Dec 14, 2012

Book-a-Day Advent calendar: Dec 14

BC/AD: Christmas Poems
U.A. Fanthorpe
Enitharmon Press (U.K.)

My favorite kind of poetry: short, clearly expressed, and evocative. Favorite selections of mine are "BC-AD," "Cat in the Manger," and of course "The Sheepdog."

Book-a-Day Advent Calendar: Dec 13

The Christmas Book
edited by Francis X. Weiser
Harcourt Brace

"The story of the celebration of Christmas, the growth of its many customs through the ages to present day American festivities."

I found this at an antique store a few years ago for $3.

Weiser was a Jesuit priest born in Austria. He dedicates the book to "the memory of a cherished friend: Georg Von Trapp, 1880-1947."

(Von Trapp is better known as the captain father in The Sound of Music.)

Book-a-Day Advent Calendar: Dec 12

by Chris Van Allsburg

Hey: I was reading this book to my kids before it was a movie.

Book-a-Day Advent Calendar: Dec 11

by Terry Pratchett

Going a little farther afield on the holiday theme, but it's a favorite.

Book-a-Day Advent Calendar: Dec 10

When Cows Come Home for Christmas
Dori Chaconas
illustrated by Lynne Chapman
Albert Whitman

You think you have crazy family holiday reunions? Ha!

Dec 13, 2012

Book-a-Day Advent Calendar: Dec 9

A Child's Christmas in Wales
Dylan Thomas
illustrated by Chris Raschka

Originally published in Harper's Bazaar in 1950 (for $300), this has since become a classic.

Book-a-Day Advent Calendar: Dec 8

Another two-fer, both in impeccable rhyme, from talented author Janet Lawler:

illustrated by Amanda Haley
Marshall Cavendish

The story of a girl, her giant snowman, and the trouble they cause.

illustrated byJohn Shroades

Dec 7, 2012

Book-a-Day Advent Calendar: Dec 7

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
by Robert Frost
illustrated by Susan Jeffers
Dutton Children's

OK, not technically a holiday book, but with snow and sleigh, it always makes me think of Christmastime. And it's lovely to read aloud.

Dec 6, 2012

Book-a-Day Advent Calendar: Dec. 6

In honor of St. Nick's Day, a two-for-one special!

Santa Calls
by William Joyce
My kids never paid much attention to the story, but they waited patiently for the very cool actual letter inside an actual envelope at the end.

Father Christmas
by Raymond Briggs
Penguin Books Ltd
(with many newer editions)

Who needs to sit through a long story when you can create your own text for a hilariously imaginative wordless book? A favorite in our house.

Dec 5, 2012

Book-a-Day Advent Calendar: December 5

The Feathered Crown
by Marsha Hayles
illustrated by Bernadette Pons
Henry Holt

Dec 4, 2012

Book-a-Day Advent Calendar: Dec 4

Christmas Mouseling 
by Dori Chaconas
illustrated by Susan Kathleen Hartung
Viking, 2000

A favorite book by one of my favorite authors!

Dec 2, 2012

Book-a-Day Advent Calendar: Dec 2

The Third Gift 
by Linda Sue Park
illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline
(Clarion, 2011)

When you know this book is associated with Christmas, it's easy to guess what the "third gift" is. And yet, the story reads like beautifully-illustrated nonfiction, until the end, when it all comes together beautifully.

Nov 30, 2012

Book-a-Day Advent Calendar: Go!

Just for fun, and inspired by others, I'm going to (try to) post one holiday book from my own collection on every day of December.

The month doesn't start until tomorrow, but I'll be here tomorrow, so I'm starting today.

Up first (and randomly selected):

Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin and illustrated with Mary Azarian's stunning woodcuts. A classic.

Nov 19, 2012

Badger State recap Part 3: Illinois!*

On Tuesday, November 13 I was hosted by two schools in the Chicago suburbs: Timber Ridge Middle School in Plainfield and Brooks Middle School in Bolingbrook.

At both schools I talked to awesome, enthusiastic sixth graders and their teachers about writing, revising, and publishing The Brixen Witch. 

At Timber Ridge, I was made an honorary Wolf (go Wolves!), and met lots of smart readers and aspiring writers. 

