Oct 29, 2013

The Magical Kingdom of Books

My family and I returned on Saturday from a week in Orlando, FL. My boys turned 11 last week, and we’ve been eager to try out the campground at Disney’s Fort Wilderness, so my husband and I decided this would be a good opportunity to visit several of the theme parks in that area—something we’d not done since Will and Ben were 5 years old. We had a fun, busy week, but we were all happy to get back home!

As we explored the parks, I was struck by how many areas and attractions were inspired by books. I’d been to several of the parks in the past but had never really thought about this before. On this trip, I caught myself thinking—over and over again—this all came about because ONE author had an idea.
At the Magic Kingdom, my family and I explored the Swiss Family Robinson’s tree house, created by the imagination of Johann Wyss, whose book THE SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON was first published in 1812. And while my husband and Ben braved more “high action” rides, Will and I traipsed through Tom Sawyer Island, based upon Mark Twain’s THE ADVENTURES OF TOM SAWYER, first published in 1876.
At Universal Studios, we walked by a play area inspired by the CURIOUS GEORGE books, written by Margaret and H.A. Rey, and we played in streets inspired by superheroes and “Sunday funnies” cartoons, reminding me of the graphic novel genre which has become so popular. At Universal’s Islands of Adventure we explored Seuss Landing, a colorful, fantastical world based on the works of Theodore Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss. We also ventured into Jurassic Park, based on the 1990 book of the same name by Michael Crichton, which was made into a movie in 1993. Of course, our visit to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, inspired by J.K. Rowling’s HARRY POTTER series, was the ultimate experience in blurring-the-line-between-fiction-and-reality—for avid Potter fans like my boys and myself, it was a truly amazing experience to suddenly BE in that world (and taste the butterbeer—yum!).

There are several more examples that I could draw upon from our trip, but I think I’ve made my point—each of these beloved attractions exist because ONE author had an idea. And after he got that idea, he sat down and wrote it out, laboring one word at a time (and in many cases without the use of a personal computer).
As I told my boys one day during our trip, authors have the power to change the world. To write something, and then one day have your make-believe “world” become a reality—whether that reality is figurative or literal—is truly impressive. And when you take a step back and consider all of the wonderful, amazing books that don’t become theme park attractions, this idea becomes even more incredible; so many books I’ve read have sucked me into imaginary worlds that were *just* as real as those I visited last week (and they cost much less!). The collective existence of books really is a “Magical Kingdom” that can take us anywhere the author chooses to lead. As authors, what greater privilege is there?

Have a great week, and Happy Writing! ☺

Oct 18, 2013

POETRY FRIDAY: Just in time for Halloween—My Review of AN EYEBALL IN MY GARDEN

Thank you to Cathy at Merely Day By Day for hosting Poetry Friday today!

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I normally don’t do official “reviews” on my blog, but this spooky, fun collection of children’s poems has captured my imagination and had me laughing all week!
AN EYEBALL IN MY GARDEN has over 40 creepy/funny/spine-tingling poems selected and edited by Jennifer Cole Judd and Laura Wynkoop, and illustrated by Johan Olander. After reading several of the titles on the contents page (“Zombie Kid Blues,” “Camp Creepy,” and “Igor Picks a Pet” are just a few), I had pretty high expectations. And the poems in this book exceeded them all!

I *love* to read collections of children’s poetry, and I appreciate and enjoy reading all kinds—humorous, narrative, educational, format-specific, etc. But it has been a very long time since I’ve picked up a book of poetry that kept me laughing and entertained and engaged so completely. (I wouldn’t say that I am a “critical” reader, but it is not often that I find a book that I get this excited about.) I am also not someone who is drawn to macabre or “dark” subjects, which is another reason I like this collection so much; it has a whole lot of funny mixed up with just the right amount of spooky, and the end result is just perfect for readers of all ages.

