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

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Happy Birthday, Blog

Tomorrow marks TEN YEARS that I've been writing this blog. How'd that happen?

Here's a post from four years ago, followed by my very first post.

And those links at the bottom of my most viewed posts? This is still near the top:

You can't say enough about using SAID as a dialog tag. (Though apparently, I tried.)

And if you're still with me...


I'm sorry. I can't resist. Remembering I was inspired to blog by a Media Bistro workshop, I kinda sorta remembered it as being in February. So I just checked.

Yep. 2/22/ 2008. 
Whoa, I've been doing this for all those years? And a few of you are still listening? This is my 927th post and you're still here?

There must be thousands of bloggers who focus on writing and books and The South and food and-- well, you name it, there's a blog for it. 
So, if you're reading mine, a huge THANK YOU.

Here's that very first post, just for fun.

So how hard can this be. Write a little about what I read. Discuss the pros and cons of (mostly free) book reviewing I do. Pull my hair out online about how hard it is to write, how under appreciated writing is as a job choice. Post pictures of me with new very short haircut, my dog going for a run (ha, ok an amble) on the beach, my latest failure in the kitchen. Let the games begin!

For starters, I'm reading The Knitting Circle by Ann Hood. I just heard her read a chapter at the Writers in Paradise conference and bought the book on the spot. I'm a big fan. My knitting experience ended with the blanket my grandmother taught me to knit when I was nine years old, but the way Hood tells the stories of the women who gather to share and knit and care for each other is remarkable. I'd saved the book to read on my flight from Tampa to Newark yesterday but I can't stop reading it and worry that there will be no book to read on the trip back to Florida. I can't face a plane trip without a book.

OK, blogging is fun. Just like writing the long emails to my friends and family that they pretend to read but really skim and often ignore. Except for Leslie and Kate, who always read and always answer quickly. Thanks, guys!


If anybody's still reading, here are a few of my most viewed posts, over the years.
(about using dialog tags other than said. Hoo Boy did that raise a ruckus!)

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Hooray for Billy and Azalea!

 So proud to have my newest book on the Pennsylvania Young Reader's Choice Awards list.

This is an excellent, eclectic, wonderful array of books. I've read and loved quite a few.

CLICK HERE to see them all.

PS to my writer, teacher, and librarian friends: There's helpful information about all the state lists, generously hosted by Cynthia Leitich Smith on her website, HERE.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Blog Two-fer: WRAD and IMWAYR

World Read Aloud Day, 2018 (#WRAD18) is in the books. I had a blast. One of my favorite parts about the day is reading a tiny bit of my own novel, then sharing what else I'm reading/ loving with the classes via super fun SKYPE visits.

So, here's what I shared, and because it's Monday, here are my IT'S MONDAY WHAT ARE YOU READING books.

Did you know there's a new "Al Capone" book coming this spring? I'm a huge fan. It was such an honor to meet Gennifer Choldenko last year at our Miami SCBWI event.

I'm rereading this book (which she signed!) in anticipation of the newest one, AL CAPONE THROWS ME A CURVE. (Click here for the cover reveal- fun!)

I recommended the "Al Capone" books to a group of kids on World Read Aloud Day, and some already knew and loved them. But I think I drummed up some new fans, too. 

 "Don't let the gangsters do your homework."

I also told one of the classes about Barbara O'Connor's book, WISH, a personal favorite. An audible gasp came over the airwaves. One of the literature groups was in the middle of reading this absolute best story of Girl Meets Dog. I had no idea! I promise, it wasn't planned!

But- and hold on to your seats, readers- Barbara has a new book, coming soon: 

Nope, I haven't read it. But I have had a few sneak peeks at the subject matter, and we're in for another terrific story.

Put this one on your order list for this spring.

 (Barbara's box of ARCs, recently delivered and prepped for a giveaway closer to pub date.)

What else am I reading today?
THE TRUTH AS TOLD BY MASON BUTTLE, and oh how I love Leslie Connor's newest middle-grade novel.  A cast of funny, complicated, endearing characters (even the bully has a few redeeming characteristics- so far!), writing that sparkles, a plot that makes you keep turning the pages.  I'm only a little more than halfway through, but I highly recommend this one.

Just for fun, here are some of the super readers from my WORLD READ ALOUD DAY.
(If you missed inviting an author this year, watch Kate Messner's blog in 2019 for the list.)

Razorback fans in Pearland, Texas!

I was excited to tell them about MAKING FRIENDS WITH BILLY WONG, which has both a Texas and an Arkansas connection.

See that reflection in the picture? That's the palm tree outside my window. Most of the classes I read to on World Read Aloud Day live in really cold places- Saskatchewan!  I read THE WAY TO STAY IN DESTINY, hoping to warm them up.

Look at this- Imagination Glasses!
This teacher in Downers Grove, Illinois, was the very first to invite me to read to her very enthusiastic readers.

(Authors love it when you hold up our books for a photo!)

That's what I've been reading/ doing. How about you?

Monday, February 5, 2018

Happy Birthday, Hank Aaron!

When I first considered a baseball player to add to my story, one my readers could emulate and admire, Henry Louis Aaron didn't immediately come to mind. 

There was a reason for this.
Mickey Mantle is known for his presence in the part of Florida where the book would be set. Books have been written about his escapades here. There are postcards of Mantle, waving from convertibles to legends of adoring fans, back in the day.

I began THE WAY TO STAY IN DESTINY with Mickey as Theo's hero.
Then a wise editor who asked to read an early draft mentioned I might look into a different baseball player. (Thanks, Joy. You probably don't even remember the workshop and the manuscript, but I well remember your editorial comments.)

Hammerin' Hank entered the story after that and he was perfect. I'd lived in Atlanta when he played for the Braves and admired him. He would be a role model for the kids who'd eventually read THE WAY TO STAY IN DESTINY.

So Happy Birthday, today, to HANK AARON, a great man and a perfect fellow to add his story to my book.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Writing Lesson: Talking to Yourself

This morning I thought I would organize old emails. 
But you can't read and delete something that piques your interest, can you?
Instead, I ended up on Janice Hardy's "Fiction University" website.

See what she says about INTERNALIZATION.
Or talking to yourself. 
Which I find my characters do a lot...

Check your internal monologue and see if it fits your character. Read it aloud, of course. Delete the unnecessary. Delete the stilted language. Delete the overthinking.

The "Bob" examples (in blue, below) really crack me up.

(From Janice Hardy)
Writing Internalization
Internalization takes the general and makes it personal. As you study your own work, look for opportunities to show how your characters feel about their worlds and situations. Show their opinions and beliefs, let them think about what it means on a variety of levels. Are there places to show world building? A moral belief? An aspect of the character growth?

Sometimes a few words is all you need, especially if they're judgment words.  There's a difference between "It was Bob" and "It was just Bob" and "Crap, it was Bob." A little attitude can go a long way.
While not every detail needs to be internalized, they are opportunities to deepen your story and connect your reader to your character.

In case you're wondering, this is kind of what I'm saying to myself right now.

(Shout-out to my friend Eileen Harrell whose Facebook posts are full of these gems.)