A Trip to the Maine Coast

1 11 2014

marcia-promo-final-close-upTo celebrate the start of a new month, I’m welcoming another friend with a book release, Marcia Strykowski. Marcia’s second book, AMY’S CHOICE, debuts today, so I invited her to tell a bit about herself and give some tips to aspiring as well as experienced writers.

So glad you could join us, Marcia. I have plenty of questions, so I hope you’ll settle back with a cup of tea and enjoy a long visit.
amychoice_front-smaller
Where are you from and how has that and/or where you have lived/visited influenced your work? I grew up in Massachusetts, but often traveled to Maine and New Hampshire. Most of my stories reflect my love for New England. Amy’s Choice definitely shows your love of the coastline. 🙂

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? Many things…from a ballerina to a puppeteer.

Marcia at 6

Marcia at age 6

When did you start writing? As a kid, I was always drawing little comic strips and making storybooks. And then in high school I was thrilled when they offered a new class called Children’s Literature. I also took creative writing classes whenever I could in college.

What advice do you wish you could give to your younger self? Don’t worry about the future, everything will fall into place. Or, as the old saying goes: Most of what you worry about will never happen. So very true!

What hobbies and interests do you have? I dabble in many things—mostly art, music, and crafts. For example, I love paper-cutting, such as wycinanki and scherenschnitte as the craft is called in Poland and Germany. Beautiful!
wycinankiRed - Copy

What made you write your novel? For Call Me Amy, strong memories of my grandparents’ home on the coast of Maine gave me a setting that needed a story. After that book was accepted for publication, there were still ideas I wanted to wrap up, so I continued to write her story in Amy’s Choice.

What is one thing you hope readers will take away from your book? To stand proud and be that special you and to know that everyone has a voice worth hearing.

Can you give us an idea of your writing process? Rather than outlining, I usually have a small story with a beginning and an end. From there I plump up all the middle chapters. I repeatedly polish until it’s a full-size manuscript. Unfortunately, I am not at all consistent with my writing schedule, rather, it comes in spurts with great gaps in between.

workspace 2 - Copy

Marcia’s writing space

Which authors have influenced your work? A collection of my favorite authors would include Harper Lee, L. M. Montgomery, Richard Peck, Katherine Paterson, M. M. Kaye, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Willa Cather.

Any tips for new writers? There is no one way to write. Many authors are long-winded and later they have to chop a lot of words. Others, like myself, write first drafts sparingly and then have go back in and plump everything up. Do what works for you.

Any tips for more experienced writers? Don’t give up and try not to submit your work until it’s as good as your favorite book.

Do you have any secrets/advice for dealing with rejection? It’s important not to take rejections personally. Writing is subjective and is really, after all, just ink on paper. Because someone doesn’t like your writing, it doesn’t mean they don’t like you.

What are you working on now? I’m working on a YA novel about a boy, Mateo, who lives in a big city and has a unique hobby. Hmm…can’t wait to find out what that hobby is!

If you had three wishes, what would you wish for? World peace, health, and food for all. 🙂

What super power do you wish you had? The ability to slow down time. Now that sounds like one I could use too.

Have you ever climbed into or out of a window? Definitely. Both. Both, huh? I won’t embarrass you by asking about the circumstances, but I must admit, I’m definitely curious.

If you could travel anywhere, where would you choose to go and why? Probably Scandinavia to find my roots. Ah, so that’s where your love of the sea came from as well. Will you find you’re descended from the Vikings, I wonder.

Did you experience anything new while researching your book? I attended a seal release at the University of New England. They have a Marine Animal Rehabilitation Center where they nurture orphaned baby harbor seals back to health and then when they’re strong enough, release them back to the ocean. Five pups who started out at about 15 pounds and now averaged 50 pounds were set free on a mild day in August. How wonderful to see the healthy pups swimming out to sea as nature intended.

seal four pic

Seals heading out to sea

Where can readers find out more about you?