My son Ben was heralded with the title poem “An Eyeball in My Garden” while waiting to see the dentist on Wednesday morning, and on Halloween I am using the book to do a fun poetry activity with both of my boys’ fifth grade classes. I’ve carried it everywhere since I received it last week, so I really should send a big “thank you” to my sweet writer friend Leigh Attaway Wilcox for bringing this great book to my attention!
Here is a tiny teaser of one of my favorite poems from the book, "October 31st" by William Shakespeery: 
October 31st
By William Shakespeery
“I’ll grease my hair,” said Frankenstein,
“And comb a little curl.
Tonight I’m going trick-or-treating
As a flower girl.”
For the rest of the poem, you’re going to have to buy your own copy!☺
My next post will be on Tuesday, October 29th. Until then, I wish you all Happy Writing!

AN EYEBALL IN MY GARDEN is available in bookstores and at online retailers. Please check out the book’s funky, fabulous webpage at:   http://www.eyeballinmygarden.com/

Oct 15, 2013


This is the second installment in my “Industry Spotlight” series, which will explore the publishing profession from all angles. Our guest today is Ann Eisenstein, author of middle grade novel HIDING CARLY. The second book in Ann’s SEAN GRAY, JUNIOR SPECIAL AGENT series, FALLEN PREY, will be released November 7, 2013.
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Hello, Ann. I am so excited to have you as my guest today! I also want to wish you a very HAPPY BIRTHDAY, my friend! You are a woman of MANY talents and interests, Ann. Your journey to publication has been very unique. Can you share a bit about that, as well as how you landed a publishing contract without an agent?  

Thank you, Becky, for having me here today. It is always an honor to be a featured author on such an exciting and inspirational site!
Yes, at the present time I am without agent. Not that I do not value the many services that an agent can offer an author. My journey with HIDING CARLY has indeed been unique. When I first finished my manuscript, armed with excellent advice from successful authors and - having attended several SCBWIC conferences - great guidance from agents and editors, I wrote query after query after query. And I have stacks of rejections, ranging from rubber stamped postcards to sweet handwritten notes. Most of which, in one form or another, said that it was “not right for our list.” I had several “send me the manuscript” replies. Only one publisher, Dutton, was interested in working with me. However, even after the encouragement of “moving up” the chain, the associate with whom I was working left the house and my manuscript was “misplaced.” Months later, I received my tattered manuscript accompanied by the “not right for our list” letter.

So, I decided to publish the book myself. There is an FBI theme in the book and I’d interviewed the FBI Special Agent who had been in charge of the Junior Special Agent Program. I invited him to my launch party, along with the woman who was currently in charge of that program. She liked the book so much she sent a copy of it to her counterpart at the FBI headquarters in Washington, DC. They asked if I would consider a series. How could I say “no” to the FBI?
About a year after that, I was selling HIDING CARLY at the South Carolina Book Festival and met the publisher of Peak City Publishing. She and her managing editor read my book and about two weeks later, I received a phone call asking if I would consider their representation of the series. Again – how could I say “no” to that?

That is a real testament to the power of hard work and perseverance, Ann! Can you share with us what inspired you to write HIDING CARLY?

One of the things that I had always wanted to do was write a book. I had written poetry and short stories, articles and curriculum, manuals and programs – but never a novel. That was my dream. I started an adult novel, but was struggling with it. I wasn’t certain of the plot, the conflict, the characters’ motivation. So, I put it aside. I thought, “Maybe I should start with a children’s book – that had to be easier!” That was delusional for sure.

Also, I was “retired” and needed something to do! And since I had always worked with children in one capacity or another, as tutor, a teacher, a psychologist, I began volunteering in one of the elementary schools in Columbia.  I was mentoring a fifth grade boy who was quiet and shy – famous for nods and shrugs and one word answers. 
G’s class was in the FBI Junior Special Agent Program. The main focus of this program is to help students improve their performance and their attendance in school. The JSA curriculum also helps students develop a positive self-image and encourages them to stay away from drugs, gangs, crime and violence. Through his involvement in this program, I began to witness a change in G’s behavior. He became more involved in school, his work, and our relationship. He also became more outgoing in his relationship with his peers. I was so proud of him!

