Three Books and an Embryo

MartianSettings can be characters. I sort of understood before, but finding three books with terrific place characters helps me really get it.

The Martian, written by Andy Weir and re-published by Crown in 2014, isn’t specifically for young adults. But I think that young men and science geeks of all genders will really get into it.

All signs show that astronaut Mark Watney, the narrator, died in an accident as he and the crew race to escape a Martian sandstorm before the MAV (Mars ascent vehicle) is blown over. Long story short—Mark isn’t dead. He must survive a contest with the hostile atmosphere of Mars. How would you deal with limited water, air, and food and no working communication system?

Otherworldly creature? Nope, we're not sure what, but its made from tree parts.

Otherworldly creature? Nope, we’re not sure what, but its made from tree parts.

Although I can’t claim to be a science geek, this novel had me on the edge of my chair promising to go for a walk in just a little bit . . . just a little bit more . . . ok, tomorrow. Talk about throwing one thing after another at your main character. The author must have had a great time figuring out what kind of problems Mark would face and what in, or out of, the world solutions could a person find.

Maybe "the creature" is a giant preying mantis?

Maybe “the creature” is a giant preying mantis?

Also, great voice—the book had me laughing and reading lines to my husband, who had finished the book the day before. (On top of that, he didn’t even mind hearing them for the second time.)

Warning to those of sensitive ears: four-letter words, but nothing that most kids wouldn’t have heard or that most of us wouldn’t use if we were in Mark’s situation.

Note to writers: This is one of those books we hear about. Author independently published in 2011. It was picked up by Crown and put out in 2014. It can happen!

Midnight Gulch, the town in A Snicker of Magic, written by Natalie Lloyd and just published by Scholastic, is a town drained of its magic . . . supposedly. I learned about this book at a recent SCBWI event, where it was mentioned by an excited editor as a great example of voice. It’s also a great example of a setting as a character.
Snicker
Felicity, the narrator, loves stories and collects words that only she sees. A Snicker of Magic has more than a snicker of wisdom for those of us who feel rescued by stories and/or are shy about saying what we’re thinking.

A snicker is just the right amount of magic in this book. Don’t expect wizards or witches on broomsticks. Instead you’ll find magic that just might be within our grasp.

I’ve read this wonderful middle grade story twice and found it even better the second time. There are a goodly number of characters. (I made a list on the second reading to keep track of the past and present relationships. If you want it,  let me know.)

We had our own Southern California magic this week--RAIN . . . finally, a little

We had our own Southern California magic this week–RAIN . . . finally, a little

And, fellow writers, pay attention to the voice. It’s engaging and practically perfect. There was only one three-word phrase in the book that didn’t feel right. Please let me know if you identify the same phrase and have the same response.
Green House
 Welcome to the Green House, a picture book poem written by Jane Yolen, gorgeously illustrated by Laura Regan, and published by The Putnam & Grosset Group in 1997, stars . . . the setting.

An epiphyte that grew from a small pot up into a tree. It's about 20 feet up. A plant you could see in the rain forest.

An epiphyte that grew from a small pot up into a tree. It’s about 20 feet up. A plant you could see in the rain forest.

The supporting cast consists of rain forest inhabitants. Good book to support environmental concerns and the love of beauty, both visual and spoken. Make sure you read the book aloud to get the full impact of the language.

And now—the continuing saga of the embryo book in a years-long pregnancy. (See the post of 3/14/14 on dealing with rejection for the beginning of this story.) Quick summary is that I received a critique of a story (one that has been rewritten and “polished” multiple times). The new critique brought up issues that no one had mentioned before.

The lower part of the epiphyte in the tree. It's growing around Mother Nature. A second epiphyte in the foreground has buds.

The lower part of the epiphyte in the tree. It’s growing around Mother Nature. A second epiphyte in the foreground has buds.

I rewrote the story using the one arc idea and liked the result. I asked a former writing teacher to read the new version. She didn’t agree with the recent critique and liked the previous version.

What’s a girl to do?

Go to ready-made focus groups, my critique groups, who are probably sick of the tinkering and multiple versions of these three pages.

