Crayons—Promises of Proficiency

I’ve written about crayons before. Like here.

Crayons fascinate me, particularly the box of sixty-four. What an array of colors! When I was a kid, a big box of crayons made me fit for any task—whether I needed to color a page in a coloring book or make my own illustrations on a blank piece of paper. Each crayon in my hand was a promise that I could make things happen. Back then, I never doubted that I could.

 

These days, I don’t use crayons as much as I once did. And some days, doubts creep in that I’m fit for the task. The bane of adulthood. Ever been there? On days when I doubt my proficiency, I think I know what to do instead: open my box of crayons and remember the promise.

Andy of City Jackdaw, here’s a promise: you will see a copy of Charles Yallowitz’s book, War of Nytefall: Eradication on your Kindle device! Please comment below to confirm.

Book cover courtesy of Charles Yallowitz. Photos by L. Marie.

Nostalgia

Happy Martin Luther King Day! He had a dream. What’s yours? As you think about that, I’ll move on.

Lately, characters from past television series have been making the news because of their return to the silver screen. Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart, below). Lizzie McGuire. The cast of Saved by the Bell and Full House. Not to mention MacGuyver, in a show rebooted awhile ago. I’m just waiting for an announcement about a Columbo reboot, though I can’t imagine the show without the late, great Peter Falk.

Nostalgia has been the catalyst for the return of many film franchises, shows, toys, and candy. This is probably why you can see so many old favorites from the past (toys, candy, TV shows on DVD) at the gift shops of restaurants like Cracker Barrel or specialty shops.

As I read Shari Swanson’s picture book, Honey, the Dog Who Saved Abe Lincoln (Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins), which we discuss here, I felt a sense of nostalgia watching young Abe exploring the woods near his home. He had a lot more freedom than most kids his age do nowadays. So did I. When I was eight (a year older than Abe is in the story) and was given my first bike, I would tell Mom, “I’m off,” and would be gone for hours, riding around the neighborhood. Even with T-Rexes still roaming the earth back then (totally dating myself), I had the freedom to go off with just a friend who was my age.

    

Lest you think, What awful parents, this was the norm back then. Starting in kindergarten, my best friend and I walked to school without hovering parents. And I lived in a neighborhood in Chicago!

My parents had taught my brothers and me to always look both ways while crossing the street, as well as teaching us “Stranger Danger” stuff, like never talk to strangers or accept anything from them. Even with all of that freedom, I survived childhood. (Spoiler alert in case you wondered.)

Nowadays parents would probably be arrested for the amount of freedom my parents and Abe’s parents allowed kids. Sadly, we live in a world where many parents have to go the extra mile to keep their children safe. I hardly ever see kids out by themselves, with the exception of my neighbors’ kids. But I know their parents are just a shout away.

So I’m nostalgic for the times when I was free to roam without fear. If I had a dream, in the vein of Martin Luther King, Jr., my dream would be for a world in which children could do the same.

The winner of Honey, the Dog Who Saved Abe Lincoln is Lyn!

Lyn, please comment below to confirm. Thank you to all who commented on the interview post.

What makes you feel nostalgic?

Patrick Stewart photo from The Daily Telegraph. Dream image from clipart-library.com. Martin Luther King, Jr. image from wallpapersin4k.org. Candy from 4imprint.com.

Check This Out: Honey, the Dog Who Saved Abe Lincoln

With me on the blog today is the fabulous Shari Swanson (another great Secret Gardener classmate; for others, click here and here), who is here to talk about her picture book, Honey, the Dog Who Saved Abe Lincoln, which was published by Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins and debuts today, people! Woot!

     

Shari is represented by John Rudolph. After Shari and I chat, I’ll fill you in on a giveaway of this very book. Now, let’s talk to Shari!