Everything started to come together and evolve. The desire for a book. A boy who had character change. The excitement of the FBI.  I chose as my MC a young boy named Jamie and I titled the book Badge Boy. I stared at the page – it was pretty blank. It was about this time that I realized that writing for children was definitely not easier.
As I said earlier, I called the Special Agent in charge of G’s JSA program, told him I was writing a book and asked if I could interview him. He agreed to the interview and I was on my way to the FBI. Gates, guns and grit.

Armed with an idea and some information, I returned to my computer and turned on my imagination and waited for the inspiration. I met Sean Gray, my main character. He bumped Jamie out of the story, changed the title to HIDING CARLY and took me on an exciting murder mystery that in my wildest dreams I could not have solved – not without Sean Gray, Junior Special Agent.
What a wonderful story, Ann! You are truly invested in your subject matter, on many levels. Can you share a bit about any new projects that you have in the works?
As you noted earlier, book two in the series, FALLEN PREY, is set for release November 7, 2013.

Twelve-year-old Junior Special Agent Sean Gray is in a race against time. Could there be a connection between his testimony in the trial of an international child kidnapping ring and his mysterious accident?
While the sheriff’s department and the FBI are investigating, his new friend, Gabby, gets caught in the web of an online predator and disappears. She’s been missing for more than 48 hours, and the authorities have not been able to find her.
Sean goes undercover to bait the mysterious hunter. But when he becomes the prey, how will he rescue her?
I am in the beginning stage of the third, and final, book of the series, which will be released in 2014.
In addition to the book, a producer in Atlanta read HIDING CARLY and called to ask me if I would be interested in making a movie. Per his request, I have already written the screenplay adaptation. Although he has left his company (Yes that seems to happen a lot), talk has been for a TV movie, with a potential series to follow.

Some of my other WIPs are:
STATESVILLE 719 (contemporary young adult novel) Seventeen year old Matt has plans to get away from his past and his abusive uncle when he gets a mysterious letter telling him that his “dead mother” is in prison for killing his father and that his “dead sister” is coming to live with him.

CHALLENGER (chapter book) Charlie, an eight year old little leaguer, paralyzed in an automobile accident, learns to accept life in a wheelchair and play ball again. 
WISDOM (young adult science fiction) Bored with his high school classes, Thomas, an honors student at Midlands High, and the only son of two gifted and talented university researchers, time travels to the future and back to the past, searching for his identity.

A QUESTION OF DEPENDENCY (screenplay) Randy Parker, a single father and an alcoholic, struggles to regain the custody of his children from the California court system and rebuild his life.
SARA MAE FLEMING (biography) In 1954 South Carolina, a twenty year old African American cleaning lady from Eastover, SC inspired Rosa Parks by first taking that lonely stand in the “whites only” section of a city transit bus.

DIARY OF A MAD DAUGHTER (historical) My chronicle of my mother’s descent into the horrific world of Alzheimer’s.
You have a very diverse list of WIPs, and they all sound so interesting. You must spend a lot of time writing! Can you tell us about your writing routine?

I am a 24/7 writer now. Meaning that I am never “off.” I am outlining or researching or thinking or dreaming about my books, or reading the works of others.

I am equally plotter/pantser. I do love the free flow of allowing my characters to draft their own stories. At the same time, I have two big white boards for storyboarding. I also use an APP called “Index Cards” for outlining on the go. Oh, and I occasionally can be seen talking (sometimes yelling) into my mini recorder while driving. It can get pretty animated!
You are very busy at the moment promoting HIDING CARLY, and you also do frequent speaking events, book signings, festivals, and school visits. Can you talk about this and how you strike a balance between promoting your work and writing?
These are the days of self-promotion for authors. Especially for those who are published by smaller publishers. I will talk about my work anywhere, anytime, to anyone who will listen! Seriously, I think that anybody who puts their passion, talent, time into a work of art wants to promote that work. Part of sharing is the work itself, but a great part is talking about it – what it is, what inspired it, what can be gleaned, learned, and enjoyed. So, catch me at Barnes & Noble this week, The Peak City Book Festival in Apex, NC on November 9 and the Carteret Writer’s Meeting in Morehead City, NC on November 12. And other places in between!