(above photo courtesy of Brooks Middle School)

At Brooks, I was treated to a Chicago dog (of course!), and met another bunch of kids who are passionate about books and reading.

The kids at both schools asked awesome questions, which proves how intelligent they are, and how much they love books and words and learning. It also proves what great teachers, parents, and librarians they have. And how lucky I was to meet them all!

Special thanks to library media specialists Cathy Askelund and Alan Holtz, and to Anderson's Bookshop for making the day possible.

*OK, Illinois is not the Badger State. But I visited as part of my Wisconsin trip, so... you know.

Nov 16, 2012

Badger State recap, Part 2: University Lake School

On Monday, November 12, I visited the wonderful students and teachers at University Lake School in Hartland, Wisconsin. The school is on a beautiful wooded campus, where the stark beauty of November in Wisconsin was evident from every window.

The day started with lunch in the library. Two students each, from grades 1 -4, were chosen to have lunch with the author, based on a paragraph they wrote about their love of books or reading. (And how did they know I love chocolate cake??)

I got a tour of the school, and stopped to visit with second graders in their classroom. They're writing books of their own, and had great questions about the writing process.

I talked about how a little witch pushed her way into my Pied Piper story. And then I demonstrated my writing and revision process, using Page One of a new story as an example. Lots more great questions from the students in grades 3 through 6.

 We wrapped up the day with the school book fair, where I heard about kids' favorite books, and even met a few aspiring writers. I can't wait to read their books some day!

Many thanks to everyone at University Lake School, especially Adriana Hollenbeck, and to the lovely people at Books & Co. in Oconomowoc.

I had a great day!

Nov 14, 2012

Badger State recap, Part 1: The Wisconsin Book Festival

I've spent the last week in southern Wisconsin, visiting Mom & Dad, eating too much, and meeting a whole slew of kids and librarians.

First up was the Wisconsin Book Festival, in Madison.

A pretty city on a pretty day.

The Festival hosted my visit with kids and their parents at the Middleton Public Library:

Thanks to the library's generous Friends, every kid in attendance received a signed book.
How cool is that??

I also met up with some writing friends who live nearby, and who I don't get to see often enough:

author Pam Beres and me

author Georgia Beaverson and me

It was a special treat to see Brian Farrey, my editor at Flux, and author of The Vengekeep Prophecies, just released this month:

Just a coupla midgrade fantasy authors showing off their new books.

Best of all, I got to meet some awesome librarians: Crystal Brunelle from Northern Hills Elementary School in Onalaska, WI; and Sarah W, who blogs at PageInTraining.

It was all made possible by Middleton librarian super-hero Amanda Struckmeyer, who really knows how to make an author feel welcome. Thank you, Amanda!!

Thanks also to the Wisconsin Book Festival and the Wisconsin Humanities Council for hosting all the events around Madison.

I finished the day in the company of authors Brian Lies, W.H. Beck, Georgia Beaverson, and good-sport spouses. And of course, my sister Steph, who never missed a beat because she is the person we all  want to reach: a well-spoken and thoughtful reader.

There were pints of beer and plates of fried cheese curds, too. Because, after all, this is Wisconsin.

Oct 25, 2012

The wonderful Books of Wonder

Two of my favorite things:

1. Books
2. New York City

It's only natural, then, that I really love Books of Wonder, the amazing little children's bookstore tucked into a side street near the Flatiron Building.

It's one of those places that make New York City a magical place. It's stacked floor to ceiling with books, and original book art, and an awesome collection of rare books. On any given week, you can stop in and meet real authors, and hear their stories, and have a book signed.

When I imagine heaven, I imagine that it's a lot like this bookstore. There's no place like it.

The down side of being one-of-a-kind, though, is that you're on your own in lots of ways. You don't have corporate muscle or bankroll behind you. Without customers and community, such special places can't exist.

So if you're ever in New York, and if you love books, visit Books of Wonder and buy a book or two.

AND, if you're there on Saturday, November 3, I'll be there too, celebrating great middle grade reads with these other awesome authors:

TOMMY GREENWALD- Charlie Joe Jackson’s Guide to Extra Credit 

JOE McKENDRY- One Times Square 
CHRIS GRABENSTEIN- Riley Mack and the Other Known Troublemakers 
STACY DeKEYSER- The Brixen Witch 

Please stop by between 12 and 2pm to say hello and to see what the magic is all about.