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Shari: My favorite color is periwinkle. Actually, periwinkle is a favorite word, too. Perhaps I’ll write a book about Mr. Perry Winkle and his Phantasmagoric Adventures Through Color. (Dibs. 😀)


• I love games, all sorts—puzzles, mysteries, board games, sports, hiding pictures, and treasure hunting.
• I have a beloved dog named Honey, not, surprisingly, named after Abraham Lincoln’s dog.
• I love words—etymologies, derivations, roots, cadence, sound, rhyme—everything about words. When I was in high school, I read All About Words by Maxwell Nurnberg and Morris Rosenblum while suntanning on the beach. One of my favorite courses in college was linguistics.

El Space: How did you come to write this picture book about a dog and Abraham Lincoln? How long was the process of writing the book?
Shari: When I was teaching middle school literature early this millennia, we read about Abraham Lincoln’s early years from an excerpt of Russell Freedman’s book on Lincoln. It was fascinating. I hadn’t ever heard about Lincoln’s Kentucky years and wanted to know more. I thought perhaps children would like to read about Lincoln when he was their age. I had the pleasure of meeting the late Russell Freedman at an SCBWI conference in 2006 and told him how much I wanted to write a picture book expanding on those details from his book. With tears in his eyes, he encouraged me and told me what a wonderful picture book that would be. When I was deep in that research, I discovered Honey. Honey had saved Lincoln’s life! What would the world be like if we hadn’t had Abraham Lincoln? Honey was an unknown hero. Honey, I thought, would make a wonderful picture book. And then I set off to write that story. The first draft of my book was written when I was doing the picture book semester at VCFA, back in 2011. I sold it in 2016, and now it is finally in the world!

El Space: How did you get started writing picture books?
Shari: I’m not sure there is an easy answer to this. I’ve always loved picture books. But I didn’t always understand that I could write them. Somewhere along the line, I realized that you don’t have to be a master artist to write a picture book, and that made me think maybe I could try it. I took a course in picture books at UCLA Extension way back in the early 1990s, I think, so it’s been a lifelong dream. I enrolled in the picture book semester when I was at VCFA with Julie Larios, and a workshop just prior to that with Julie and Uma Krishnaswami. That six months was maybe my favorite in my entire education as it was so filled with play and words and sheer delight.

El Space: How much input did you have with the illustrator? What was your reaction to seeing the illustrations?
Shari: Every picture book author/illustrator interaction is probably different. My editor, Maria Barbo at HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen books, was wonderful at taking my thoughts and opinions into account at each stage of the process. First, she asked me if I had an illustrator in mind to suggest. That inquiry sent me on a delightful tour through bookstores and libraries, trying to find artists that had the right feel for Honey. When she suggested Chuck Groenink, she sent me links to his portfolio. [Click here for a post about Chuck and his process on another picture book.] We both loved his work, especially his use of light in dark scenes, a skill that would be important for the cavern scenes in Honey. Seeing Chuck’s first drafts for Honey was a highlight of my life. Right there in my hands was this charming beautifully-realized art bringing my words to life. As we moved forward, I had the ability at every stage to offer my thoughts. One suggestion that I am thrilled Chuck incorporated was adding more detail to the forest scenes. I wanted the readers to feel just how distracting the woods were, with all the sounds and animals, and have the reader be literally distracted by the detail on the page just as young Abe was distracted on his journey.

El Space: What picture books have inspired you as a kid? As an adult?
Shari: As a child, I loved Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, A Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats, Are You My Mother, by P. D. Eastman, and all things Dr. Seuss. As an adult, I love picture books that are poetic and musical; those that have wildly creative art, perhaps looking at things from unusual perspectives, and those that celebrate characters who are not stereotypic.

     

El Space: Any advice for would-be picture book writers? What do you think a twenty-first century kid needs to see in a picture book?
Shari: My best advice it to read your work out loud. Notice where the pauses and awkward phrasings are so you can fix them. I also think it is hugely important to make a picture book dummy, eight sheets of paper folded in half to make 32 pages, and block out your story. Where are the breaks? Are there interesting page turns? Is there something that is illustratible on each page? Finally, don’t give up. Take the time to create as often as you can. The joy is in the journey. I’m not sure what a modern kid needs to see in a picture book. I hope in Honey, a modern reader can both identify with young Abe—his distractedness, his love for animals, his desire to help—and think about the differences, too, like how Abe walked miles alone through a wild dangerous forest, so that the book is both timeless and grounded in its time.