Part of what has inspired my SEAN GRAY, JUNOR SPECIAL AGENT series are issues that affect kids today, from bullying to suicide to kidnapping to internet stalking and predation. One of my greatest passions is helping kids navigate the journey of childhood and adolescence. If I can engage, educate, and entertain them at the same time, I have been successful.  Therefore, writing these stories and talking about them and the issues that they contain are equally important. Though it is sometimes difficult to strike that balance between promotion and writing, they are interconnected. 
Your website is an amazing resource for parents and teachers, with topics ranging from internet safety and missing children to author features. Your website truly captures who you are and puts it out there for the world to see! How did you go about creating such a great “platform” for yourself and your writing?

Thank you, Becky. I think in a way I am a product of all that I have experienced and of all the people who have touched me throughout my life. I am very passionate about kids and their right to be safe and loved and protected. I have always believed in their innate innocence and our responsibility to care for them. My “platform” is a true combination of my roles as educator, psychologist, and author. Rather than a single creation, it is a confluence of my passions.

You are a psychologist and are also involved as a volunteer for the Richland County Sheriff’s Department, as well as the FBI, in Columbia, SC, where you live. Can you talk about your interest in psychology and law enforcement, and how you are able to incorporate these passions into your book writing? 
During one of my early interviews with the FBI, I was asked to join the FBI Citizens Academy. The Federal Bureau of Investigation National Citizens Academy is an organization dedicated to supporting the mission of the FBI in its role as the official liaison between the FBI Citizens’ Academy Alumni Association (FBICAAA) Chapters and the FBI. The FBINCAAA supports those Chapters, and serves with them as the FBI’s private sector community ambassadors for education and preparedness to ensure a safer America. Comprised of community leaders, we work closely with FBI Special Agents in building stronger partnerships within the community to help the FBI stay “better attuned to the needs and issues of our communities.” We are in contact with the agency with information that could help solve or prevent crimes. We are also "ambassadors" of the FBI who dispel myths and misunderstandings about the Bureau, and often go on to join alumni chapters that work directly with us on all kinds of public safety initiatives.

I also am a member if the FBI’s Infragard, which brings together representatives from the private and public sectors to help protect our nation’s critical infrastructure—both virtual and physical—from attacks by terrorists and criminals.

I am also a graduate of the Richland County Sheriff’s Department Citizen Police Academy Program, whose mission is to educate and inform the community; to provide a forum for police - community interaction; to identify community problems, needs and concerns; and to foster a partnership with the community that will solve problems and work toward creating a safer environment.

Through all programs, I am able to help serve the needs of my community, working with both government and private sector partners every day and at every level—local, state, federal, tribal, and international. And as I said earlier, as an educator and a psychologist, my main passion and purpose is to serve the needs of children and their families. These factions all fit together.

The FBI and the Richland County Sheriff’s Department are on the front lines in the effort to combat crimes against children, including kidnapping, sexual exploitation, child trafficking. These are the real life issues that we and our kids face in these times. Issues that my protagonist, Sean, faces, questions, studies and hopes to help resolve.
In the SEAN GRAY, JUNIOR SPECIAL AGENT series, Sean, is a believable boy with strong character traits that belie his physical stature. Sean participated in the FBI Junior Special Agent program at school, where he learned many valuable lessons like: ask questions, follow the evidence, and that despite outward appearances, all things are not as they seem. Former (retired) FBI Special Agent Robert Malinowski said Sean “exemplifies the qualities that we see in our Junior Special Agents.”

You are obviously a dedicated public servant, Ann. How wonderful that you are able to bring all of your interests and passions together and showcase them through your writing! Thanks so much for being my guest today, and for your thoughtful answers to my (many) questions. My boys and I are currently reading HIDING CARLY together. We are all enjoying it so much, and will be excited to read the sequel!
Thank you, Becky, for having me. I have enjoyed being with you. And I am very happy that you and your boys are enjoying HIDING CARLY.
Ann’s book, HIDING CARLY, is available at online retailers, from the Peak City Publishing website, as well as major bookstores, such as Barnes and Noble and Books A Million. Book #2 in the series, FALLEN PREY, will be available on November 7, 2013!