The members of one group write for adults. They all liked the newest version best. The members of one of the groups that all write for children liked the older version best . . . with some elements from the newest version.

A bromeliad, another plant you could find in a rain forest. See how a little rain fuels my delusions?

A bromeliad, another plant you could find in a rain forest. See how a little rain fuels my delusions?

What’s a girl to do?

Rewrite the older version, submit it for the next round of critiquing, and be grateful for other writers who willingly read and give feedback until all the words are just right.

To quote my memory of an old song, “You’ve got to laugh a little, cry a little, let your poor heart sigh a little. That’s the story of, that’s the glory of love.”  And what’s a good story if not a story of love?

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Four Ways to Handle REJECTION! Without Chocolate

Drought tolerant plants in bloom

Drought tolerant plants in bloom

I’ve been thinking for awhile about how writers deal with rejection letters and about how grateful I am for some past rejections—how they forced me to grow as a writer, to improve my stories bit-by-bit, and to move closer to the emotional truth I want to communicate.

That’s what I was going to say the day before yesterday . . . and, actually, I will again someday . . . just not today.

I received an evaluation (not the first) of a picture book manuscript I’ve worked on for more years than I want to admit.

Any clues why this came out so blue?

Any clues why this came out so blue?

Yesterday I felt caught in professional opinions revolving in different directions. Do I truly need to take out what someone else (equally knowledgeable and professional) thought I should put in?

I feel bruised and in need of a whine—I have worked long and hard on this piece—and made my long-suffering husband read so many versions, his head is probably spinning too.

So here are the options:

Throw self on bed and kick. (Didn’t help.)

Choose to believe the reviewer didn’t know as much as the other readers who didn’t identify the same problems she did. Send the manuscript out as is.

Music to my ears

Music to my ears

Accept it’s time to pull up the big-girl panties, and face what she said. Rereading comments almost always helps me see them a bit differently.

On the plus side, she did say “ . . . illustrators (sic)* dream!” and “The imagery and simile is (sic) lovely,” and “You have such a nice way with language.”

When I think about the negatives, I can, after a day, see what she’s saying. The story is written with two arcs*. The important one, the one that conveys what I’m trying to say, is fine.

A weed in my garden!

A weed in my garden!

But the story that supports the telling of the main arc is weak. I didn’t think that second arc needed to have the same problem, tension, resolution as the first.

I guess it does. And she’s right, it will be difficult to do.
The reviewer did give me an out: simply take out that second story arc. Make the story shorter than it’s current 522 words. (Fewer words add up to a plus in picture books.)

I was sure my main character had spunk . . . but truthfully, she’s no Olivia (Ian Falconer’s character). Maybe I need to go deeper into my inner child?

My inner child clung to stories as to a life-line. She now wants to pay that forward with something both true and beautiful. But my scaredy-cat inner child wasn’t that great of a model for a character in a story that’s not about dealing with fearfulness. Her character needs to wait for a different story.

If this critique helps reach my goal, I will be grateful, but not until, at least, tomorrow or the day after that.

If "rocks" can bloom, I can handle a bit of constructive criticism.

If “rocks” can bloom, I can handle a bit of constructive criticism.

In the meantime, I’m thankful for the now-successful writers who share the number of rejections they accumulated. I’m not even close to those numbers yet so I’m not ready to exercise option 4) Give up.

*sic: A mistake in the original that the quoter is aware of but stays true to the original. In this case, tiny errors that do not confuse any issues.
*arc:  The curve of the story plot from presentation of the problem, rising tension, and resolution of the problem.

Ok, ok. Sometimes, like buds, stories need time to open.

Ok, ok. Sometimes, like buds, stories need time to open.

Note: If so desired, chocolate can be used in conjunction with any of the above options.

P.S. I’m getting some ideas . . .

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Freaks

One of the roles in the play is The Wall. Here is one actor's portrayal.

One of the roles in the play is The Wall. Here is one actor’s portrayal.

Did you ever see the play The Fantastics? In it, the female (adolescent) character says something like, “Please God, don’t let me be normal.”

