Saturday, December 29, 2012

New Year's Resolutions and Book Giveaway

Ahhh! As much as I enjoy the holidays, I enjoy the peace that comes afterward. I look forward to 2013 and what it might hold. My Goalies critique group has decided to do our annual goals for writing in the next year. I have several books in progress, so the first thing for me is to concentrate on two of them and make some progress. I did start a new YA novel, Stalker, with NANOWRIMO this year, but only got one chapter done before school raised its head and foot and stomped that hope out. This has been a really hectic year with being in a new grade (I went from 8th grade to 6th grade) and having double the number of exceptional students on my caseload. Between that and moving to a new building, plus illness in my family, my energy levels have been drained for any intellectual activities at night and on the weekend. Henry and I are planning to start again doing Tai Chi on a regular basis. I think this will help me focus while not at work.
I overworked myself a little before getting off for the holidays in unpacking my new classroom, but I know I'll be happy when I get back to work and only have the classroom computers to set up. Our students will come back to a brand new school, mostly, so that is exciting. Check out the photo above.
I think my goal of writing two chapters per month, one per book per critique group is not earth shattering, but in my case a realistic one. One Saturday morning a month needs to be spent writing synopses and query letters.
The last goal, which will take some time, but which I've already started on, is to make my upstairs crafting studio more user friendly. This is also going to include a desk area to take my laptop for more peace and quiet while I write. I think being at the kitchen table says to anyone near, "She's in a high-traffic area; therefore, she must not mind if I talk to her constantly while she writes." I'm trying to sell out of my yarn supply on etsy to make room to move around more freely and to not feel so claustrophobic while weaving, scrapbooking or writing.
So, what are your writing goals for 2013? Send me a comment and I'll pick a winner from the entries. The winner will receive a signed copy of Delores Fletcher, Cobweb Catcher. Be sure to leave an email address to contact you in case you win. Good luck, and Happy New Year!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Book (not) Signing at Barnes & Noble

I had an interesting night at Barnes & Noble in Greenville, NC last night. I have had an even planned for over a month there with the Events Coordinator, or so I thought. I noticed a couple of weeks ago, that my book reading was not on their website. I called and reached the manager who assured me that he would get this changed and get back to me. He didn't. The website did announce my book signing and children's activity. I've been really excited to be able to do this, considering my book is self-published. Henry had done book signings for both of his books there and the staff were exceptionally nice and helpful. I'm very sick this weekend with a cold, but mustered the energy to go anyway. After all, I had committed my time.

My friend, Debbie, went with me bringing props and encouragement. When we got there, I was directed to the manager on duty. She asked me which book I'd like to read. I said, "My book." The other staff asked, "Oh, you wrote a book?" From there, it seemed to go further downhill. The lady in charge of the events had not let them know I was coming. Barnes & Noble corporation didn't approve my poster to go up that I sent them to let people know about the event, although I was told they had been telling people who came into the store.

The books had not been ordered in time and weren't there. Unlike the twenty plus children I had been assured were always there on Friday nights, there were about four or five children with parents that came over after my event was announced. I had a choice - get p'ed off and leave or make the most of the situation. I decided to stay and retrieved the one book I had in my car. My mother and sister had driven in and so had friends of ours.

I read the first chapter. Everyone was very nice and laughed at the funny parts (yes!). The children took bookmarks with my book's cover printed on them and a candy and one even came back for more before I left. So I think it turned out well. My friends said they really liked the book, which made me feel great. I am very grateful, however, to the staff who were working last night. They were very nice and helped me make the most of the situation, even offering sweet treats to the listeners.

I'm learning so much from this publishing "thing," mostly how to make a good impression while I'm standing there representing my book. Out of the children there, one little boy sat in a chair reading another book to himself while I was reading mine. As a teacher, though, I found this a little amusing and thought at least he's found a book that's fascinating to him enough to hold his attention for a while. The older children were very attentive and polite and seemed to enjoy themselves. A toddler stood and cried through the first third of the chapter until his mother finally carried him off. You have to smile. Poor baby probably wondered why he was forced to stand with nothing to do but listen to that strange woman in the cape.

