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

Sunday, May 27, 2012

S.L. LaNeve: Welcome, Sue!

When she was the state coordinator of SCBWI critique groups, my friend and former critique buddy, Sue LaNeve, introduced me to the children's writing community in Florida. Lucky me! A critique group is like family. When the new group she'd helped organize dissolved, we all stayed connected. Even better, Sue brought me along to her own smaller group.

(And may I just insert a word about SCBWI, and especially Florida SCBWI. If you are moving to a new place, considering writing for kids, or want to polish your craft, there's nothing better than the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. Go ahead, click on those links! Rumor has it, there are even a few spaces left in the Orlando conference next month!)

Three years ago, Sue took a hiatus to earn her MFA in Writing for Children at Vermont College. Sue claims those two years of intense study were life-changing in how she viewed herself as a writer. But those of us who worked with her pre-MFA always knew she was a serious writer.

Her first middle-grade novel, SPANKY: A Soldier's Son, is now available in Amazon Kindle and  Nook editions

It's a heartfelt, funny, realistic look at the feelings of a middle-school boy whose dad loves him and has great expectations. When his family moves to Florida for his firefighter dad's new job, Spanky hardly has time to figure out where his new school is or what's up with the flora and fauna in this strange new town before his dad's reserve unit is sent to Afghanistan. 

Perfect for kids who have a parent in the military, a middle-schooler lost in the crowd, or anybody looking for a great story, the eBook has garnered praise from organizations involved with military kids and families whose children know exactly how the main character in this story feels. The serious themes of bullying and family dynamics are dealt with in a way that will make children think hard about Spanky and his situation. 

Sue agreed to chat with me from her newest adventure, somewhere in the Gulf of Mexico or Atlantic Ocean!

AUGUSTA: What was your inspiration to write SPANKY: A Soldier's Son?

My heart had been brewing a story about a boy who saw his dad as a super hero and desperately wanted to make him proud. I had been kicking around the idea of Spanky’s dad being a soldier when serendipitously, I met a fellow VCFA student, Trent Reedy, who had recently returned from serving in Afghanistan. Trent was thrilled to be one of my military consultants because there were few books that spoke to the experience of children with a parent deployed. 

Then an author on faculty at VCFA, M.T. Anderson, gave a lecture on the Politics of Dr. Seuss, which fascinated me. I came away from that lecture with the belief that if I had any political interests, as a children’s book writer, I must try to instill that interest in children—not by any bombardment of beliefs, but in a way that would make them ask questions and form opinions. 

The story originally was set soon after 911. But  Richard Peck reviewed a few chapters from an early version and said that Spanky’s story was timeless and that by the time the book became published, kids would have no living memory of the 911 event. 

AUGUSTA: Was any part of the book based on real-life experiences?

We writers are a crazy bunch. We often work out our issues through our writing! Sometimes it is the direct and upfront inspiration for a story. Other times, the realization of why we write a story only becomes clear after we’ve completed a draft.  Spanky’s story had a little of both.

Spanky’s dad’s job as a fireman was my homage to the 911 firefighters. My own dad had served in the Army Air Force in WWII. He never spoke to me about his experiences, but I’d overhear him tell stories to his men friends. One story still stands out about how he became a fatalist watching planes around him explode in midair. Now as an adult, I know he didn’t want me to have to share his difficult memories or make them real in my mind. 

In a twisted way, it likely affected my characterization of Spanky. Spanky refuses to talk about his dad because acknowledging his own fears in his mixed-up mind would diminish Dad, the superhero. It would also make the possibility of something happening to dad become real.

AUGUSTA: Kid readers and fellow writers like to picture you holed up in a delightful writing cottage or perhaps sitting on the beach, notebook in hand. So tell us, where do you write?
Like most writers, I used to write literally everywhere—my office, a park bench, the couch, the car, a coffee shop. I have a small Lenovo x61 PC that I can almost fit into my purse!

AUGUSTA: And of course, now you'll be writing from the deck of your boat! I know you are an amazing editor. Any great tips? Can you tell us how you revised SPANKY?            

The wrong way. I tend to revise my first chapter as if nothing subsequent will work until it is perfect. What I know to be true is that sometimes, you don’t know what your first chapter will be until you reach the end. Sometimes it takes a complete draft to know what a story is really about.

AUGUSTA: I see heads out there nodding in agreement, mine especially.
Were you inspired to become a writer from anything you read as a child? Have you always wanted to write?

The crazy truth is I’ve read hundreds more children’s books as an adult than I did as a child. I do remember loving the rhythm of nursery rhymes. But there was one favorite book that had a cactus as a protag. I’ve lost the title and author but for some reason a memory of the cactus walking into the sunset with his friends at the end of the story is indelibly carved in my brain. I must have read that book a thousand times. Maybe one of your readers will know what it was? I’d love to find out why it touched me so.