We spend much of our adolescence, our lives, actually, trying to be just that—a normal, regular, part-of-the-gang kind of person.

Heart from Ellen

And yet, the stories that pull us into the deepest emotional waters concern misfits, freaks, and odd-balls. Maybe the stories about people with external “abnormalities” speak to internal parts of ourselves we often try to hide.

Freak the Mighty, written by Rodman Philbrick and published by Scholastic, Inc. in 1993, is a book my sister used with her mostly middle school students in an alternative classroom. She described these students as “beyond” reluctant readers. Every day they asked to read another section. She feels the book was a bridge to those kids on the periphery.

The story is told by Maxwell, a student in L.D. (learning disabled) classes. Max is much larger and stronger than his peers, and he bears a strong physical resemblance to his father, who is in prison for killing Maxwell’s mother.

Max starts his story with, “I never had a brain until Freak came along and let me borrow his for awhile, and that’s the truth, the whole truth. The unvanquished truth.”

FreakFreak is Kevin, a bright, imaginative kid, whose skeleton cannot keep up with the growth of his internal organs. But Kevin is ready to go on quests, slay dragons, and replace his defective body parts with robotics.

When Maxwell first puts Kevin on his shoulders and they run from school thugs, the two become Freak the Mighty.

That’s all I’ll say now, except, if you read the book, I suggest saving the dedication for last. If you read it first, it will just be a dedication. If you go back to it at the end, it will probably make you cry and wonder.

WonderWonder, written by R.J. Palacio and published by Knopf in 2012, starts and ends as August’s story. August was born with severe facial deformities. He is about to leave the protective nest of home-schooling and enter middle school. August has no illusions about how he appears to other people or even about how he would react if he was in another’s shoes. He’s had to learn to differentiate between real smiles and “shiny” smiles, between thoughtlessness and cruelty, between pity and real connection.

The story grows and morphs into the story of August’s older sister, Olivia, whose brother’s needs have always been more immediate and more demanding than her own; and the story of Summer, a girl at school who befriends August; and Jack, friend or fake; and Justin, Olivia’s new boyfriend; and others who must decide the kind of people they will be.

Heart-shaped rock with heart buttons

Heart-shaped rock with heart buttons

Heartache, ambivalence, growth, and love abound. It is no wonder that Wonder is a best seller.

These two books, written almost 20 years apart, are timeless, deeply-moving valentines to people who connect despite painful differences, who find their strength within what seems to be weakness. Isn’t that what we all want?

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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Happy New Year 2014!

Mama bear ornament

Mama bear ornament

At the beginning of December, I went to my favorite children’s bookstore, The Yellow Book Road, and asked the question I ask Ann every Christmas season, “Is there an especially touching Christmas book this year?”

Ann led me to several books—neither one specifically a Christmas book.

I looked for new children’s Christmas books at three other bookstores and found several  I liked and could visualize children enjoying.

So which books did I get?

I bought The Blessing Cup, written and illustrated

The Blessing Cup

The Blessing Cup

by Patricia Polacco and published this year by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. As in many of her books, Polacco writes about her family’s history. When her ancestors are forced to leave Tsarist Russia, the family carries a tea set that brings a blessing. Most of the set is left behind when they come to America. Only one china cup is left to pass through the generations.

The emotional and spiritual wealth of Polacco’s family is shared with people in the past and with us, her readers. The Blessing Cup was the first book Ann showed me.

Once Upon a MemoryI also promised myself the second book Ann showed me.

Then I found Once Upon a Memory, by Niria Lorden, illustrated by Reinata Liwsha, and published by Little, Brown, & Company in 2013 under our tree!
2013 Christmas Tree
This book simply asks a series of short questions. “Does a feather remember that it once was . . . a bird?”

Wait ‘til you read the wondering about what you will remember.

Once Upon a Memory can be read to the youngest children who are ready for stories and by the oldest of us. The Blessing Cup is an illustrated story (so longer and more complex than many picture books) that will be most suitable for elementary school-age children and up. I’m planning on reading The Blessing Cup to a group of adults next Monday.