My next stop is the Kenly library on October 31. I'm really looking forward to this because the librarian in charge had gone to so much trouble. She has sent me ongoing emails to update me on her efforts.She's sent a notice to the elementary and middle school, put an ad in the newspaper, had someone from there to interview me. I guess the lesson is, not everyone who sets up these events for you will go to this trouble. You need to follow up with people who are hosting you to see just what they've done for promotion and if they haven't done much, you need to do it yourself.

So, I just thought I'd share my experiences with you. For new authors, when your books are published, be prepared to do a lot of phone time and footwork to promote them. Half the work seems to come after the book comes out.

And, find humor where you can wrestle it out of a bad situation. It might make for good writing later:)

Sunday, October 7, 2012

I Want To Be a Monster

This is a very cute book by C and M Dixon about a young girl who wants to be a monster for Halloween while her mother wants to dress her up in girly outfits. I enjoyed the timing of the pages with the mother offering numerous ideas for frilly, cutesy outfits and the young girl maintaining that she wants to be a monster. This book is very subtle, but does speak very well about letting kids be themselves. The mother relents in the end and lets her child know she will still love her even if she's a monster. I like the illustrations being done with paper cutouts, but the main weakness in them is the expressions from the mother and daughter. These could have been stronger. I don't think it weakened the theme, though. I would recommend this books to parents of small children as much for the grownups as for the children.

The Jack O'Lantern Tree

The Jack O' Lantern Tree by Lina Stanek is a delightful picture book that tells the story of Jack O' Lantern who calls upon his fellow pumpkins to create a Jack O' Lantern tree. The author's choice of words is lyrical and the rhymes are natural and fun. The language is sophisticated for a picture book, but this is great for vocabulary building. Each illustration shows a group of pumpkins with distinct personalities appropriate for Halloween Jack O' Lanterns. I love the fact that the characters, even Jack, stay true to the Halloween spirit and not cutesy. The jack o' lanterns even learn not to bump each other, but to work together to make the tree come to life. I would definitely recommend this book for a preschool or even first or second grade.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Trick or Treat Street: A Halloween Story

Trick or Treat Street: A Halloween Story by Moira Butterfield and illustrated by Will O'Brien tells the story of a young boy whose last year's Halloween costume has been nibbled on and ruined by an intruding mouse. While all of his other friends are wearing bright costumes and having fun, he is left with nothing to wear until his mother pools her resources and makes him a one-of-a-kind outfit.
This book will appeal to the preschool set with bright photos mixed with artist's drawings. The book has an almost scrapbook look, which should inspire crafty parents to take lots of photos on Halloween and construct their own stories.
I would have loved to see at least one or two more pages with the mother and son searching the house for the materials to make the final costume, rejecting some, keeping others. I could actually see this made into two separate books, one about the kids out trick-or-treating and an entire book dedicated to making a homemade outfit. That in itself can be more fun than buying something ready to wear.
The rhymes in this book are fun and are good for small children learning to read. I would definitely recommend this for a preschooler.

Free Halloween E Books

Who wouldn't want a free download e book to read? As Halloween is my favorite holiday, I was excited to find a new email newsletter from Mother Daughter Book Reviews. They've listed several Halloween e books that are free for a promotional trial. I've downloaded several myself and will review them as I read them. When Maude and Argie heard about this, they insisted on offering Delores Fletcher, Cobweb Catcher for a free trial run. So, from October 7 to October 11, you can download the Kindle version to read. Happy reading to everyone and Happy Halloween!I'm posting the ones I've selected to read. Check out these and others and do us a favor and leave a review.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Keeping Children in Mind When Writing

I wanted a new bulletin board for my classroom this year, something encouraging for my students. My heading reads, "Students Are The Fabric of Our School." Out of two groups of students, maybe three knew what fabric was. One student in the second group guessed the meaning without help. It's easy to assume that students, any students, understand what we're talking about in casual conversation. But you know the saying about the word, "assume." (It makes an a_ _ out of U and Me.) I'm reminded more every year that students don't have the same experiences growing up that I did. My sister and I knew what fabric was. We learned to sew from our mother. We could measure fabric using a yard stick, arrange the patterns with the arrows parallel to the selvedges. Yes, we knew what those were as well. We also knew how to use measuring cups and spoons because we helped cook dinner since our parents both worked.