Website/blog = http://www.marciastrykowski.com

Facebook = Marcia Strykowski

Twitter = MarciaStry

And here’s a blurb about Marcia’s latest book, Amy’s Choice, a sweet story that takes you back to the early ’70s,  followed by her booktrailer:

Amy’s freshman year starts with a new best friend, Cat, and a newfound confidence. But she misses her crush, Craig, who has gone to live with his aunt in Boston. Craig has promised to write, and Amy checks the mail daily, but to no avail. There are new adventures, even so. Cat’s brother, Ricky, seems interested in Amy, but is she interested in him? And a new friendship with Finn, the lighthouse keeper, who Amy discovers is a talented artist, keeps Amy and Cat busy as they arrange for him to exhibit his work. But things get complicated when Craig returns from Boston and Finn is accused of arson. There are more questions than answers for Amy as life becomes as turbulent as the cold and stormy ocean of her coastal Maine town. Ideal for preteens, this novel is the sequel to the critically acclaimed Call Me Amy and touches upon issues of friendship, boyfriend troubles, and the power of believing in oneself.

“Well-drawn, sympathetic characters and the developing spark between Amy and Craig combine to create a pleasant, satisfying read.”—Kirkus for Call Me Amy.





Halloween Madness: Little Dead Riding Hood

31 10 2014

Because it’s Halloween, I wanted to showcase something scary and literature-related. What could be better than announcing a friend’s new book called –yep, LITTLE DEAD RIDING HOOD? So welcome to Amie and Bethanie Borst, who agreed to talk about the book and share some of their secrets about how they came up with such a creative idea for their SCARY EVER LAUGHTER series, which also includes CINDERSKELLER and SNOW FRIGHT.

Oh, and be sure to read all the way to the end for a chance to win a free copy. Just enter your info in the Rafflecopter and maybe it’ll conjure up an autographed book just for you.

So take it away, Amie & Bethanie…

Thanks so much for inviting us to your blog, Laurie, as part of our tour for LITTLE DEAD RIDING HOOD! We’re glad to be here!

You know things are going to suck when you’re the new kid. But when you’re the new kid and a vampire… well, it bites!

Unlike most kids, Scarlet Small’s problems go far beyond just trying to fit in. She would settle for a normal life, but being twelve years old for an entire century is a real pain in the neck. Plus, her appetite for security guards, house pets and bloody toms (tomato juice) is out of control. So in order to keep their vampire-secret, her parents, Mort and Drac, resort to moving for the hundredth time, despite Scarlet being dead-set against it. Things couldn’t be worse at her new school, either. Not only does she have a strange skeleton-girl as a classmate, but a smelly werewolf is intent on revealing her secret. When she meets Granny—who fills her with cookies, goodies, and treats, and seems to understand her more than anyone—she’s sure things will be different. But with a fork-stabbing incident, a cherry pie massacre, and a town full of crazy people, Scarlet’s O-positive she’ll never live to see another undead day.
Not even her Vampire Rule Book can save her from the mess she’s in. Why can’t she ever just follow the rules?
Add Little Dead Riding Hood to your Goodreads to-read list here Purchase LDRH at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or your favorite Indie bookstore!
***
Bethanie was only 9 when she came up with the idea for our first book, CINDERSKELLA. She had written the title on a packet of paper and drawn a skeleton in a casket. I knew immediately that she was combining the Cinderella story with a skeleton. Images of Tim Burton’s THE CORPSE BRIDE came to mind, and it only felt natural to write the story as she intended it.
But that was the hard part. There weren’t a lot of monster stories in middle-grade novels. There were plenty of fairy tale retellings, but finding other comparable books was difficult. We knew that the story needed to have this paranormal element for it to work properly, so we went with it despite the odds!
Coming up with the series was easy at that point. We brainstormed cool monsters, our favorite fairy tales, and then tried to come up with ways to change their titles to reflect the monster element. LITTLE DEAD RIDING HOOD with her red cape just had to be a vampire.
Currently we’re working on book three, SNOW FRIGHT, where Snow White will be a zombie!
We hope middle-grade readers will love our paranormal/monster stories as much as we do. Hopefully they’ll find a laugh or two, as well!
About us:
Amie Borst is a PAL member of SCBWI. She believes in Unicorns, uses glitter whenever the opportunity arises, accessorizes in pink, and eats too much chocolate. 
Bethanie Borst is a spunky 14 year old who loves archery, long bike rides, and studying edible plant-life. She was only 9 when she came up with the idea for Cinderskella!
Little Dead Riding Hood is their second book in the Scarily Ever Laughter series. Their first book, Cinderskella, released in October 2013.
You can find them on facebook. Amie can be found on twitter, pinterest, and her blog***