AUGUSTA: Okay, readers! A cactus as a main character, anybody?
I've heard that one of the hardest parts about choosing a non-traditional route to publishing is that you must figure out ways to get your book into the hands of readers. Can you share a bit of your journey on this path and also tips to publicize your eBook, SPANKY: A Soldier's Son?

 I had reached the pinnacle of rejection in the traditional market, receiving personal letters and even a few phone calls from agents and editors. I could have been a few query letters away from a deal—or a few hundred. But my life changed and when we reached the decision to cruise now while we were healthy enough to do it, I knew my focus would have to change, at least for a few years.

Spanky needed to be out in the world now. While we are cruising, I will do everything I can via internet. The story would benefit any child, but it is particularly relevant to kids who are navigating life with a deployed parent. Just yesterday, I received a thank you letter from a soldier in Afghanistan. He said his kids needed books like mine.

AUGUSTA: What a great story! Thanks, Sue, for sharing your journey with us. 

 To find out more about Sue's writing, Spanky, and her journey to publication, you can follow her Vermont College MFA group blog here. Or check out her My Climbing Tree website here.

And if you have an interest in voyages, follow Sue at

For additional books about the impact of war on military families, click here for a special Memorial Day list of excellent books for middle grade readers. 
And another blogger has created this list of books about military families, for young readers of all ages.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Thank you, Damsels!

A nice interview. And the review from two days ago, on the same blog, makes me very happy. I so appreciate my fellow bloggers. I'm meeting all sorts of new-to-me writers these days.

CLICK HERE to follow along with me and the Damsels in REgress, chatting away
We love historical fiction!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Coming soon! Interviewing Sue LaNeve about her new eBook

Hope everybody's planning a great Memorial Day weekend.

I grew up believing it all started in Columbus, Mississippi. Confederate widows placing flags and flowers on soldiers' graves.

Turns out a lot of people claim that honor. Here are a couple of websites if you'd like to learn more about this holiday.

And coming soon! To celebrate the weekend: my interview with writer Sue LaNeve about writing and publishing her eBook:  

Monday, May 21, 2012

Thanks and don't forget the Book Club!

What a very nice review! I really appreciate this so much.

☛☛Click here to see what this blogger says about Glory Be. 
                     Thank you, BETH FISH READS.

And don't forget, this month Scholastic is featuring my book as its first Mother Daughter Book Club selection. Links and all sorts of other good stuff on Beth's blog, address above.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Summer's almost here!

New Jersey, here we come.

I'm packing up and heading north. And the annual debate begins. Just how much can I take and what do I dare leave behind for a few months.

Books I must read. Writing notes. Computer, iPad, all those cords.

Today I'm going through my books. This is what I'm now reading and rereading and cannot be without. Two of those are ARCs, irreplaceable. One is a book I ordered specially for potential character research. I cannot leave these in Florida. No way.

But that's only the beginning. I need my writing files. I need my Junk Poker shoebox, ready for my class visit to Pat's 4th graders. Seriously. That Buster Brown shoebox is valuable. If only to me.

                 And I need summer writing possibilities- more books, notes, character studies!

Already packed in tote bags. But there's more to come... Oh, dear.

(I may have to deep-six the clothes, but I cannot do without my books and my files. That's that.)

Possibly Related Posts:
The Splitters

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Note to self: Mississippi travels, Ten Things To Remember

1. In the six Mississippi schools I visited, the kids mostly said Yes, ma'am. No, ma'am.
I know some people don't get that, but I loved it.

2. Pimento cheese and sweet little peach pies. Food from the book at my friend Ivy's house. Surrounded by old friends and lots of family. Does it get better than this?

3. Four of my teachers showing up to say hello at the very same library I pictured every time I set a Glory Be scene in a library. And a whole bunch of librarians were there. I lost count.

4. The view of the river. Yes, that river. From my friend Nan's house.

5. The charm bracelet with the little guitar and "sisters" charms. From my own sweet sister.
(And she packed the audience at Square Books, Jr. in Oxford.)

6. Good old southern cooking, cafeteria style, with my sweet brother. (Reason enough to return.)

7. Meeting Ellen Ruffin of the amazing DeGrummond Collection at the University of Southern Mississippi. (Another big reason to return. I must see this!)

8. College friends I hadn't seen since college and high school friends I hadn't seen since forever. All celebrating and buying my very first book. 

9. Signing a ton of books at both Square Books and Lemuria, in Jackson. ☺
I suspect there are still a few available, for anybody who's looking for an autographed copy:

Square Books Jr.: (662) 236-2207  
Lemuria: (601) 366-7619

10. Learning how true it is: You can go home again.


Thursday, May 10, 2012

Mother Daughter Book Club

 I'm delighted, excited, and proud to announce that Scholastic has chosen GLORY BE as its first Mother Daughter Book Club selection. AND they are giving away a free Skype visit with the author.
(That would be me!)