El Space: What will you work on next?
Shari: I have several more works in progress, but the one getting my immediate attention is a non-fiction picture book, another heartwarming story of an animal/human interaction, this one from WWII.

Thanks, Shari, for being my guest!

Looking for Shari? Look no further than her website, Twitter, or Pinterest.

Looking for Honey, the Dog Who Saved Abe Lincoln? Check out your local bookstore, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Indiebound.

One of you will receive a copy of Honey, the Dog Who Saved Abe Lincoln in your very own mailbox. Just comment below! Winner to be revealed January 20, 2020.

The first meeting of the picture book club almost ended in a fistfight. While Lazy Buns and the Squeezamal agreed that Honey, the Dog Who Saved Abe Lincoln, is a great book, they disagreed on the refreshments, or the lack thereof. “It was your job to bring tea with honey for us to share!” the Squeezamal grumbled, Lazy Buns having only remembered to bring herself a cup of coffee.

Author photo by Christie Lane Photography. Book covers, with the exception of Shari’s book, are from Goodreads. Periwinkle flower from Wikipedia. Book storyboard from somewhere on the internet. Other photo by L. Marie. Squeezamals are a product of Beverly Hills Teddy Bear Company. Lazy Buns is a Pop Hair Pet, a product of MGA Entertainment.

The Gift of Story


When I was a kid, I learned to value stories. My parents read books to me at bedtime, which made me want to read stories for myself. Many of the stories they read were fairy tales or fantastical adventures written by Dr Seuss. As soon as I learned to read, I read just about everything—fiction and nonfiction. I had (and still have) an insatiable curiosity for the stories of others. Sharing stories is the main reason why I love to give books away.

  

I love being taken on an adventure through the pages of a book. So many aspects of life are stressful these days, so I value more and more the stories I read and the characters I grow to care about. My favorite time of day is the time I can spend with a book, watching the workaday world fade away beyond the edges of the pages in front of me.

So without further ado, here are the winners of the books for the Christmas giveaways, which were announced in this post and this one:

The winner of Love, God, and Mexican Pastries is Nancy Hatch!

The winner of Up for Air is Laura Bruno Lilly!


The winner of The Art of Breaking Things Is Nicki!


The winner of A Time Traveler’s Theory of Relativity is Marian!

Winners, please comment below to confirm. Happy reading! And thank you to all who commented!

Christmas giveaway image from thefrontporchgourmet. Book stack from blogs.mtu.edu. Books covers (with the exception of those being given away) from Goodreads.

Deck the Halls for 2019

Back when I was in grad school (VCFA), each new class had the assignment of choosing a class name. Usually these names had something to do with books or writing. My class chose the Secret Gardeners based on the book The Secret Garden.

With that being said, this is the second of two holiday season book giveaways (the first described in this post), this time featuring three more awesome Secret Gardener classmates: Laurie Morrison, Laura Sibson, and Nicole Valentine, all of whom stopped by for a brief chat today. Though they appeared on the blog here, here, and here to discuss their novels, and copies were given away before, another copy of each book will be given away this time. ’Tis the season!

 

 

   

Click here for the synopsis for Up for Air.
Click here for the synopsis for The Art of Breaking Things.
Click here for the synopsis for A Time Traveler’s Theory of Relativity.

El Space: What’s the best Christmas gift you received when you were a kid? Why was it special for you?

Laurie: The best Christmas gift I ever got was kittens! When I was eight or nine, my parents brought home two tiny, adorable kittens. My brothers and I were completely surprised. We had no idea our parents were even considering getting pets even though we had asked. We loved figuring out names for them—we went with Christmas and Mistletoe and called them Chrissy and Missy for short—and holding them. One of them disappeared on Christmas Day, and it turned out she was hiding in a tiny space between a piece of furniture and the wall. So that was an adventure! But it was just such a joy to have such a surprise and to feel grown up and responsible as I helped take care of them.

