. Can you tell us more about your revision process? Was there anything left of the original story when you finished? How did you know what to keep and what to discard? In your blog you mention that the process is not easier than writing a new book, but do you have a preference as to how you work?

I’d never attempted such a massive revision before, and I didn’t know if I could accomplish what I’d set out to do! Doubt is part of the process, for me, so I decided to try anyway. When I looked back at the most recent version, I could see right away that I wasn’t going to be able to change a little bit here and there to make it work. It needed a complete overhaul: first person point of view instead of third, a looser, less clipped historical voice, and a plot that made sense, for a start! I tried fixing a paragraph or two, and couldn’t squeeze a word in edge-wise. I couldn’t just change verbs to change the point of view, because the entire lens of what a character notices and what the reader sees changes when you look out from their eyes. And, working on all those other projects had grown and strengthened my writing (thank goodness!) My new writing didn’t match the old, and wasn’t going to slide into the old draft smoothly.

At that point, I made the best decision I could: I put that draft away, and rewrote the entire story again from scratch, the way I wanted to write it now, without looking at the previous one. I didn’t want to slip back into the same comfortable, familiar, structurally flawed flow. I’d done more than eighteen drafts, and I knew those characters, and what drove them forward. I didn’t need to look at the old words telling it, because they didn’t work with the way I wanted to tell it now.

So, as far as I know (I still haven’t looked back), there are no sentences that remain from the original version. But, most of the main characters came over unchanged. I feel like I finished telling the story I wanted to tell, even though all that wordsmithing on all those drafts never got used. (Well, aside from teaching me how to write — no small gift!)

It helped to know the story I was writing (in general, I don’t actually know what story I’m telling until I finish a first draft.) But, it wasn’t faster than writing a brand new first draft, and it still needed just as much revising. My editor had just as many suggestions. It was also harder in that I was trying to match this story to an idea I’d had long ago, and tried to capture. It always felt like chasing smoke, and I always wondered what I’d capture, in the end, and whether it would finally be what I’d wanted. My compass was the characters, what they wanted, what they struggled with. I wanted to stay true to them, even if everything else changed. I think I put far more pressure on this idea than I do on brand-new ones, because this was my chance to finally tell a story that had been important to me for years. What if I still couldn’t do it well enough? That constant wondering didn’t make anything go faster, or easier.

My preferred way to build a story, these days, is what I think of as a coral reef: I find and collect bits of ideas and characters and put them together in a place where they can grow a story for years, undisturbed. Once in a while I find something to throw in the tank with them, and they grow around it. Then, when I’m ready for a new project, I look in the tanks and see what I’ve grown, and what I want to do more with — what feels ready for more light, perhaps. Murder, Magic, and What We Wore was more of a sunken ship, but I love that it had the time to grow depths and reveal new aspects while it sat there in the dark. That coral reef process is my preference for the very early stage — after that, it’s writing and revision, over and over, regardless of how it started. But I find it hard to add new depths and organic growth in time for a deadline, so I try to build those in first.

3. Can we look forward to more magic, wildly wonderful garments and perhaps even a bit of romance? (I hope the answer is yes!)

Definitely more magic! I’m fascinated by “what if” stories, and magic is often a part of mine. I’m also fascinated by young people who feel a sense of responsibility, and are interested in the work they do, and who try to learn to do it better. I like stories about young people who aren’t very good at things yet, perhaps because I spent a lot of years not being very good at things, and trying to do them anyway.

The next couple of books I’ve been working on don’t have a fashion or romantic focus, though: the middle grade sequel to Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer will be out this fall, and although Are You Ready to Hatch an Unusual Chicken? follows a young woman determined to do the best she can with a difficult situation, it’s another novel about taking care of chickens with magical abilities, not sewing glamours. After that will be the tentatively-titled Sauerkraut, also a contemporary magical middle grade novel.

I do have a couple of coral reefs growing around more Regency magic, though, and I’d very much like to know what Millicent thinks of the adventures that come next, so perhaps one day? (I can assure you that Annis will not stop being concerned about what everyone is wearing anytime soon!) This is an area where readers have more power than writers: the sequel to Unusual Chickens happened because readers were interested in the characters, the world, and what came next. They read it, and talked about it, and shared it, and wondered. So, whenever you love a book and wish there were more, tell someone else about it!

While you wait, I hope your readers will try some of the books by other authors mentioned in my Author’s Note — as well as the Regency fantasy novels that come after!

April 2018 Introduction

April Introduction:

“… the sound of rain as soft as the whisper of moth wings.”

Jan Karon, from At Home in Mitford

Now that spring has officially arrived, it’s time to get ready for some changes. Goodbye snow; hello rain. Everyone feels the difference – flowers blooming, spring cleaning getting done. It’s time for some new reading material, too, and I have plenty of ideas to share.

April is poetry month and as such, this month’s posts will contain a variety of poetry forms. I’ll review some wonderfully chilling free verse in Mary’s Monster by Lita Judge. I will compare this selection to Hideous Love by Stephanie Hemphill.  Both books are poetic biographies of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. I’ll also share some concrete poetry in Wet Cement by Bob Raczka. There is even newly published material from the archives of Shel Silverstein.

There are a couple of other celebrations this month. April 22nd is Earth Day and there are so many ways we can celebrate! I will be reviewing Give Bees a Chance by Bethany Barton as one suggestion. And on Arbor Day, fans of Katherine Appliegate will want to read a review of Wishtree.

Happy reading!

March 2018 Round-Up

Easter Round-Up

Check out my reviews for the month of March! You can find links to all of these reviews in the Index!

Let me know in the comments below what books you want me to review next!

February 2018 Round-Up

Check out my reviews for the month of February! You can find links to all of these reviews in the Index!

Let me know in the comments below what books you want me to review next!

March 2018 Introduction

March Introduction:

The more you read

The more things you will learn,

The more that you learn,

The more places you will go.

– Dr. Seuss

This month we celebrate Dr. Seuss’ birthday (March 2) and as part of the Two BookWorms celebration, we are going to take his advice and really go places!

Where are we going, you ask? Well, we’ve got a lot of places to be, some near and some very far. We’ll be taking a visit to a blueberry patch, to Georgia, and then India. We will be visiting with the White House and going on an archeological dig. Some of our adventures will take place on land, and others will take place in the ocean and the sky. We will be traveling inside a computer. We will be going to space (more than once!) We will even be traveling in time.

So join us this month in reading our way to many new places and into many wonderful new adventures.

 

 

The Clues: Blind Date with a Book #3 (2018)

Here are this week’s Blind Date with a Book Clues! Leave your guesses in the comments below and don’t forget to check back tomorrow to see if you were right!

  1. The story takes place mainly at night
  2. The main character will be visited by three spirits
  3. The main character must find a way to halt a death curse

 

 

 

The Clues: Blind Date with a Book #2 (2018)

Help continue the Valentine’s Day celebrations with this week’s Blind Date with a Book! Check out the clues and leave your guesses in the comments below!

  1. This is a book about bridge.
  2. This is not a book about bridge.
  3. This is a story about a young man’s romance.
  4. This is a story about an old man’s romance.
  5. This is a story about the real meaning of winning and losing.

 

The Clues: Blind Date with a Book #1 (2018)

This year I will once again be offering you a blind date – with a book! To participate, check out the clues below and leave your guess in the comments. The answer will be revealed tomorrow. Best of luck!

  1. It is a gothic romance.
  2. It is set in an ancient castle in Romania.
  3. The story abounds with evil creatures like giant spiders, wolves, and bats – as well as a particularly malevolent murderer who impales or removes the blood of their victims.