                           Just in time for Mother's Day. Spread the word, please.

CLICK HERE to go to Scholastic's website
and see the discussion guide and a recipe for Emma's lemon cookies.

                              Perfect for your Book Group? I hope so!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Seen on a Bumper Sticker

                            Check out the pink bumper sticker.
 I could create an entire fictional character just by paying attention to the truck...

(I googled the bookstore: Malaprop's, in Asheville, NC.)

Previous Bumper Stickers? Click here.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Maurice Sendak

I met him once, talking to a small group of students when I was at Simmons College studying to become a librarian. Such a funny guy! I still remember the stories he told us.

Where the Wild Things Are was my very first "challenged" book as a young librarian. I was innocent and inexperienced, but I was not about to let that book be removed from my library.

My own children grew up with his illustrations framed in every room of our house! We are quite fond of Mr. Rabbit. Not to mention Little Bear. I could go on forever. A great loss to the book world.

Monday, May 7, 2012

One More School: My day in pictures...

And what a fun day it was!

If Baltimore felt like coming home, Roland Park Country School felt like a friendly neighbor.

Having been the Lower School librarian just down the road a piece for quite a few years, side by side with my friend Barrie, now director of the RPCS Lower School, I was right at home.

I think they scheduled the fire drill just for me.

We had those with alarming frequency in a school where I once worked. All false, thankfully.
(All kind of fun except on freezing days and the one time it went off during Grandparents Day...)

The girls were so enthusiastic about my book. Third and fourth graders before lunch.

Fifth graders later. They were in the middle of a Civil Rights study and knew so much. Great questions!

Big discussion over the two different cover images on the book jacket. Many had purchased GLORY BE through their Scholastic Book Club. Others had the original.

 We took a vote. Silhouette vs. photo image? Results split down the middle. 

I asked if they knew what a silhouette was. Hands shot up. Of course they knew! 

This project is on the hall bulletin board, right outside the library.

Fantastic librarian. Smart kids. Old and new friends. 
And the librarian took this last shot of me and my "biggest fan." 
She loved the book! What a great day.
Thank you, Roland Park Country, Beverly and Barrie, and all those enthusiastic readers.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Barbara Ann Watson: Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Glory Be (and a giveaway)...

Contest ends on Sunday! Click on the link below to head on over to Barbara Watson's website.

Barbara Ann Watson: Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Glory Be (and a giveaway...: I love an awful lot of middle grade books, and Glory Be by Augusta Scattergood , is now on my 'books I love' list.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Screen Free?

Did you know it's National Turn Off Your TV Week, also known as Screen Free Week?

If you were a student at Roland Park Country School in Baltimore, where I just spent a delightful day, you would know.

This greeted me in the library:

Look at these neat bookmarks the students were eagerly scooping up.

 (Open, turn page, skim, pause, READ!)

More to come from that great school visit, my last in Maryland for a while, at least.

Anybody else celebrating? Turning off the TV, at least for a little while?
What are you reading this week?

Here's some of my list:
On the Road to Mr. Mineo's (an ARC from the publisher)
eagerly awaiting: Double Dog Dare (I just won a copy on Smack Dab in the Middle- yay!)

Leftover from my plane ride:  The Phantom Limbs of the Rollow Sisters
on my Kindle. A very strange yet oddly addictive novel set in Nebraska which I bought at a Kindle deal ages ago and can't seem to finish or stop reading. (Does that make sense?)

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Another Homecoming!

Truly, is there anything better than returning to one of the places you love most to be surrounded by Book Love? We lived in Baltimore for ten great years. I still think of it right up there with Mississippi as "home."

Yesterday a whole bunch of my friends showed up to listen to me carry on about my book and eat some really great Southern food. I signed many books, and we reminisced.

It helped that one of the hostesses had just returned from Memphis. She brought Elvis and propped him in front of my Junk Poker box, which has a very strong Elvis connection. And check out the name of the honey, nestled close to Elvis. (Okay, not THAT kind of honey. It was a party for a kids' book, for Pete's sake...)

The table.
My Mississippi transplant friend served as food consultant. We posed behind the fabulous table. We are blurry, yes, but the table was gorgeous.

Someone I hadn't seen since we worked together at Bryn Mawr School brought pink tulips. How could she have guessed the thing I miss most in Florida is spring flowers? Beautiful!

On my bedside table? Lilies of the Valley.
A French May Day tradition. (☜☜Click to read all about it!)

La FĂȘte du Muguet (Lily of the Valley Day)

Good luck for the entire year!

Here we are. Great friends for a very long time.

(The flowers on the mantle?  Magnifique! Sorry we are hiding them...)