We’re having two great giveaways as part of our blog tour! The first is for a copy of LITTLE DEAD RIDING HOOD! So be sure to enter the giveaway by following the steps on the rafflecopter form below.a Rafflecopter giveaway
THEN – as soon as you finish that, be sure to stop by my blog for a second contest! I’m having a SCAVENGER HUNT that you won’t want to miss with lots of extra great prizes! All you have to do is make sure you enter the contest below first then hopping over to my blog and filling out the rafflecopter form there! Super easy! Here’s the rafflecopter form for my blog just in case you missed it!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

See you soon!

Fingers crossed that YOU are the lucky winner.
And thanks so much, Amie and Bethanie




Turning History into Stories

1 10 2014

BRD CoverI’m honored to have award-winning historical fiction writer Bobbi Miller as my guest today. She and I have several connections that make this a special opportunity for me. We’re both graduates of Vermont College (yay!) and both are historical fiction writers. My most recent release, Grace and the Guiltless, was set in the Wild West, so Bobbi’s talk of the frontier is close to my heart.

Bobbi’s latest book is set in Gettysburg, and I lived a short distance from there when I was in high school. We’re both also busy with the booksignings, school visits, and conference talks that go along with our 2014 book releases, so I’m extremely grateful that she found time to write such an inspiring post.

So here’s Bobbie’s wonderful advice on using history to create stories:

Growing up in the American West, I was surrounded with the bigness of everything: big sky, big mountains, epic stories about larger than life individuals. I’m also a longtime student of American history. The Frontier is one of the most significant events in American history. It marked the edge of the civilized world. Beyond that edge was the rough and tumble place full of outlaws and pirates, fanciful and alien creatures, rivers of gold and prairie seas. It was a place and life full of possible imaginations, a near incomprehensible vastness of landscape, extraordinary fertility of the land and a variety of natural “peculiarities” that inspired a humor of extravagance and exaggeration. The frontier is ripe with stories. And what intrigued me the most were the stories about the little known or the forgotten or the unexpected.

A good story makes history personal. History isn’t dull or dry, as textbooks would have us believe. It isn’t a list of dates and names, like a shopping list that no one remembers once the task is complete. History is real and relevant. The study of history, in essence, is a way of making sense of the present. As David McCullough once said, in one of my favorite quotes, “We are raising a generation of young Americans who are by-and-large historically illiterate. [But] there is literature in history.”  History enlarges our understanding of the human experience, suggests Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, and as such, it needs to include the “stories that dismay as well as inspire.”

And there is no more powerful story to tell than that of the American Civil War.GIRLS

As I was researching another book, I came across a small newspaper article dated from 1863. It told of a Union soldier on burial duty, following the Battle at Gettysburg, coming upon a shocking find: the body of a female Confederate soldier. It was shocking because she was disguised as a boy. At the time, everyone believed that girls were not strong enough to do any soldiering; they were too weak, too pure, too pious to be around roughhousing boys. It was against the law for girls to enlist. This girl carried no papers, so he could not identify her. She was buried in an unmarked grave. A Union general noted her presence at the bottom of his report, stating “one female (private) in rebel uniform.” The note became her epitaph. I decided I was going to write her story.

Researching this story was a daunting task because no other battle has been studied so thoroughly. I read A LOT to get these facts right. But then, there’s the emotional truth, the story behind the facts. This is the heart that belongs to Annie’s story. Historical fiction makes the facts matter to the reader. For me, the only way to discover this emotional truth was to walk the battlefield of Gettysburg, and witness that landscape where my characters lived over one hundred and fifty years ago. I walked the battlefield and talked to re-enactors and the park rangers.