Oct 11, 2013

POETRY FRIDAY: A Favorite Autumn Poem and WORDLE Fun

Thanks so much to Laura at Writing the World for Kids for hosting Poetry Friday today!
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Sometimes when I am researching something I’m working on, I stumble upon little gems of information that give me a deep down thrill. Today I wanted to share one of my all-time favorite poems, a short and sweet bit of poetry that I memorized long ago, written by British poet Eleanor Farjeon. Here it is:

Down, Down
By Eleanor Farjeon (1881-1965)
Down, down
Yellow and brown
The leaves are falling
Over the town.
Simple, but perfect.
Every autumn when I taught third grade, I’d carefully print these lines on chart paper and decorate the edges with colorful autumn leaves. Then I’d display it in my classroom, surrounded by garlands of fall leaves and a few strategically placed pumpkins (where we lived near Tampa, FL, this was sometimes all the “autumn” I saw!). There were other poems I used over the years, but this is the one I always came back to each fall.

Since I am always curious about the authors behind my favorite poems, I researched Eleanor Farjeon yesterday afternoon. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that she also wrote the words to one of my favorite hymns, “Morning Has Broken,” as well as a beautiful Advent carol titled “People, Look East!” Besides poetry, Ms. Farjeon also wrote novels, non-fiction, and children’s plays, and enjoyed a career that spanned 50 years.  Every year, an award in her honor is given by the Children’s Book Circle of Britain.
Here are the details of this award, from the CBC website:
The CBC is proud to host the annual Eleanor Farjeon Award, which recognises an outstanding contribution to the world of children’s books by an individual or organisation. Librarians, authors, publishers, teachers, reviewers and others who have given exceptional service to our industry are eligible for nomination. CBC members nominate suitable candidates and then vote for the winner. The award ceremony itself is an enjoyable evening, with the winner’s acceptance speech being a particular highlight.
I had not ever heard of this award, but what a wonderful memorial—there are so many people who are essential to the business of writing for children who deserved to be recognized!
One of the books by Ms. Farjeon that I am particularly interested in is her Tales from Chaucer: The Canterbury Tales Done in Prose (1930) which I ordered from Amazon yesterday. There are lots of prose translations of Chaucer out there, and I am eager to read this author’s version. (I have been reading and researching Chaucer lately, and am so excited to get this book—I have no idea where this “thought train” is headed, but I am enjoying the journey!)  
I also wanted to post an autumn poem of my own today, so when one of my sons showed me a fabulous website that he learned about at school, I had to share! Wordle is a unique website that generates “cloud poems” from word lists that you provide. Once you have entered your word choices, you can play around with and edit your creations. You can check out this great resource for writers, teachers, parents, and kids here.
Here is the autumn “cloud poem” that Will and I came up with:

Have a wonderful weekend, and Happy Writing! 

Oct 7, 2013


In today’s post I am participating in a blog tour! Thank you to Sandra Warren at Grateful Writer for inviting me to participate! Please be sure to check out Sandra’s blog—her picture book ARLIE THE ALLIGATOR is absolutely wonderful!

This weekend I realized that my friend Donna Earnhardt tapped me, as well! Thanks, Donna! Please stop by Donna's blog at WordWranglerNC and be sure to check out her fun, funny picture book, BEING FRANK!

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This was a lot of fun! Here are the questions and my answers:

1.     What are you working on right now?

I have several “balls in the air” right now. I am currently drafting the third book in my chapter book series. It is so much fun to get to spend time with my characters again! I am also knee deep in revisions—again—for the first book in the series. (No matter how much you’ve revised, you can *always* make your manuscript better!) I also have several picture books that I am working on, as well as a middle grade novel that is coming along very slowly.

2.     How does your chapter book series differ from other works in its genre?

The chapter book series I am working on focuses on an imaginative, spunky fourth grade girl named Glory who just happens to have an identical twin sister who is her total and complete opposite. The books and characters are fun and entertaining, but they also have a subtle educational twist that will fit nicely into the elementary curriculum (book #2 in the series focuses on different types of poetry, for example). I have also created a cast of characters that will appeal to both girls and boys. Writing about these kids is SO much fun!