Laura: I have a photo from my sixth Christmas. In it, I am seated on a brand new bike while wearing a fancy bathrobe fit for a princess. I also have a huge grin on my face. This Christmas photo perfectly captures the two sides of me—the girl excited for her first two-wheel bike and the girl who daydreamed about magic and medieval kingdoms.

Nicole: I couldn’t tell you how old I was, but there was one Christmas where my best friend and I thought it would be excellent fun to sneak around our houses and find the hidden presents before the big day. And it was fun! It was the closest thing to a real live treasure hunt a kid could have in 1980-something. However, it soon became painfully obvious to us both that when Christmas morning came we wouldn’t be surprised. I stayed silent and told my parents nothing, but with each passing day I became more disappointed in myself. And then, on Christmas morning there was one extra present under the tree that I had not seen before. It was a small child’s sewing kit and it wasn’t something that I had even asked for, but right then it seemed like the greatest gift in the whole world. The tag said To Nicole, Love Santa in some very familiar cursive handwriting. I still don’t know if my mother saw the telltale signs of our snooping, but I am forever thankful for that sewing kit.

Thank you, Laurie, Laura, and Nicole for stopping by!

What’s the best gift (holiday or otherwise) you received when you were a kid? Comment below to be entered in the drawing. There will be three winners for this giveaway. Each winner will receive one of the above books. Winners of both giveaways to be announced on December 20, 2019.

Henry is pleased with his tree decorating. But the snowman, who is a stickler for correct spelling, thinks an adjustment needs to be made.

Christmas giveaway image from thefrontporchgourmet. Author photos and covers courtesy of the authors. The Secret Garden cover from Goodreads. Fairy tale castle from clipartpanda. Kittens from the SF SPCA. Sewing kit from dreamstime. Other photo by L. Marie.

Check This Out: Love, God, and Mexican Pastries

With me on the blog today, for the first of two holiday giveaways (’tis the season) is one of my Secret Gardener VCFA classmates, the wonderful Karen Ripley. Karen is here to talk about her recently released young adult novel, Love, God, and Mexican Pastries, a Gallina Roja publication. You can find the synopsis here.

   

One of you will get a copy of Karen’s book. But we’ll discuss that later. Let’s talk to Karen!

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Karen: (1) I had to fill the Santa cookie jar with old, leftover Halloween candy because I ate all the cookies.


(2) Yesterday, I went to an exercise class with my t-shirt on inside out.
(3) My kindergarten report card says, “Karen is great at napping.”
(4) My sixteen-year-old daughter and I goof off by practicing kickboxing in the kitchen when we’re making dinner.

El Space: What was the inspiration behind this young adult novel? Why was it important for you to tell this story?
Karen: ***BIG spoiler alert. Don’t read this if you are like me and don’t want to know the ending of a book before you read it.*** This novel is based on a very personal experience. Many years ago my young niece became pregnant and decided to place her baby for adoption. We’re good friends and I watched in awe at her faith as she courageously went through all heartbreaking steps and placed her beautiful daughter with a loving family. I asked myself over and over, how could someone make such a sacrifice? I don’t know if I ever answered that question, but this novel is me searching for that answer.

El Space: Your novel has gone through quite a metamorphosis. I’m so glad you hung in there with Melina [the main character]. How did critiques and your editor help you shape the story?
Karen: When I started writing, I read and heard advice such as trust your reader and make sure your character is likable. I thought that along with cutting out the adverbs, I was doing all of that. But when my critique group pointed out scenes that weren’t moving the story along and my editor said my character was starting to bug her, that’s when the real revision started. It was a lot of serious work but it also made me really proud of my writing.

El Space: How did the characters change as the story developed?
Karen: Probably the biggest change for me was coming to really love my characters. Starting the book, I knew some characters were going to do some rotten things and in many of my drafts, some of the characters, maybe all of them, felt more caricature-like than real. It wasn’t until I got to know their back story completely that I could understand them and I saw them develop. Recently, my daughter was reading my book, and said, “I’m so furious at Marcus right now.” And my first thoughts were, He’s really a good guy who’s just messed up.