Fast food and cheaper clothing have changed lifestyles for many people, myself included. I don't long to spend hours in the kitchen whipping up meals, but I could if I needed to. My point here is not to blame our faster-paced lives, only to point our that we need to keep this in mind when we write for children. If you're writing about a child who lived long ago, you may need to explain in some way why they did what they did as well as how. Using a pump in the primitive kitchen may bring to mind a gas pump you squeeze rather than a metal pump you pull up and down to bring water into the house. Wearing an apron to cook may be seen as a fashion statement rather than to keep the only dress a young lady owned presentable.

Even stories set in modern times need to have explanations for activities that are not basic to most homes. Not every child knows what a horse bridle is, but if they are interested in horses, a description of its purpose would be fascinating. I often hear that children want shorter and shorter books, as in picture books. I disagree. By restricting the amount of reading material for those children who are just being introduced to books, we're sending the wrong message. Maybe we just need to make the books more interesting and more informative. I wouldn't spend much time at all with a book in Russian, even with pictures. They would only take me so far.

For low readers, books with difficult or unusual vocabulary can be just as discouraging. What would be wrong with including a short glossary in the back of a book about another time or country? I think that this would encourage more students to look up a word than relying on their motivation to seek out a dictionary. Children, especially middle schoolers are extremely peer conscious. They don't want to appear "stupid" to the other students in the classroom by asking the teacher for help or picking up their dictionary. One nice feature of the Kindle is that you can press any word in a book and get a dictionary entry immediately. This excellent feature clarifies and saves face for sensitive kids. Win-win.

But, what about understanding words because of the context they're in? Every teacher's dream, and sometimes an actual goal on an IEP. I see a major lack of reading comprehension in public school, both with exceptional and with regular students. Why not give them some anonymous help with a glossary or with wider margins and definitions on the same page? Would this make the readers more like text books? Sure, however, guess what? Our students are LEARNERS. So what if the books appear to actually be educational?

Our school was fortunate to receive quite a few books from Scholastic last year. The sets include very popular, current novels for middle school students. One of the most popular has been The Hunger Games. These books are the same ones found in book stores, but here's one difference: these are being used at school in a learning capacity. The students love the books, but if we didn't require them to learn vocabulary words in them, most of them would never bother.

I'm not trying to cater to lazy learners, but I'm not so old that I don't remember being this age. I don't remember carrying around a dictionary with me every time I sat with my nose glued in a book. And, yes, the more you read, the better your vocabulary will be. Face it, though. A lot of kids don't have book collections at home. When they are given the chance to read your or others' fascinating stories, can't we try to give them a leg up? I didn't do this with my first book, but I'm going to consider it with the next.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Over in the Ocean App

Dawn Publications has a beautiful app for young children that teaches counting and nature. The illustrations are texturally and colorfully beautiful. Each page has interactive illustrations, such as an octopus baby that squirts ink to dolphin babies that swim in circles. Even toddlers should be able to manipulate this. I can see them sitting with this totally engrossed. I'm not a huge fan of mothers who use their iPads as baby sitters, but I do feel this is a wonderful "Mommy & Me" (or "Daddy & Me") activity. Parents who live near an aquarium or plan to visit one could use this to prepare their small children before the visit and as a follow-up activity afterwards to reinforce their trip. Okay, that's the teacher in me coming out, but I can see so many uses for this app. I'm very excited that I stumbled onto it.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Book Reading & Signing

I am scheduling with Barnes & Noble in Greenville, NC for a book reading & signing. This is tentatively set for Friday, October 19th at 7:00 pm. I will also bring origami paper to do a fun craft activity after the reading. I've taught the origami bat several times at school and this has always been a fun, easy activity. So, I'm planning to help the attendees make Eddy the baby bat of Aunt Rita Begga. I'd love to see you there.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Write On Con 2012

Thanks so much to the staff at WriteOnCon. It was such a hoot to participate in this conference for the first time this year. I still can't believe that it's free. There is so much going on every minute of the conference that I must admit I felt a little overwhelmed at times.

The nice part is that it's online - totally. Participants can sit at home in front of the computer without having to rush from conference room to conference room to meet deadlines. They also save everything, so that if I needed to walk the puppy and missed the opening chat or video, I was able to pull up the reprint and catch up.

The pacing is nice as well. The vlogs presented were concise and to the point, but filled with wonderful information. One of my favorite was a nuts and bolts vlog by Shelley Moore Thomas called Do It Yourself. This appealed to my crafty side and was also perfectly timed to give me ideas for promotion of my book. I never thought of adding a ribbon to a business card to create a book mark for kids. This was a very clever video full of tips.