And if you can't visit, but you still love books, contribute to the Books of Wonder fundraiser

The world would be SO boring without places like Books of Wonder. Do you want to live in a boring world?

Oct 4, 2012

Wisconsin Book Festival!

I'm so excited and honored to be included in this year's Wisconsin Book Festival. It will be a great 5 days of all things bookish.

Aug 8, 2012

Writing exercise: The right word in the right place

So much of writing is about choosing the best word to convey exactly what you're trying to say. 

As an example, let’s use the following actual true telephone conversation I just had with a customer service rep from a Large Electronics Company.

Large EC: Hello. I’m calling in response to your e-mail. You need help* with your new printer?

ME: Yes. It’s fresh out of the box, but it won’t print. It says the magenta ink cartridge is empty. The cartridge must be defective.

LARGE: Did you call Technical Support?

ME: No, I e-mailed, remember?

LARGE: But did you call? It’s best if you call.

ME: How did you get my phone number?

LARGE: From your e-mail. Have you tried removing and reinserting the magenta cartridge?

ME: Five times. No luck. I finally went out and bought a new cartridge.

LARGE: Are you still having trouble printing?

ME: No, it works fine now.

LARGE: I’m glad to hear that. Is there anything else I can help* you with?

ME: Yes. Can you reimburse me for the cartridge I bought?

LARGE: I’m sorry, I can’t reimburse you. I could have sent you a replacement if you’d called.

ME: How about you send me a replacement cartridge now?

LARGE: I can’t do that, since I’ve already recorded that the problem is resolved. Is there anything else I can help* you with?

ME: Why can’t you just reimburse me the $19.99?

LARGE: I’m not authorized to do that. The best I can do is give you a $25 coupon toward your next purchase of ink.

ME: That’s FINE, thanks.

LARGE: Would you like me to give you a coupon? (Honest to goodness, she asked me this.)

(General rummaging sounds; she finds and recites a coupon code for me.)

LARGE: Is there anything else I can help* you with?

ME: God no. Thank you for your help*.

LARGE. My pleasure. If you need further help*, please—

ME: I know. Please call Technical Support.

LARGE: Yes. Would you like that number?

*Writing exercise: In place of the word “help” please insert a more precise, accurate verb, such as confound, frustrate, aggravate, hose.

Jul 23, 2012

Win a signed copy of THE BRIXEN WITCH

There's a giveaway going on over at Goodreads, today until August 23.

Ten signed copies are up for grabs.

Good luck to all!

Jul 9, 2012

New events on the calendar

Some great news to celebrate the launch of The Brixen Witch:

The book is an Editor's Pick for July on Amazon.

Signings coming up! I hope to see you there!

Saturday, August 11

Bayswater Book Company

Rt. 25B Main St.Center Harbor, NH 03226

Tuesday, August 21
7:00 pm

Boswell Book Company
2559 N. Downer Avenue
Milwaukee, WI 53211

May 31, 2012

In Which I Prove that Watching Old TV Shows is Considered "Working"

I couldn't fall asleep last night, so I fired up an episode of the old Dick Van Dyke Show online.

(Not only is this show funny, it's packed full of writing lessons: Pacing, dialogue, characterization; humor. You could do lots worse than try to pick apart one of these episodes and apply it to your story's structure. And have a lot less fun.)

I chose an episode called "Just a Friendly Game of Cards." I've seen every episode of this series probably a zillion times, but I haven't seen THIS episode in a long time--not since I started writing seriously--and for the first time, my writer's brain was struck by the structure of this episode. It started with a summary of the entire plot, revealing *everything*, then played out that plot in a prolonged flashback.

It was hilarious, and it worked, but today I'm still trying to figure out WHY it worked, and WHY writer Carl Reiner decided to structure that episode the way he did.

Any thoughts from the peanut gallery?

In the meantime, I might have to hope for insomnia again tonight, to try and figure out this puzzle.

