Books -- reading and writing.
Home, cooking, the weather.
And whatever connections I can make between these chapters of my life.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Kids are the best!

I just finished a Skype visit with The Learning Center for the Deaf. I've Skyped with this school before and it's always such fun.

(This was one of my free Skypes, 15 minutes or so of Q&A with students who've read my book. Easy Peasy, I do it whenever I can.)

But y'all, I wanted to talk all day to these two.


Their teacher had gently cautioned me that they might need a little extra time. There would be an interpreter signing my answers. The boys were nervous about meeting an author in "real life."
Because really we're pretty scary!

Their questions about GLORY BE were thought-provoking; I'm still pondering my answers.

They wanted to see my office. (I showed them the palm trees out my window. I know, mean. They were cold up there. I'm pretty warm down here.) 

They wanted to know why there's no "Glory Be 2." (I get that a lot.)

They made a movie signing GLORY- a first! Their teacher explained that they used the sign for "laughing" because they think a lot of what she does is fun!



They sent me a thank-you letter. Which cracks me up. I hope my sister sees it.


This is truly why authors spend all those hours figuring out their stories. Mining our characters for depth and emotion, ARCS and DIALOG and INNER WISDOM. 
And then you send that book into the universe and you get this back. Kind of makes it all worthwhile, no?





Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Thank you, readers!

So many fun/funny/smart things in this new year of 2019!

This week I visited a local Book Group that had just finished GLORY BE. We had a "continental breakfast" and Q&A. A donut and a book, as one boy noted, "doesn't get much better than that."

The questions were a blast. 
One of my favorites? "Do you have any family members who've read this book?"
Oh boy, do I!
Here we are, disguised as copies of GLORY BE. Fun times!


I love sharing books with kids, so when they asked me who'd inspired me and also if I could recommend another book for them to discuss, I mentioned Barbara O'Connor and WISH. The librarian hustled himself off to the library and came back with this. WISH is on the current Sunshine Readers. Win win!



And then there was the mail.
A librarian in Texas had emailed to ask my mailing address. She had a student who'd read my novel, the first book she'd completed on her own. 
Writers, this is why we spend (so so many!) years trying to publish a book. Or writing a book. Or trying to publish multiple books. It's all about the readers.

On the second page of the letter, the P.S., Isabella tells me she wants to grow up and be just like me. 
I hope that means she's going to find another book to read all by herself. 
Of course, I answered her. And of course, I mentioned a few more books she might also love.



While tidying up my files, I found a group of letters from a school in Washington state.
I'd filed them away for when I worry that nobody's paying attention. And let me tell you, that happens to all writers!
Finding them today was a gift.

"When we stopped at a chapter, I wanted to keep reading!"

"Did you have a bossy sister? Did you have a friend like Frankie? Did you live a life like Glory?"

And what librarian-turned-author wouldn't cherish a picture of the library in GLORY BE? She even remembered the "Back Room."



Did I say it doesn't get much better than this lovely way to start the New Year? 
Here's hoping you've all had a little joy in your mailboxes, too.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

To Blog or Not to Blog

That is the question.

About this time eleven years ago, I considered starting a blog. I was publishing a lot of book reviews and a few personal essays and I wanted a place to share the links. I hoped to write fiction, and I loved finding things to share about books.
The advice then was that if you were trying to find an agent or an editor, many of them would check to see if you had an online presence. Facebook and Twitter were barely on the horizon. Or at least my horizon.
So off I traveled to Blog City.

My new critique group friend Lee Hilton started SPOON AND INK then, her fabulous food blog.
Fun times in the blogosphere, no? We thought so.

But I don't read too many blogs now, and I wonder if anybody's reading this.
:)

(Hellooooo out there! Anybody home?)

And then today I discovered an author I admire has a really great blog, and reading it inspired me to write this.

When I still worked as a school librarian, Claudia Mills's books were very popular in my school. I remember hearing her on a panel about publishing at the New School when I first thought about writing. I had those notes forever! Probably still do!
Here's the link. I'm going to make it extra large and obvious.
Please visit. You can thank me later.

https://claudiamillsanhouraday.blogspot.com/


Another blogger I try to follow is Caroline Starr Rose.  
She never fails to inspire me, teach me, or make me smile. 
When I clicked over there to get her link, I see she has a lovely photo and a quote I'm going to remember:

Learn to respect the pages the reader will never see.
— Joshua Mohr


I sorry to say I don't know Joshua Mohr, but I sure like that quote. I also love seeing the pictures she shares, mostly of the American Southwest which seems light years and many miles from my own vistas.
Thanks, Caroline!