3.     Why do you write what you do?

I have always wanted to be a children’s writer. Seriously, ALWAYS. Even in college, when I kept going back and forth between potential career choices, I always said, “but I will write books for kids, too!” Finally, during my early years of teaching third grade, I began to write seriously. A teacher friend and I started meeting every so often before school, and then I was able to really focus during the summers. When I became pregnant with twins and we moved from Florida to Texas, my writing went on vacation for awhile. After a year or two, though, I started writing again during naps and at night, and I haven’t stopped since.

I write what I do because I can’t NOT write for kids! Teaching, having children, and spending lots of time volunteering in schools has provided endless inspiration, and if I didn’t write, I think my brain would simply pop!

4.     How does your writing process work?

I set aside time each week for writing, and then I sit down and work on whatever is at the top of my to-do list for that week. It may not be the same exact time each week, but I do find time to write almost every day. This week my focus will be on revisions for book #3 and a specific picture book. My monthly in-person critique group meets this Friday morning, and I hope to have the picture book in good enough shape to take to our meeting.

My “big picture” writing process is a little more complicated. At any given time I have several projects going on, including some new magazine work I am delving into and my twice-weekly blog posts. I try very hard to strike a balance between the time I spend writing for my blog and the time I spend on writing and revising books, stories, etc. For “big picture” stuff I set goals and then work toward achieving those goals (for example, I aim to have revisions complete on the chapter book by Thanksgiving). Once a project is complete, I let it sit for several weeks and then revisit it and make any changes. Then I let my online critique group read it and make suggestions. This whole process may be repeated several times—as long as it takes for the manuscript to be as good as I can get it. Write, edit, repeat.
5.     Any departing words of wisdom for other writers?

Understand that no writer’s path is EVER the same as someone else’s. I know of authors who signed with an agent or editor on their first round of submissions, and I also know of authors whose first books weren’t published until they’d been writing for several decades. It can be disheartening to try and try and try with little success (trust me, I know!), but with perseverance and patience and a supportive writing community you WILL get through the rough spots!

Also, every serious writer should have a critique group or partner to run his or her work by. I know not everyone believes this, but it is so helpful to have a second (or third, fourth, or fifth) set of eyes review your writing for grammar, content, and structure. No matter how much we’ve perfected our work on our own, it can always be better! 

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Please visit the following fabulous children’s authors who have agreed to continue our blog tour next Monday, October 14:

Oct 4, 2013

POETRY FRIDAY: Diamante Poetry

Thanks to Doraine at Dori Reads for hosting Poetry Friday today!
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Diamante poetry is a relatively new poetic format that was developed by American poet Iris McClellan Tiedt in 1969. It has become a favorite with kids and teachers over the last few decades, and is called “diamante poetry” because it is written in the shape of a diamond.      

A diamante poem has seven lines, follows a specific formula, and does not have to rhyme. There are two main types of diamante poems, the synonym diamante and the antonym diamante, which I have shown below.
Synonym Diamante Poems
1 word: NOUN
3 words: VERB, VERB, VERB
3 words: VERB, VERB, VERB
1 word: another NOUN that renames the first noun in the poem

Cool, windy
Playing, learning, laughing
Pumpkins, hayrides, bonfires, apples
Shivering, trick-or-treating, snuggling
Spooky, fun

Antonym Diamante Poems
1 word: NOUN #1
2 words: ADJECTIVE, ADJECTIVE (describing NOUN #1)
3 words: VERB, VERB, VERB (related to NOUN #1)
4 words: NOUN, NOUN (related to NOUN #1)/NOUN, NOUN (related to NOUN #2)
3 words: VERB, VERB, VERB (related to NOUN #2)
2 words: ADJECTIVE, ADJECTIVE (describing NOUN #2)
1 word: NOUN #2—the opposite of the first noun in the poem

Tall, majestic
Climbing, working, achieving
Summit, peak, gorge, vale
Descending, lowering, cradling
Peaceful, safe

Take a few minutes today to write your own diamante poem, and please feel free to share in the comments below! Happy writing!