Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Have a wonderful holiday, everyone!

This is just a short post to wish all of my writer friends a very
Merry Christmas,
Happy Hanukah,
Happy Kwanza,
Happy Holidays, 
or whatever special holiday your family is celebrating this week!
I'm taking a short blog break but will be back in January.  
Have a beautiful December, and Happy Writing! 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

My Haiku is Featured in Michelle Heidenrich Barnes' HAIKU GARDEN

Happy Wednesday, everyone! This is just a short post to give a shout out to children's author and poet Michelle Heidenrich Barnes. Michelle was kind enough to invite me to participate in her Haiku Garden this month! I was thrilled to be asked, and had fun coming up with a special haiku for her blog.

Please stop by if you get a chance: Today's Little Ditty. Also, be sure to check out Michelle’s beautiful website here! Thanks again, Michelle!

Monday, December 16, 2013

BLOG TOUR: Ann Eisenstein, Author of FALLEN PREY (Book #2 in the SEAN GRAY, JUNIOR SPECIAL AGENT MYSTERY series)


Today I am excited to welcome MG and YA author Ann Eisenstein back to my blog. Ann was featured in October’s “Industry Spotlight” (you can read that interview here), and now she’s stopping by on her blog tour to promote her newest book, FALLEN PREY! 
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Hi Ann, and thanks for stopping by as part of your FALLEN PREY blog tour. Congratulations on your November 7th release! Please tell us a little about FALLEN PREY. 

FALLEN PREY is the second book in the SEAN GRAY, JUNIOR SPECIAL AGENT MYSTERY series. In this MG novel, Sean is in middle school, grappling with all that has to offer – a bigger school, more teachers, changing classes, and a lot of new kids. Some of whom will be his friends and some whom he cannot trust. He comes face to face with a dangerous situation right away in this story. One which holds a key that will unlock the new mystery that Sean must solve involving one of his new classmates. All the while, he deals with the trials – and yes, tribulations – from HIDING CARLY. (I won’t elaborate in case your readers have yet to read his first story!)
What was your inspiration for this book? Did you draw from any life experiences? 

My first inspiration was Sean Gray, himself. I had many people ask me if there would be a sequel to HIDING CARLY. They felt there were unanswered questions. Although I intended for HIDING CARLY to be a stand-alone book, I agreed – Sean had more to do. And then there was the FBI’s suggestion for a series. How could I not comply?

That said, as a child advocate, I am always concerned about the issues that face our kids today. And there is no better vehicle to reach children with these matters than through the eyes and voices of their peers. Though I am, as my friends say, a true techie, I am very worried about the dangers that the internet poses to innocent children.

My inspiration comes straight from the headlines and is fueled by my passion to educate, entertain, and empower kids. FALLEN PREY started out with the myriad of news stories about cyberbullying and cyberstalking. My research led me down another path. My interviews with FBI agents stoked my fire for this story. Because I write realistic contemporary fiction, my plotlines are derived from real life. Of course this story line was not from personal experience, but stemmed from a true situation that happened here in Columbia, SC.

I know you work tirelessly to promote your books and bring attention to important issues relating to child safety. Can you share with us how you have been able to weave your writing and community service together to develop such a strong platform as a Law Enforcement/Child Advocate author? 

I have always been an advocate for children, for their safety and well-being. I think that began back in my high school and college days, working with Operation Headstart, volunteering with Girl Scouts, and homeless children. I once told one of my professors that I cannot pass a child crying in the street without reaching out in some way to help. That is why I became a teacher and a child psychologist, working with children and their families, and their schools. Even after I retired from the Department of Juvenile Justice, I continued to mentor and be involved with young people. 

Writing for children has given me the opportunity to continue to advocate and serve children in a fresh and exciting way. The confluence of writing and child advocacy has opened up a whole new avenue for me. Because of the deep involvement of law enforcement in the SEAN GRAY, JUNIOR SPECIAL AGENT MYSTERY series, I have gone through the FBI Citizens Academy and the Richland County Sheriff’s Department Citizens Academy. Through this training, I have learned unique ways to serve and protect children. I have studied everything from Missing Children and Child Find/Identification to Gang Task Force, Internet Safety, Child Trafficking and more. I volunteer with the sheriff’s department – including the ride-a-longs. Not only do I conduct my research through real life experience, I bring a new dimension to service for children and families through this work.