(Aside: here's a nifty trick! Caroline turned one of her blogposts into a short article you can read in the current WRITERS DIGEST magazine.)

Inspired by Caroline and Claudia, here's my first blog photo of 2019 and a quote from the new Quaker Motto Calendar!



"There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship."  
Thomas Aquinas.




Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Books and Opinions

My first book was published in early 2012. 
(December, 2011, GLORY BE was already being shipped! Happy book birthday, Glory!)
And I got a lot of excellent advice. 

One thing my already-published friends said: Don't read reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. Don't even look!
My editor said something even more comforting. "Long after those reviews are forgotten, your books will still be in libraries being read by kids who will love them." (I paraphrase, but that's the gist and it was just the thing a new author needed to hear. Did I mention, my editor is brilliant?)

So I don't read reviews unless I stumble onto Amazon or Goodreads. 
Sometimes I'm glad to run into a review. Sometimes I want to avert my eyes!
Today, I happened upon a lovely review of MAKING FRIENDS WITH BILLY WONG. 

And it made me think that I seem to be drawn to redeemable bullies. (Hello, Willis DeLoach!)

Recently I read something one of my favorite middle-grade authors, Leslie Connor, wrote in answer to a question from the National Book Award committee which had nominated a truly terrific novel of hers- THE TRUTH AS TOLD BY MASON BUTTLE:

(Apologies to Leslie if I don't have her exact quote. But I love the message and hope I have it right.)

"The NBA asked me what I learned by writing this story. Part of my answer was about my own misconception about bullies. I always thought they acted out of feelings of being unloved or fearful. But a social worker told me that bullies act out of an inflated sense of entitlement. Recent days have made me sure she is right."
 

Helpful advice, right?
Basically, all our characters are made up of many varied, often conflicting parts. But if you dig deep enough, there's a reason a character acts a certain way. The author's job is to understand and (hopefully) make that part of the character's personality and motivation.



Here's the review from Amazon, if you're interested-
SKW

February 20, 2017
I enjoyed this book on so many levels; the granddaughter learning to get to know, love and help her grandmother, adjusting to being away from all things familiar-family & friends, learning to find and make new friends-not only a boy but a Chinese boy, dealing with prejudice, learning to stand-up for what is right. discovering things and people aren't always what they seem and becoming aware of personal strengths. All this was neatly wrapped up in the historical prejudices suffered by the Chinese in 1950's Mississippi and Arkansas, accurately depicted through Ms. Scattergood's depth of research.

Augusta has penned a very enjoyable book guaranteed to capture young readers attentions without their realizing they will be learning and growing right along with Azalea, the main character.

The only disappointment in the book was the still unexplained story of Willis DeLoach. But then, maybe that was purposeful. Maybe we'll learn more about Willis in a future book.



Merry Christmas to all you readers and writers, reviewers and book supporters!


Saturday, December 8, 2018

Thank you, Indiana School Librarians!

When my first book came out, I'm not sure I appreciated how important state recommended book lists can be to a book's future. But they are!
Just when you think your novel's time in front of the world is simmering down, somebody finds it and adds it to a list of recommendations and just like that, new readers.

It's truly a terrific experience.

I am in awe of the librarians and teachers, parents and kids, who put these lists together.

Today I'm thankful to the hard-working school librarians in Indiana for adding MAKING FRIENDS WITH BILLY WONG to their list of Intermediate readers' recommendations.

Here's what they said about my middle-grade novel:


Azalea’s summer plans suddenly change when she is sent to Paris Junction, Arkansas to help a grandmother she doesn’t know. Shy and reluctant to talk to others, Azalea meets Billy Wong and finds an unexpected friend. 

 


HERE'S THE LINK to the list. 

I am proud and humbled to be included among some of my favorites and some I can't wait to read.

(If you're a writer interested in a list of various awards, check out CYNSATIONS, a blog filled with helpful information.)

Friday, November 16, 2018

Time to Skype!

Must pop into my sometimes overlooked blog to share what a fantastic week this has been.

First of all, if you have the opportunity to study with Patricia Lee Gauch, take it. I spent four days at a Highlights workshop and am still processing that fabulous time. 

Then I returned home to two great Skype experiences. Thank you to the fun kids in Jonesboro, Arkansas, for reading MAKING FRIENDS WITH BILLY WONG and for your excellent questions.




(Aside: While we were Skyping, it started snowing.  It doesn't snow every day in Arkansas! Which reminded me of my very first school librarian job in Atlanta. I had a group of kindergartners in the library when it snowed for the first time and they went crazy with excitement. So thank you for continuing to ask questions, kids!)