Apr 30, 2012

Inventory! What's inside a writer's bag

If I were to clean out the bag I carry to writer's group every Tuesday,  here is what I would find:

- 3 notepads
- 3 pens
- extra pair of reading glasses
- cute little case of tiny office implements (never opened)
- a list of group members' phone numbers and addresses
- a quotation from Flaubert: "It is a delicious thing to write, to be no longer yourself but to move in an entire universe of your own creating." (Thank you, Susan)
- a copy of my first-ever submitted manuscript, attached to corresponding first-ever rejection letter, circa 1997 (Thank you, Highlights for Children).
- a small stack of Brixen Witch bookmarks to share.
- mini pack of Kleenex (empty)
- Post Office receipt from last November
- receipt for Girl Scout cookies (3 boxes, yum!)
- brochure for a local book festival (last year's)
- 3 Hersheys kisses
- paper clips
- Tic Tacs
- allergy eyedrops (kitties come to the meetings!)
- rubber bands
- a group photo from last summer's annual garden luncheon :)
- half-empty water bottle of questionable age
- 9 copies of last week's WIP chapter, with comments

What's in YOUR writer's bag??

Apr 26, 2012

Top ten reasons why I love Missouri librarians

1. They can keep a 750-attendee conference running as smoothly as if they did it every day.

2. They treat books like treasures, and authors like rock stars, even after you show them photos of yourself as a goofy little kid with a book in your lap.

3. Their passion for sinfully rich chocolate cake.

4. They can keep a tech-challenged author from fluttering around like a nervous idiot when she doesn't know how to connect her computer to the PowerPoint projector--because they know exactly how to get her connected.

5. Their cool Hunger Games necklaces.

6. Their touching stories of how their middle school students, many of them responsible for younger siblings, sympathized with Victoria in Jump the Cracks because of their common bond as caretakers for little kids.

7. They know how to dress for a party.

8. Their beautiful paper flowers made from "shredded books" (but not real books!)

9. They introduce you to other authors who you've admired from afar (hiya Kirby Larson and Lisa McMann!), and who also turn out to be lovely, fun people.

10. They value kids, and prove it, by giving them places of honor at a fancy banquet.

Thank you to MASL, the Missouri Association of School Librarians, for inviting me to your 2012 spring conference! I'll never forget it!

Apr 4, 2012

Something to think about

Here's a bit of writing advice that strikes a cord with me. How about you?

If a scene or a section gets the better of you and you still think you want it—bypass it and go on. When you have finished the whole you can come back to it and then you may find that the reason it gave trouble is because it didn’t belong there.
-- John Steinbeck

Mar 27, 2012

Fun and Games: Researching THE BRIXEN WITCH

Once I realized there would be a bit of a Pied Piper element to The Brixen Witch, I knew I had research to do. After the fun part -- reading every single version of the legend that I could find -- it was time to get down to brass tacks or, in this case, rats' tails. How to write believably about the task of catching rats?

I'm not proud. I started with Google. Eventually I found my way to an awesome, wonderful website called Project Gutenberg. That's where I found this, from 1898:

This detailed 63-page treatise told me everything I'd ever want to know about catching rats, and a lot I would have preferred not to know. (I learned not to snack while reading it.)

It was written by a man who clearly took great pride in his work. And why not? He had 25 Years'  Experience.

He was a good writer, too. Here is the bit of ad copy he wrote at the end of his booklet:

Ike Matthews is prepared to go out Ratting with parties of gentlemen or their gamekeepers on their private estates during the summer, supplying dog, ferrets, and nets, at moderate charges.  
Ike Matthews is also willing to go out rabbit-shooting with gentlemen during the season, and will supply and work ferrets at reasonable charges.  He is also prepared to break dogs and puppies to ferreting and Ratting on reasonable terms.
Any number of live Rats and rabbits supplied at a few days’ notice.
All orders promptly attend[ed] to.
           Undeniable References.
                    Yours truly,
                              IKE MATTHEWS.

Which just goes to show: There's a lot of truth hiding within the pages of fiction.

Feb 6, 2012

Writing mini-lesson: Metaphor

Nothing like hearing Cole Porter himself singing "You're the Top."
And your toes will be tapping, too!

Jan 3, 2012

About that Brixen Witch cover

If you look closely at the mountain in the background of the Brixen Witch cover... might remind you of this:

This is a photo of Der Schlern, the real mountain in the Italian Alps, with its own witch legend. I took this photo in the year 2000. That's how long I've wanted to write a story about that mountain, and that witch. Now here it is 2012, and it's about to happen! (The rats are just a bonus.)