Good news/bad news:  The hard cover edition of The Grizzly’s Christmas is sold out.
Linda and EmmyThe Grizzly's Christmas - Postcard (Rev. 1)
Good news:  The e-book is still available through Amazon. Even though Christmas is over for this year, the information sections of the book are multi-seasonal.

Bad news:  Another independent book store, The Open Door, had to close its doors as of 12/24/13. It was an establishment with a mission rooted in the love of books and readers. Just a reminder that if you also value independent book stores, support them with your business so they can continue to exist.

On this, the first day of 2014, I wish you a Happy New Year. May the best of your dreams come true!

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The Grizzly’s Christmas e-Book

The Grizzly's Christmas - Postcard (Rev. 1)Ann, Miranda, and I are excited to let you know The Grizzly’s Christmas e-book is here! Well, actually it’s there . . . on Amazon:  http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00GVHSDZU 

Since it’s newly up, you’ll probably have to put in “The Grizzly’s Christmas” by Malcolm F. Farmer if you’re just looking around on the site.

Irving, a grizzly, doesn’t know why St. Nicholas wants his help or why St. Nicholas thinks Irving has special powers. But by helping St. Nicholas, the grizzly regains a deep sense of himself and his importance to people.

The story is written for children as young as five or six and is designed to grow in meaning as a child matures. Notes about bear lore and ancient beliefs from many areas of North America, Europe, and Asia explain aspects of our long and complex relationship with these amazing creatures.

Please take a look and, if you read the book, please leave a review. Thank you! Thank you!

To read more about the book, go to the page under the Hundred Book Pile Up photo.

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Got Attitude?

Thankful for green and for plants = more green, more plants or at least more because I actually see them

Thankful for green and for plants = more green, more plants or at least more because I actually see them

My wise friend Ellen says that we get more of what we are thankful for. I think true thankfulness goes hand-in-hand with joy.

My Amazing Day, by Karin Fisher-Golton, Lori A. Cheung, and Elizabeth Iwamiya, is a board book for the youngest readers. Their goal is to teach very young children about gratitude through the transformation of the simple joys of Lily’s day into thankfulness.

The journey of this self-published book to my hands started with my sister-in-law sending m a link to a Kickstarter campaign:   http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1015918712/my-amazing-day-a-celebration-of-wonder-and-gratitu  Although the campaign is over, if you’re a writer contemplating self-publishing, take a look.
Amaz Day
The writer, photographer, and designer set out to raise an amount just under $10,000 to finance the printing of their book. Fisher-Golden, Cheung, and Iwamiya already had the product to show. They shot a video explaining and promoting the project, and they offered different rewards for different contribution levels. I liked what I saw and contributed enough to receive a copy of the book when it came out.

The book designer for The Grizzly’s Christmas talked about doing a similar campaign if weThe Grizzly's Christmas - Postcard (Rev. 1) decide to re-publish. My tech knowledge is pretty limited and I couldn’t quite grasp how this worked until I started following the progress of My Amazing Day. The trio sent periodic updates about the production stages. I learned the point at which you would start a campaign—you need more than just an idea; how to use different media to present your project, show you are willing to work, and connect as people.

What a statement of support to find others willing to make your dream a reality!

My Amazing Day is now in my hands. It’s lovely and loving. The first spread hooked me. “In the morning, I heard singing” with a photo of a bird are on the left side; and, on the right, a photo of the fourth collaborator, Lily, Elizabeth’s young daughter, sleeper-clad, hair-akimbo, eyes closed—asleep . . . with just a hint of a smile on her face.

The photos will make you smile. The words feel just right. I have long planned to send this book to the youngest nephew in the family. Now I’m wavering . . . but I will be strong and mail it.

You can find the book at  OurAmazingDays.com

A grand opening at our launch party—go to littlefreelibrary.org to find out more.

A grand opening at our launch party—go to littlefreelibrary.org to find out more.

Another book to celebrate thanksgiving without being a Thanksgiving book is Splat Says Thank You, words and illustrations by Rob Scotton, published by HarperCollins in 2012.