The next day, I spoke to a really lively and smart group of sixth graders in Worthington, Ohio. 
They'd read a mix of my books and had some great questions, too.
Example: Why do your characters talk so country?
I truly LAUGHED OUT LOUD. 
And then I explained that that's how southerners talk whether they live in a city or in the country. 
That is, if they're natives. 
And especially if it was a "while back."



Books Mentioned
(I always try to tell them about at least one book other than mine. Sometimes time doesn't allow too much other than Q&A though!)











Sunday, November 11, 2018

Frankendraft

I didn't make up the term. But I totally get it.

I read it on Janice Hardy's excellent post about whether or not to pull that "trunk manuscript" out of the drawer and revise. Here's just a tiny bit of what she has to say:

Does it fix what went wrong? Before you dive in and spend who knows how long just to wind up in the same spot, try outlining or summarizing the new direction. Does it fix the original problems?
Is the draft salvageable or do you need to start over? Reworking an old draft that didn’t work risks turning it into a Frankendraft (pieces of novel sewed together to form a plot, but it really doesn’t fit), so consider how you want to proceed carefully. Starting over can seem like more work, but not if it takes you three times longer to revise what’s there. 

Thank you, Rosi Hollinbeck, for your excellent blogposts that always give me something to ponder. AND she almost always has a book to give away!



(And, maybe this is actually what I'm doing here...) 

Monday, November 5, 2018

Monday Reading Report

Man, have I read some great books recently.
Lucky for me, it's Monday and I get to share.




Yesterday I finished a book I LOVED. 
Jonathan Auxier's new middle-grade novel, SWEEP: THE STORY OF A GIRL AND HER MONSTER- don't miss it. 
Chimney sweeps, a taste of late 19th century history, interesting tidbits about golems, characters to break your heart. 
I literally couldn't put this one down. 
Last night, dinner had to wait for a chapter ending. 

I know many teachers and librarians like to share authors reading and talking about their own books.
Here's Jonathan booktalking SWEEP (recorded before the book was published).  
Click this link and check out his website for up-to-date info.






Another book I recently reviewed is Meg Medina's newest. Here's a little adaptation from my Christian Science Monitor round-up of new middle-grade novels:


Merci Su├írez Changes Gears 
Mercedes Suarez, Merci for short, lives with her exuberant extended family in south Florida. But she spends school days trying to fit in at the prestigious Seaward Pines Academy. She and her brainy brother are scholarship students and are expected—by their family and the school—to give back, set an example, and never ever cause trouble.

Medina mixes humor with poignancy and affection for her characters with a fast-paced story. The Cuban food and culture, the love tinged with embarrassment typical of many pre-teens make this novel perfect for discussion and for reading together with a friend, a teacher, or a family member.

So many books I want/ need to read! (The part of my bookshelf NOT pictured at the top of this post is my towering TBR shelf. Many of which may not be read, but I'll peruse each of them.)

I'm off to a Highlights Foundation writing weekend and I've loaded my Kindle app. Just in case I have time to read. 

Can't wait to hear what all my #IMWAYR buddies have to share this week.



Tuesday, October 9, 2018

On Naming a Character Thelonious

October 10th is the birthday of that great jazz pianist, THELONIOUS MONK.

Here's an image of his fabulous portrait, via the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery (which may be my new favorite DC museum):



His music and his name inspired a little backstory in my second middle-grade novel, THE WAY TO STAY IN DESTINY.

Theo was named by his musician parents. But they died when he was quite young and the grandparents who raised him lived on a farm and weren't exactly music or jazz aficionados so he never fully understood the significance of his name. 

I love creating backstories like his. Even if my readers never know them, they deepen and complicate a character. There may not be a lot of middle-grade readers familiar with Monk's music. Perhaps after reading my book, they'll be curious to listen. But that's not why I chose the name. It's part of my Theo's story. And when I happened upon the reason to give Theo that name, it opened a part of the plot that I hadn't figured out yet.

Here's a little more about CHOOSING CHARACTER NAMES.

From Writer's Digest. Great "rules" which of course can be broken.

This one has a thought or two about the ethnicity of names.

And a name generator!
"Aim to have the name suggest something about the character. Think of the book Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, and that family of girls. Beth was the quiet, gentle daughter; Jo the strong, boisterous one; and Amy the baby of the family." 

(I'm about to name a character after a great guy I worked with. Doesn't Mr. King sound like somebody you'd trust?)