I studied with the master storyteller Eric Kimmel while a graduate student at Simmons College. That tutelage continued while I was a student at VCFA, when he became my advisor. He remains to this day my Master Guru, as I call him. And, I am so very lucky and honored to call him one of my best personal friends. Likewise, I studied with Marion Dane Bauer, whose stories remain some of my all-time favorites, and I couldn’t have asked for a better teacher to show me how to find the heart of a character, or the soul of a story. The key to writing Girls of Gettysburg was finding the soul and voice to each of my three main characters.

As I began to piece the story together, I took notes. I am a great fan of purple and pink post-its. I also like anything neon colored! I outlined everything. I wrote my first drafts in longhand. I find the relationship between pen and paper much more intimate, and demands me to go deeper into the character. Then, I transferred the story to the computer. But even as I edited the manuscript, I had to print the story out, and work with pen and paper again. I use recycled paper, to be sure!

But as we know, stories tend to be organic, and sometimes outlines, research, and all the “great plans of mice and men” need to be tossed as characters take over. In which case, I tag along for the ride. Even in historical fiction, with its challenging blend of story and fact, It’s as much about story-building as it is about story-creating. Mollie Hunter explores this process in her book Talent is Not Enough in which she offers: “The child that was myself was born with a little talent, and I have worked hard, hard, hard to shape it. Yet even this could not have made me a writer, for there is no book that can tell anything worth saying unless life itself has first said it to the person who conceived that book. A philosophy has to be hammered out, a mind shaped, a spirit tempered. This is true for all of the craft. It is the basic process which must happen before literature can be created.”

CABIN

Bobbi’s cabin

Storytelling is the oldest invitation to the human experience. Stories have been told for over 100,000 years by every culture in the history of the planet. Not all cultures had a written language or codified laws, but all used stories to frame their cultural experience, history, and rituals. Heroes and heroines, like all aspects of story and myth, answered a basic human need: to explain the unexplainable. And we writers, like those ancient storytellers, are the keepers and the tellers of those “sacred” stories. Such stories do not always have a ”happily ever after.” The best stories, in fact, reflect the whole human experience. And the resolution comes because the protagonist’s choices are made when life no longer fits into her definition. Such heroines are then free to be who they need to be, and such stories empower the adolescent reader to seek, and ultimately discover, the heroine within herself.

At least, I hope my stories do.

Yes, they do! Thanks for sharing your inspiration, Bobbi! BTW, I see that your home reflects your love of the historical.

Here’s where you can find out more about Bobbi, her writing process, and her wonderful stories:

Please visit my website for more information about me and my books at: http://www.bobbimillerbooks.com/

For more about my research process, see my discussion at Donna Marie’s Peace and Poetry: http://donnamariemerritt.wordpress.com/2014/07/24/bobbi-miller-folklore-artist-extraordinaire/

Also see my discussion on Historical Fiction at Yvonne Ventresca’s blog, http://www.yvonneventresca.com/1/previous/2.html)

Holiday House, my publisher, lists where you can buy the book here: http://www.holidayhouse.com/title_display.php?ISBN=9780823431632
And I couldn’t resist adding this fun Lego promotion created for Bobbi’s book release:
LEGO Girls photo





Courting the Muse

20 06 2014

girl in chiffonMany people long to be writers; few follow through. In every writers’ group, you’ll find that often it’s not the most talented writers who get published, but the most persistent. This persistence doesn’t only apply to submitting work, it also applies to showing up at the page. Recently I was pondering this as I signed books at BEA and met CPs and fellow SCBWI members who were also signing. How did we, out of the many writers we know, end up with published books while other more talented friends have yet to achieve publication? It obviously had little to do with talent. The writers I have in mind have plenty of talent. The only secret ingredients I could find were persistence, dedication, and determination.

The published authors I know have one thing in common — they show up at the page. They don’t wait for the muse to strike, they go to her (or him). They write often, usually daily. They’re disciplined. That “D” words sounds so anti-creative, so structured, so boxed in. It seems antithetical to the word all writers dream of: FLOW. heart

Then I ran across this quote by Mary Oliver in A Poetry Handbook and realized she’d put that truth into words. She compared writing to a love affair between the heart and the practical, learned skills of the conscious mind. So many writers wait for the heart, the creativity, the muse to direct their pens, but in truth, the conscious mind must initiate the courtship. As Oliver says:

[The muse] learns quickly what sort of courtship it is going to be, Say you promise to be at your desk in the evenings, from seven to nine. It waits, it watches. If you are reliably there, it begins to show itself–soon it begins to arrive when you do. But if you are only there sometimes and are frequently late or inattentive, it will appear fleetingly, or it will not appear at all.