So you are definitely in this career for much more than just the thrill of writing! As a parent, I want to say “thank you” for all of your advocacy work on behalf of children. There are so many important issues that you can explore when writing contemporary fiction for kids! When did you first know that you wanted to be a writer? 


That is always an interesting question, Becky. And it usually makes me think back to scribbling and drawing in the backs of the books in my dad’s library. That might have been a first clue. I was always a dreamer and had a fantastic imagination. My best friend and I would script plays and songs and choreograph dances (we were both tap dancers) and then perform for our families. I always fantasized in character and acted out parts. As a kid, I think I actually moved as if in script. Writing poetry was my first actual recognition of my desire to be a writer, though. But screenplays were always a dream. I have written the screen adaptation for HIDING CARLY. Still in the back of my mind – a SEAN GRAY, JUNIOR SPECIAL AGENT MYSTERY made for TV movie.

But now I am a full-time writer. I draw upon the education and experiences that I had before – teacher, psychologist, mentor, and consultant. And even though I still consider myself viable in all of those fields, I have come full cycle around to that toddler writing in a book. Only now, I get to sign my name to my own books!

I LOVE that answer, Ann! ☺ Just because I want to know, what kind of writer would you say you are—a “pantser” or a “plotter?”

I am both pantser and plotter. I grab an idea and let my imagination flow with it. Then I work things out in my head. This of course is powered by research. A lot of research. It’s like a giant mixing machine up in there! Then I write out my scene ideas & snippets on index cards, which I put on a giant board in my office and start to plan sequence and action - it’s a storyboard. But when I sit down to write – my characters take over and run with it all! They are the best storytellers after all. Sean likes to go and do his own thing!

I work in a very similar manner—I have to have structure, but I never want that structure to compromise my creativity. What is your editing process like?


With HIDING CARLY, I wrote the whole book before I edited. That might have been the best way to do it – or the most popular or accepted way. I had a lot of rewrites on that one. My beta reader and first editor was terrific - (Thanks, Susan Waites) – but hard on me! That’s a good thing, though, for sure. By the time it got to the publication stage and another editorial review, there were few changes, just some updating and mechanics to modify.  

FALLEN PREY was a different process. I edited as I wrote. Again, that same beta reader was tough on me – and I had to convince her to do a chapter at a time. But we worked closely together and this process worked very well. When I look at the “process” (all of the revisions) of the two books side by side – HIDING CARLY is housed in a big banker’s box and FALLEN PREY in a small shirt box. For me, paying close attention to the style and mechanics while writing and getting instant feedback as the story moved along was the best way.

That is great insight, Ann. Thanks so much for sharing! What is your favorite book about writing?

 

That is difficult because there are so many that I use. I would have to say BIRD BY BIRD by Anne Lamont, for the creative “let it flow” side of my writing, and SAVE THE CAT by Blake Snyder for the more mechanical – “here’s how to do it” writing.

These are both wonderful resources for writers! If you could give one single piece of advice to writers, what would it be?

 

Read. Read books in the genre for which you want to write. Read them for enjoyment, for entertainment, for education. Listen with your heart to the words and pictures. Learn from the authors that you love. 

What was your favorite book when you were growing up, and why?
 
When I was growing up I loved biographies – especially those about Davy Crockett, Daniel Boone and Abe Lincoln. I also loved mysteries – all of Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. But for some reason, my all-time favorite childhood (elementary school) book was HUCKLEBERRY FINN. I love coming of age stories. And the portrayal of Huck’s maturation and how he comes to grips with the world around him is heartwarming and exciting. The relationship between Huck and Jim fascinated me. Because it was not only a unique relationship in his time – between a young white boy and a black man – but it was true. For me, during my childhood, it was truly inspirational.