I also loved Jessica Martinez' "He Said, She Said, Creating Sexual Tension Through Dialog." The title says it all. I loved her tips and will probably watch this one a few times.

Claire Legrand had a nice article on determining if your MS is MG or YA. This can be difficult for writers whose characters fall sort of in the middle. She explains well the difference between.

I also submitted several of my writings, both in picture books and in MG. I did not get any feedback on my 5-page version of Zeylandicus, which was disappointing, but I did get great feedback on the first 250 words for this and for two of the picture books I submitted. Thanks so much to the people who took the time to help me with my writing. I will definitely use the advice.

Lastly, one of the great parts of participating in this conference is getting to read so many submissions by other writers. There are some truly incredible pieces and it's well worth the time to scan through to read them. I look forward to see many of them in print form in the future.

If you were unable to attend the conference live, you can still go on the website (see above) and pull up the articles and videos. Thanks again to the staff and faculty for a great experience. I'll definitely be back next year.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Delores Makes Her Debut!

Delores Fletcher, Cobweb Catcher is now available for download for the Kindle on Right now, for those who have Amazon Prime, it is available for a few days as a free download.  It will be available in print form within the next few days. I will be interviewing the characters in upcoming posts to get their perspectives. They usually have quite a lot to say. For now, you can watch the trailer at the bottom of the page.

I'm also working on several free handouts for teachers and homeschooling parents who would like to use them with the book as literary units. This book was suggested as grade level 5 by the Flesch-Kinkaid Scale, but having taught reading to 6th-8th graders in the past few years, I would certainly think it appropriate for those ages as well. Thanks so much to my illustrator, Ashley Bratcher, of Delirious Designs. She has been so accommodating to me when I needed to switch the cover from pdf to jpeg, then change the background, etc., etc., etc. She has been a joy to work with.

Thanks again to all of my Goalie critique buddies for helping Delores to develop into a real book, my husband Henry for reading/editing with me, our friend, Jay Belanger for reading Delores and commenting for me. It is such a relief to feel like I am finished with the writing part of this book.

I also want to thank Create Space for being so easy to work with. There is still some controversy over whether self-published books are worth reading. I think the public's view is changing toward this and I am very happy with my decision to self-publish.  It has been a really fun experience getting the book formatted correctly. I love to edit myself, so this part of it has not been a chore.

I hope my readers will love Delores as much as I do. Please send comments.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Goalies' Schmooze 2012

John Claude Bemis, Karen Lee, and Stephen Messer
Our Goalies Writers' Schmooze was a huge success. Our guest speakers, John Claude Bemis (The Clockwork Dark Trilogy, The Prince Who Fell From the Sky), Karen Lee (ABC Safari), and Stephen Messer (Windblowne, The Death of Yorik Mortwell) were such patient and gracious judges for our First Page Critiques. Quail Ridge Books personnel in Raleigh, NC, were our host bookstore as usual and helped us get through one more year 
without a hitch.
Our Goalie, Jenny, did a great job of directing the Critiques.
We tried a First Page Critique for the first time this year. It was met with much enthusiasm from our attendees so that this may very well be repeated next year. 
Thanks so much to Quail Ridge Books

Monday, April 2, 2012

Upcoming Schmooze

Please join us at Quail Ridge Books on Sunday, May 20 from 3:00 to 5:00. Attendees are invited to submit a one-page writing sample (see above) for anonymous review by our guest speakers. Our critique group, The Goalies, have been hosting these fun events for several years now. They have always been enlightening and a good chance to nosh and schmooze with other writers. It's a blast.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Abomination Magazine, edited by Corey J. Goldberg and featuring artwork by Eleanor Bennett and James Godwin, will premiere this April. Its mission is to provide the reader with quality horror short stories that will be published quarterly, mostly e-pub. Currently, a free story is being offered: "Fissure" by W. B. Stickel.  The artwork is beautifully creepy. I can't wait to read the first issue. They are accepting submissions at this time. They are also featured on Facebook and Twitter. I became inspired to write a short story when I heard about this publication. I'm currently tweaking it for submission. I find that I enjoy writing for an adult audience as much as for the little ones. It actually feels a little freer at times to "let it all out" when the muses start whispering.