She values this act of being present at the page more highly than technique. And I agree. Only those who prove they are dependable lovers will find their shy, reluctant muse waiting to greet them. How do you court your muse?





Are Your Goals a Piece of Cake?

12 04 2014

As a former cake decorator, I love Dana Carey’s comparison of goals to CAKE! Who wouldn’t want to eat this delicious cake layer by layer?

The Monthly Goalpost for April.





Writing Process Blog Tour

7 04 2014

Module One cover

Texas writer and illustrator Mark Mitchell, known for his wonderful watercolors and many picture books, invited me to join this writing process blog tour. I’ve been lucky to be part of his online class Make your Splashes – Make your Marks. Mark wrote about his own process on his blog.

I’m also fascinated by the history of this blog tour, which spans continents, so I traced my invitation back a few links. Akiko White, the winner of the 2014 Tomie dePaola award for her illustrations made out of cake (yes, they’re awesome and delicious), tagged Mark. And she had been tagged by Australian award-winning author Christopher Cheng, who put together the wonderful PAL slide show for SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair, and I appreciated the opportunity to participate in that.

Now after that lengthy introduction, I’m ready to answer the questions they posed:

1.) What are you working on?

WANTED: Book 4

WANTED: Book 4

At the moment, I’m finishing two books to turn in to editors this week. I’m working on the final chapters of Grace Avenged, Book 4 in the WANTED series, which will be coming out in December 2014 in the UK. Book 1, Grace and the Guiltless, released in February in the UK. (Books 3 and 4 will be coming out there in May and August.) The series will also release in the US with different covers beginning in August under Capstone’s new Switch Press imprint.

Final edits are also due this week on Cyber Self-Defense, a book I’m cowriting with international cybercrime expert Alexis Moore. That will be coming out in October 2014 from Lyon’s Press.

Cyber Self Defense book cover

October 2014

I’m also editing a picture book to turn in to my agent as well as developing a chapter book series while taking a class with Hillary Homzie and Mira Reisberg. And Alexis Moore and I are working on two more nonfiction books together along with a picture books series.

Of course, all these projects are only the tip of the iceberg. I also have a quite a few other projects in various stages of completion and many more submerged underwater in my subconscious. And that doesn’t count all the books I’m editing for others.

2.) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I write in so many different genres that it’s hard to compare my work to others’. I have picture books (fiction and nonfiction), chapter books, middle grade novels, YA novels and nonfiction, NA nonfiction, adult nonfiction and fiction, along with short stories and articles for both children and adults. I’ve also had a few illustration projects and hope to do more of those. I’m in my 3rd year in Hollins University’s Picture Book Writing & Illustrating MFA.

Book 1 ~ US edition

Book 1 ~ US edition

3.) Why do I write what I do?

The main reason I write is because I love to learn and explore new things. I get excited about sharing my knowledge with others, and writing is a wonderful way to do that. When I come across a new idea, I ask: Who would be interested in this? The answer is almost always a different age group, which is why I’ve written for so many age levels.

I also believe that writing is a form of self-discovery; it helps us understand not only ourselves, but also others. It keeps us from taking things for granted, teaches us to look beneath the surface, and reveals the beauty in everything.

Writing also keeps alive the wonder and awe of childhood. To me, there’s something magical about creating new worlds and peopling them with characters I’ve imagined. Children still believe in that magic, so I’m most drawn to writing for them.

4.) How does my writing (or writing with pictures/illustrating) process work?

I used to wait for the muse to strike, but now I’ve learned that if you sit down expecting to write, the words will come. With all my deadlines (5 books in the past 7 months), I don’t have the luxury of waiting for words to come, so right before I go to bed, I read over the notes of what I plan to write the next day or I pose a problem if I’m not sure what should come next. Then I go to sleep and let my mind arrange the words or solve the problem. When I wake up, I write. My best writing is usually done right after waking or late at night (from 1-3 a.m. is my sweet spot).