So Happy Birthday to Thelonious Monk. Here's a little music for you, your students, or to save for later:

Monday, September 17, 2018

Funny Books

Not funnybooks. (Those things from my childhood that I read ravenously. Archie, Little Lulu, etc.)

I'm talking about books that make me smile, laugh a little, or even a lot. 
Funny BOOKS.

I've just created a Pinterest board of books that handle humor well. 

I don't mean bodily function jokes, which I'm sure kids love. But I love sweet humor, wise-cracking or eye-rolling characters, descriptions which make me say Oh Yes! and even laugh heartily.

So on this Monday of IT'S MONDAY WHAT ARE YOU READING, I'll share a few of the books on the new board.

I read this one a while ago, for inclusion in a Christian Science Monitor middle-grade roundup. You can see it HERE. I pulled it out this week while scouring my shelves for funny books.


 It's written by a fifth grade teacher, so you can bet he knows what kids love. The book is funny, occasionally scary, and the characters seem so real.

(I have been thinking a lot about characters recently. And the advice to know them well before you put pen to paper. I wrote about this HERE on an earlier post and linked to some good tips.)


 This week I've re-read MS. BIXBY'S LAST DAY. From start to finish. Well, to almost-finish.





(Spoiler alert: If you haven't read this terrific book, skip the next paragraph.)

Now before you remind me that this book is about somebody actually dying, let me say that I absolutely loved these three boys. They are each such individuals. They say typical kid things, that are truly funny. Their teacher was funny, too.  I've been putting off reading the ending and maybe I'll stop right where I am. The boys have busted into Ms. Bixby's hospital room and are having a picnic, which they've gone through hoops to bring to her. I know what's about to happen. But right now, it's squarely in my Love this Funny Book corner. 
Since the book received three starred reviews and lots of accolades, I'm sure everybody's read it. PS I was on a panel with John David Anderson once, and he's a very funny guy.

Two books I'm just beginning but know they're on my Pinterest Funny Books Board.

The cover illustration (and others inside) by Dan Santat cracks me up. And the book had me laughing at chapter one. (Very clever chapter titles, Kate!)





I met Crystal this summer in Arkansas. We signed books together and she had me laughing the whole time. Her workshop had everybody LOL. Can't wait to finish her book.




Next up, coming at the end of the month: Can't wait to read THE HOUSE WITH CHICKEN LEGS. I don't know much about it, but I sure love that cover. Funny, no?




Speaking of Witness Protection (see above)... And funny.
Great line from a TV show that I wish would come back:


"I wanna figure you out myself. You're like a crossword puzzle with B.O."


                                        (Marshall to Bad Gang Guy, In Plain Sight)



More FUNNY STUFF.
An example of the kind of humor I like. A 4th grader made this for me when I visited his school. 
As he was explaining it, he had the whole class laughing.
He originally left out the L in Glory.  GORY BE.  
He decided it would make a great title.

Then he fixed it.




It's hard to explain what makes one person laugh and not the other, isn't it? 
But I'd love to know what books tickle your kids' funnybones.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Mississippi Book Festival, 2018


In Pictures!

I'm proud to have been a part of the 2018 Mississippi Book Festival. This was my third festival, and they just keep getting better. This year, with Ellen Ruffin's magic touch, there was a kick-off event at the fabulous Pass Christian Books. Our panel of kids' writers signed books and spoke a little about our books and then had the most fabulous dinner with Margaret McMullan and her family.



 


(Dinner was shrimp and grits. And a yummy dessert called Bayou Bites.)


I had breakfast early Friday morning at the bookstore and it may have been the best breakfast I've ever eaten. The tea! The view! Surrounded by books, I was fortified for the day ahead.
(side note, I spent a lot of time as a little girl on Mississippi's Gulf Coast, including a week in Pass Christian at Camp Kittiwake. The little town is so beautiful now.) 







First stop, with my new buddy, Rose Brock, who edited a book I can't wait to read. She and I headed to the schools in Bay St. Louis.






I spoke to two groups (over 200 kids!) at the Bay Waveland Middle School. (Can you guess this item from my Junk Poker shoebox?)

 



Thank you, Emily, for playing Super Hero Librarian. Really had a fun time.

 (Loved the t-shirts worn by many! The tech and lighting guys saved the day!)

And the winners were...







Next, Stone County, Mississippi. Thanks to Kathryn Lewis and the McMullan Family Foundation, and of course, Ellen Ruffin for making this day happen. The pictures from Perkinston Elementary School speak for themselves. I had a ball talking to these fourth graders.