What are you reading right now?

I am currently reading several books. Never have just one! They are: QUIET KIDS by Christine Fonseca, COMFORT by Joyce Meyer Hostetter, ODETTE’S SECRETS by MaryAnn MacDonald, BETTER NATE THAN NEVER by Tim Federle, DOLL BONES by Holly Black, and ALL THE TRUTH THAT’S IN ME by Julie Berry. 

WOW! And I thought my “currently reading” pile was high! ☺ That is a truly impressive list, Ann! And now for a *very* important question: where can readers buy your books? 
 
HIDING CARLY
All major bookstores and online at:
Amazon
Barnes & Noble
Books-A-Million
Peak City Publishing

FALLEN PREY:
Soon to be available at all major bookstores and online at:

Also, both books are also available through Follett and Ingram. 

Thanks SO much for stopping by today, Ann, and best of luck as you promote your fabulous new book! 

Thank you, Becky, for having me! I have really enjoyed answering your questions!
 


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For more information about the amazing Ann Eisenstein, check out these links:

Web Site: www.anneisenstein.com


FB Author Page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Ann-E-Eisenstein/186470361389878?ref=ts


FB Character Page: Sean Gray JSA http://www.facebook.com/pages/Sean-Gray-JSA/163101783756931


Twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/@authorann


LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/pub/ann-eisenstein/9/814/964

Google+: https://plus.google.com/102596304940399130499?hl=en#me/posts


YouTube: Sean Gray, Junior Special Agent (JSA), Book One: Hiding Carly video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c5AoAbG5C84

Added December 30, 2013: Interview with Ann on Charleston's ABC Channel 4
http://www.abcnews4.com/video?clipId=9680791&autostart=true

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Minecraft, Virginia Tech’s Production of OPERAcraft, and what this all has to do with Writing for Kids

Over the weekend, my family and I made the 3-hour trek to Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg, Virginia, to see a live performance of OPERAcraft The Surface: A World Above, the first-ever opera developed around Minecraft. For readers who may not know, Minecraft is an online world-building game that allows players to create, explore, and defend virtual worlds made of blocks. (This is a simplified explanation that will surely not meet my boys’ approval, but there it is in a nutshell!☺)    

In a unique and creative meeting of the minds, faculty and students from the music and engineering departments at Virginia Tech collaborated with local high school students to create and perform a virtual opera. Here is a more detailed explanation from the creators of the project:
Starting with music borrowed from Mozart operas and a specific number of characters, the project inspires high school students to create a story and then the libretto (the opera’s “script”); create the virtual set through a custom version of ubiquitous Minecraft video game/sandbox; create avatars for each character; and control said avatars within the confines of the virtual world, including body gestures, lip-syncing with real singing soloists, as well as multiple real-time camera feeds akin to that of a live video production. The interactive set is projected on a scrim while Virginia Tech music majors sing the finalized score and the high school students control the character avatars.*   

To view the performance, press play or click here for a link that also includes comments from the creators. The first 12 minutes or so of this video is preshow feed, and the actual opera starts about 12 to 13 minutes in, so fast forward if you'd like. 

In contemplating this post, I considered whether or not this unique performance was at all related to the general subject of my blog—writing for children. (Obviously) I decided that YES, it certainly is; first of all, OPERAcraft was written and developed in collaboration with teenagers and for audiences of all ages, including children. Secondly, this performance did what the best material written for kids always does—it engaged its young audience. As a music lover and supporter of the creative arts, I was thrilled to see my two 11-year-old boys (and many others!) enthralled by an actual opera being performed by classically trained musicians. I am still marveling over this fact! Thirdly, this performance proved that “thinking outside of the box” can result in truly amazing things, and don’t we, as writers, need to stretch our creative muscles in different ways to produce our very best work?
I will add, in the spirit of full disclosure, that there have been *many* times when harmony has been disrupted at my house due to Minecraft. My sweet boys are borderline obsessed with the game, and strict computer limits have been put in place so that real life doesn’t become displaced by their virtual adventures. As in everything, moderation is key. Which brings me to the main reason why I welcomed an opportunity to watch this wonderful performance—it helped me to understand one of their passions in a way I haven’t before, and comprehend a bit better the draw that Minecraft has for my kids. It was just a bonus that a world-class opera was the facilitator of this understanding!  
Happy Writing!    
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*Special thanks to Virginia Tech University for granting permission to use material from their OPERAcraft program in this post. OPERAcraft was funded by the Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology at Virginia Tech; supported through the institute’s IMPACT studio; and presented in its stunning new facility. For more information about the Institute for Creativity, Art, and Technology, please click here.