I’ve trained myself that the minute I sit down to write, my mind is ready. I don’t need rituals or to spend time agonizing over what I should write, I just do it. Not everything that goes down on the page is good writing, but you can’t revise what isn’t there.

I’m halfway between a pantser and a plotter. I need more of an outline for nonfiction, but when I write fiction, my process almost always begins with a vision of a story opening and a dramatic ending. I usually also see key scenes in my head. I jot them down or just remember them. I use those as mile markers along the way. Then when I write, I record whatever scene is most vivid in my mind. I don’t think I’ve ever written a book linearly. I write bits and pieces here and there.

Once I have all the key scenes down, I work on tying them together. I usually dread this part of the process because I always go in thinking I’ll have to put in boring transitions, but almost always my characters surprise me by doing something unexpected, so it ends up being more fun than I anticipated.

Another important piece of my process is running my work by my critique groups. I find letting others read my work and offer their opinions and suggestions greatly improves anything I write.

I’ve tagged three awesome writers who will share their processes on their blogs next Monday:

Joan Holub‘s new trucky, constructiony picture book is Mighty Dads (illustrated by James Dean, creator of Pete the Cat). Her picture book Little Red Writing (illustrated by Melissa Sweet) garnered 3 starred reviews and spots on many Best Of lists. She co-authors 3 series with Suzanne Williams: Goddess Girls, Grimmtastic Girls, and Heroes In Training. Find out more about Joan and all her other fantastic books at her website and on Facebook and Twitter.

Mighty Dads book trailer

 

Judith Tewes resides in small town Alberta and is a commercial writer writing under several pen names. MY SOON-TO-BE SEX LIFE launches with Bloomsbury Spark in June. As Judith Graves she has a recent release cowritten with Dawn Dalton, KILLER’S INSTINCT, a monster-hunter tale with loads of action.

 
 

 

Army wife, author, and new mom Tracy E. Banghart has an MA in Publishing and an obsession with cupcakes. She has written and published three novels for young adults; her latest, SHATTERED VEIL, a sci-fi adventure, just received a starred review from Publishers Weekly and 4.5 stars from IndieReader.

 

shattered veil front





Spells & Spies

10 03 2014

photo PatriceI love it when I see authors using creativity to hook readers. Had to smile at Patrice Lyle’s preparations for her Skype visit with a school.

With her Spells & Spies sign in the background and crystal ball in hand, she was ready to discuss her tween mystery in the Poison Ivy series, The Case of the Invisible Witch. Other props included items from her paranormal collection (the figure she used to inspire the series) and surprise visits from two of her three cats.

She also gave the schools a pdf with discussion questions (authored by Mary Helen Sheriff, along with some great Common Core activities)and writing prompts as well as tidbits of interesting information about herself, such as the fact that her father was a detective and she used to snoop in his files. That’s how she learned so much about solving mysteries.

And just to clarify, the pink room is her writing room, not her daughter’s bedroom, as one student guessed.

Interested in a Skype visit with Patrice? You can contact her through her website. Learn more about her at her Leap Books author page or Twitter (@Patrice_Lyle).

Poison Ivy Cover

Poison Ivy Cover

ABOUT THE BOOK

Thirteen-year-old Tulip Bonnaire, Witch PI, runs Spells & Spies out of her dorm room at Poison Ivy Charm School, a school for polite witches and warlocks. She has only 72 hours to figure out her latest case, or her classmate, Missy, will never be seen again. Literally.

When Missy shows up in Tulip’s dorm room around midnight, she’s invisible. As in not even x-ray vision could spot her. The mean triplets who call themselves The Belles have cast an invisibility spell on poor Missy. But if Tulip can’t break the spell in 72 hours, Missy will remain invisible forever.

It’s a case Tulip can’t resist — between her mom’s annoying new boyfriend and her own secret crush at school, Tulip understands how much it stinks to feel invisible. Luckily for Tulip, her two best friends and her cute, techy guy friend help dig up clues on a case that turns out to be her freakiest one ever.