In this story, Splat’s friend, Seymour, is sick. Splat wants to make him smile, by thanking him for all the things Seymour has done to help Splat out of jams. Did I mention that Splat is a cat and Seymour is a mouse? The book and its illustrations are funny and truly convey thankfulness at the same time.

Back to Ellen’s words and an old book I’ve just started to reread, Love is Letting  Go of Fear, by Gerald G. Jampolsky, M.D., Celestial Arts, 1979. (Celestial Arts. Celestial Seasonings. The dawning of the Age of Aquarius. You remember. I don’t miss the bell-bottoms, but flowers in rifle barrels should never go out of style. But I digress . . .)
Love, Fear
One of Jampolsky’s lessons is “All that I give is given to myself.” When we are thankful, we get to relive the joy we first felt; we sustain the cycle of giving and receiving; we prolong our celebration. I used to tell my first graders if they can be happy for good things in a friend’s life, they get to be lots happier than if they are only experience happiness for the good things they get themselves.

So have a happy Thanksgivukkah, the first official time Thanksgiving and Hanukkah share the day. Don’t miss this unique celebration, since it won’t happen again for about 77,000 years.

Ann, Malcolm Farmer's wife, and I at her launch party

Ann, Malcolm Farmer’s wife, and I at her launch party

Meanwhile, Miranda, Ann, and I are thankful for the response to The Grizzly’s Christmas at our two launch parties. Thank you to all the friends who made those days so special. We are nearly sold out of our first edition. The e-book had hit several snags. I thought switching over was supposed to be a snap. Evidently not, but as of this afternoon, it looks like I’ll be able to let you know soon that it is available on Amazon.

P.S. Dear readers in Poland, thank you for reading my blog. I would love to hear from you. Please let me know what you are most interested in, and thanks again.

 

We served Grizz Fizz—cranberry juice, lemonade, and ginger ale with a Swedish salmon

We served Grizz Fizz—cranberry juice, lemonade, and ginger ale with a Swedish salmon

Miranda and I signing books at our party.

Miranda and I signing books at our party.

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Yikes! It’s Halloween!

 

The Grizzly's Christmas - Postcard (Rev. 1)

Please click on “The Grizzly’s Christmas” in the black bar above to find out more about the book.

 

 

Have you ever caught yourself looking at a signal light two blocks ahead and then realizing there’s a red light between your car and the light you’re looking at? If you haven’t, then I’m just embarrassed. But if you have, you’ll understand how my focus on The Grizzly’s Christmas caused a “Yikes! Halloween is a few days away!”

 

snake shadow

Notice the snake’s shadow.

 

batI quickly pulled out my rubber bats, plastic insects and other creepers, fake spider webbing, and a pruned tree branch, always good to have on hand. For good measure, and because a rubber snake needs to be used whenever the opportunity presents itself, I added a rattlesnake to the bottom of my “dead” tree.

Then it was time for to rush to the bookstore to look for new Halloween books.

Hlown '13, #2If you have a daughter who wants to be a ballerina, this is the year to get her a Halloween book starring a vampire ballerina or a zombie ballerina.

If you have a school-age child who is aggravated by a younger sibling, take a look at Vampire Baby, written by Kelly Bennett, illustrated by Paul Meisel, and published by Candlewick Press in 2013. Tootie bites, and her brother can’t convince their parents that she’s a vampire. He decides to take matters into is own hands. The book is funny; and, ultimately, family ties win.

Here are other books that I would so buy for my first graders . . . if I still had first graders.

Click, Clack, Boo! A Tricky Treat is by the team of Doreen Cronin and Betsy Levin, who wrote and illustrated Duck for President and Click, Clack, Moo. Long-suffering Farmer Brown takes to his bed in Halloween fear. Anyone who already knows his strong-willed farm animals will chuckle as they encounter these characters again.

As a long-time Bunnicula, and The Celery Stalks at Midnight fan, I couldn’t resist Creepy Carrots, written by Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Peter Brown, and published by Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers in 2012. The book is a Caldecott Honor Book. The black and white illustrations set off the few objects of carrot orange and help a child understand the jokes. Jasper Rabbit fears he is being followed by his favorite food. Are the carrots out for revenge?