Friday, December 6, 2013

POETRY FRIDAY: A Poem for St. Nicholas Day

Thanks to Robyn Hood Black for hosting Poetry Friday today!

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On December 6, many countries around the world celebrate St. Nicholas Day. This holiday is the traditional feast day of Saint Nicholas, a devout Christian who dedicated his life to serving the poor and helping those in need. He was also extremely generous and had a huge love of children. Sound like anyone we know?
On Saint Nicholas Day, children wake to find their shoes filled with sweets and small gifts, and in some countries December 6 is the main day to exchange gifts. 

In celebration of this fun holiday, here is a poem from HANS BRINKER, OR THE SILVER SKATES (published in 1865) by Mary Mapes Dodge.

A Song for St. Nicholas
by Mary Mapes Dodge (1831-1905)

Welcome, friend! St. Nicholas, welcome!
    Bring no rod for us to-night!
While our voices bid thee welcome,
    Every heart with joy is light.

    "Tell us every fault and failing;
    We will bear thy keenest railing
    So we sing:
    Thou wilt bring us everything!"

"Welcome, friend! St. Nicholas, welcome!
    Welcome to this merry band!
Happy children greet thee, welcome!
    Thou art gladdening all the land.

     "Fill each empty hand and basket;
     'Tis thy little ones who ask it.
     So we sing, so we sing:
     Thou wilt bring us everything!"

Happy St. Nicholas Day, and Happy Writing!

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For more information about Saint Nicholas Day, 
please visit the St. Nicholas Center's website here.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Young Reader Review: BUD, NOT BUDDY by Christopher Paul Curtis

My guest reviewer today is Harper, a fifth grader who enjoys fashion design, music, and—of course—reading!
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Hi Harper, and thanks so much for joining us today! What types of books do you enjoy reading?

I enjoy reading chapter books and middle grade books. I like a lot of different genres, especially historical fiction and historical fiction mysteries.

What is your favorite genre?

My favorite genre is hard to choose, but one of my favorites is mysteries.

I know it is hard to pick a favorite book of all time, but tell us about your current favorite.
Right now my favorite book is BUD, NOT BUDDY. It is called this because Bud’s mother told him not to let anyone call him Buddy. The author is Christopher Paul Curtis. In this book the main character’s mother dies and he goes to an orphanage. There are some special things that Bud saved, and these make him want to look for his father, so he escapes and starts looking for him. The book is set in the Great Depression. I like it because Bud never gives up, and I like his accent.

This is one I haven’t read yet—I will have to read it soon! What kinds of books would you like to read more of?
Christopher Paul Curtis wrote more books, and I would really like to read those.

If you could meet any author in the world, past or present, WHO would it be and WHY?

There are so many I would love to meet, but one is J.K. Rowling. Why? Because I like her HARRY POTTER series!

That is one of my favorite series, as well! What do you think it is important for authors to know about their readers?

I think that authors should know what age group they are writing for.

I’ve heard “know your audience” over and over again at writing conferences, so that is definitely great advice, Harper!  What kinds of stories do YOU enjoy writing?

I have never written a book, but if I do it will be a mystery or historical fiction.

Is there anything else you would like to share with us about books or reading?

BOOKS ARE AWESOME!

Well said, Harper! I agree 100%! ☺ Thanks again for your thoughtful review, and for taking the time to talk with us about BUD, NOT BUDDY. Happy Reading!