(I love to recommend books. This time I recommended a few and told a funny story about my friend, Barbara O'Connor, advising me not only on writing but dancing. Here we are demoing a shuffle-ball-change.)

Signing books and reading books!
 








 Now, on to Jackson, to the Book Festival!


 (A different Middle Grade group was moderated by Clara Martin. 
Photographed by Ellen Ruffin.)
:)



I got to moderate this panel of Mississippi-connected Middle Grade Authors. Jo Hackl, Deborah Wiles, Jimmy Cajoleas









Somehow Linda got left off the above photos, 
so here's a wonderful picture of her with James Meredith!




Loved the Picture Book Panel, and especially hearing Irene Latham and Charles Waters speak about CAN I TOUCH YOUR HAIR. The Book Festival folks gave a lot of copies of this one to Jackson school kids. So many great things about this Festival.

(I've blogged about their book, and you can read it here.)


(Sarah Frances Hardy, Margaret McMullan, and a wiped-out me at the end of a really fabulous day...)

 The book Swag


The Booksellers! Lemuria Books, the best.




Another thing I love about this festival. Being with friends and family. This year I didn't take a single photo of my family. But they were there!
I did take a picture of the supper my best friend forever, Ivy Alley,  provided one night. I told her all we needed was "cheese and crackers." 
(Friday night she'd served me and our friend, the fabulous writer Minrose Gwin, fried chicken-- including a small side of chicken livers as per my request, zucchini fritters, and I forget what else yummy was on the plate. Because, no photo.)

I did take a picture of my "cheese and crackers."  Ivy is a fabulous hostess. There was caramel cake, a gift from my brother and sister. Thanks, Jack and Jane!





On Sunday, I visited the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum. 
This quote seemed appropriate for the weekend.   






Recap by the numbers:  300 kids, 2 schools, 1 bookstore, more-than-I-care-to-count fabulous meals:
A small sample:
Shrimp and Grits
Bayou Bites and brownies
Fried chicken
Caramel Cake
Vegetable plate (field peas and turnip greens!)
Biscuits for breakfast, twice, with bacon
Bread pudding AND pecan pie
Dinner at Saltine with family
"Cheese and crackers" supper






Monday, August 27, 2018

My MONDAY READING: Barbara O'Connor and Kristin O'Donnell Tubb

 It's Monday, my favorite book sharing day!



 Tomorrow lots of things happen. Okay, voting. Let's all get out and vote!

But also, it's the birthday of two of my favorite middle-grade novels of the year.

My friend, Barbara O'Connor's newest book, WONDERLAND.

And a book I've had a lot of fun reading and figuring out, THE STORY COLLECTOR by Kristin O'Donnell Tubb.





(Sharing my favorite photo from recent Facebook posts. Barbara loves dogs!)

WONDERLAND is told from several points of view, including the retired racing greyhound pictured on the cover. Barbara has that illusive thing called "voice" nailed, in all her books. But to write from that many different characters' voices? My friends, you need a special talent and a lot of skill to pull that off. 

This one's a winner! 

Barbara O'Connor is the champion of Author Visits. She'll be doing a bunch of them to celebrate her newest book, but if your school isn't one of the lucky visits, contact her via her website to see about bringing her to you. 

Teachers and librarians, she has some truly excellent tips for hosting an author, HERE.



HERE'S A LINK to various places to buy the book.
You can also read the first chapter and see some great reviews. 
I'll add my two-cents worth. This is a super book to read aloud. So many things to discuss in all of Barbara's books. 


My second book recommendation on this glorious Monday? 
THE STORY COLLECTOR.



Okay, I'm a former librarian who loves to visit the New York Public Library. So the bits about raising pigeons on the roof, snooping around after hours, climbing up a card catalog drawer by drawer, tickled me a lot. I love a good mystery, and I know kids do, too. Historical fiction's also my thing. This book was a total win for me, and I bet for lots of middle-grade teachers, librarians, and their readers.

Betsy Bird, former children's librarian at the NYPL, wrote a great piece for School Library Journal. HERE'S THE LINK. 

I couldn't possibly say it better than Betsy.

If I still lived near NYC, I would find a young reader to take to this event. Can you imagine your book having its own scavenger hunt at the New York Public Library?  
 Check it out HERE.  

There are a whole lot of other fun activities listed on Kristin's blog- including a launch party at what must surely be a totally cool bookstore, Parnassus Books. (My goal is to visit one day!)
(I bet you can call ahead and pre-order a signed copy.)

 

What say you, fellow #IMWAYRers? I know you've been busy this week, but for those of you savoring the last days of summer with a book, I can't wait to hear what you're reading.