C carrots

Not from the book, this is just an example of the color pallet.

A remark in Skeleton for Dinner, by Margery Cuyler, illustrated by Will Terry, and published by Albert Whitman & Co. in 2013, leads to a misunderstanding in the Amelia Bedelia tradition. Cute introduction to multiple meanings.

Do you remember Boris Karloff singing The Monster Mash? We, meaning my first graders and I, used to have a lot of fun reading/singing the song and doing the Transylvania Twist at this time of year. I wish, how I wish, David Catrow’s book of the same name (2012) that illustrates the song had been available then. What a hoot!

Ten Creepy Monsters is both written and illustrated by Corey F. Armstrong-Ellis and published by Abrams in 2012. The rhyming countdown from ten monsters to none is a fun journey. The ghost disappears when she blows away as mist in the wind. Each monster exits in a fitting manner until the last little twist. The illustrations are great and kids will love the rhythm and rhyme.teddy

Who would ever expect a dragon to be afraid of Halloween? Me and My Dragon: Scared of Halloween, by David Biedrzycki, another writer/illustrator, and published by  Charlesbridge in 2013, is another book that would have been fun to read with my kids. The illustrations add to the humor as a boy tries to find a way to help his big red dragon find a costume and lose his fear of Halloween monsters.

Have a happy and safe Halloween! If you want to read about more Halloween books go to the posts of 10/25/12 and 11/1/12.

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The Grizzly’s Christmas

The Grizzly's Christmas - Postcard (Rev. 1)The Grizzly’s Christmas has arrived! We are so excited about finally being able to hold it in our hands and see that the book matches our dream for it.

William A. Geiger, Professor of English, Whittier College, praised the book:  “Horace, the Roman writer, said that literature should delight and instruct. The Grizzly’s Christmas does both superbly. Irving, a grizzly from Idaho, is needed at the North Pole to help St. Nicholas deliver gifts, both material and immaterial, to children in many cultures. This beautifully illustrated story also relates the importance of bears in cultural beliefs and rituals.”

teddyThe story is appropriate for children as young as five years old. Its layers of meaning and bear track notes about folklore and traditional oral history allow this story to grow as a child grows.

Read it with a son or daughter or a grandchild.

So grab your teddy bear, click on The Grizzly’s Christmas page in the black bar above to learn more, and find out how to order.

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Interviews, Part Three: Add One Artist—Miranda Marks

Here I am at part three in The Grizzly’s Christmas, interviews. In this episode I discuss my friend, the book’s illustrator, Miranda Marks. She is a young, up-and-coming artist in San Diego. More important, she is a generous, gentle soul who has participated in this project with as much dedication as if she had known Malcolm. I had hoped she could be in the taping of this interview, but the science part of her life is demanding her attention right now.

Check out more of Miranda’s art at www.mirandamarksart.com

I love her crow and her trees and the whale and . . .

Let her know where you heard good things about her work!

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The Grizzly’s Christmas Part Two: Working With Malcolm Farmer

Rita’s questions last week got me thinking about story adaptations and why we retell the same stories. Indeed, my first thought about The Grizzly’s Christmas was that there are already plenty of stories about Santa and his sleigh. But the closer I looked, the richer the detail and depth. There were reasons, fascinating reasons, for every part of the story.

The process of adapting Malcolm Farmer’s story taught me so much about bears, about the human-bear connection, about Malcolm himself. This week’s interview segment is about Malcolm, his background, his interest in bears. He was a quietly kind and generous man whose story is grounded on his love for our hairy cousins.

Malcolm photoIn this segment I discuss the journey of working with Malcolm, first meeting him as a student at Whittier and then later being invited to adapt his book.

Part Two: Malcolm Farmer

If you knew Malcolm, I’d love to hear about your experiences as a student, colleague, or friend of his.

Next post, I’ll introduce you to Miranda Marks, the illustrator. You’ll be glad you get to become acquainted.

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