El Space: What were the challenges of writing this novel?
Karen: Probably the biggest challenge was and is overcoming my own doubts and fears. I started this novel over a decade ago. I’ve needed to learn a lot about writing and it’s taken a long time. It’s so easy to doubt your abilities when it takes years and years to get a novel out. I put the manuscript aside for a solid year and worked on another novel after a very painful face-to-face rejection with an agent. Looking back, a year off was exactly what I needed to be able to come to the story with new eyes; but I really struggled with feeling like a failure.

El Space: How did you select the title?
Karen: Ha! 😄 Really, it was like the whole writing process, trial and error, critiquing, revision. I tried lots of cheesy titles such as: Love Story and The Right Forever. After bunches of cheese, I threw out Love, God, and Mexican Pastries almost as a joke. My daughter really liked it, my editor loved it, and that’s how it came to be.

El Space: Who designed the cover? How did you feel about it when you first saw it?
Karen: Shawnda Craig was the cover designer, and she’s amazing. As an indie author it’s different than traditional publishing where you usually don’t get to consult with the cover designer, but Shawnda and I chatted about different concepts and went through several drafts. When she sent me two covers I loved, it felt like seeing the first snowfall of the year.

El Space: What are you hoping teens or other readers will take away after reading your novel?
Karen: I’d love readers to finish the book with a feeling of hope and a joy in family.

El Space: What books have inspired you lately?
Karen: I’m reading about book marketing lately. Make a Killing on Kindle by Michael Alvear has a lot of great advice for indie authors. I enjoy reading to my grandson, though he’s 18 months and only sits still for a couple of pages. I love reading Long Ago, on a Silent Night by Julie Berry to him. And every night I try to read something beautiful, and lately it’s been The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan.

   

El Space: What will you work on next?
Karen: I’ve got a middle-grade story about a spunky girl who goes to battle with her bus driver. Another middle-grade story about a young cowboy who competes in the rodeo is in a rough-draft state. Also, I’ve done a little free writing on another YA novel but so far that’s just mush.

Thanks, Karen, for being my guest!

Looking for Karen? You can find her here. Looking for Love, God, and Mexican Pastries? (Or all three in a different context?) Click here.

One of you will be sent a copy of Love, God, and Mexican Pastries simply because you commented. Winner to be announced after next week’s giveaway.

Katie insists that you read this book, because it’s the best book ever and you should also feel that way, ’cause she is always real with people and that’s how she feels.

Christmas giveaway image from thefrontporchgourmet. Author photo by Sara Brewer. Love, God, and Mexican Pastries cover courtesy of the author. Other book covers from Goodreads. Santa cookie jar from ebay. Kickboxing image from clipart-library. Failure sign from teachertoolkit.me. Other photo by L. Marie. Katie is one of the Capsule Chix, a product of Moose Toys.

Hidden Figures

After reading the title of this post, you’re probably thinking of the 2016 movie of the same name. But I’m thinking of this person.

Back in the day, I was really into the Waldo books. If you don’t know what those are, they are picture books in which the reader is tasked with finding Waldo, a character hidden within a crowded scene.

Like this one.

Not as easy as it sounds. How about you? Have you see the Waldo books? Were you ever a fan?

Though I knew this series was the creation of London illustrator Martin Handford (left) back in the 80s, I didn’t realize the character was originally called Wally in the UK until I looked for images for this post. The name had been changed when the books were published in the U.S. The character also has different names in other countries where the books are found.

I wondered why finding this character (and others, like Wenda, Wilma, and Odlaw [below]) was and still is popular. (You can even find Waldo on Facebook.) According to this article at Smithsonian.com, it all comes down to the satisfaction of visual search—staring fixedly at something until you find what you’re looking for. This is why word searches are so popular. Also, the search for Waldo/Wally has helped scientists study eye movement.

 

Here’s another article on the science of finding Waldo: https://exploringyourmind.com/how-does-our-brain-find-waldo/

Writing a memoir or a biography is a kind of search. Instead of looking for Waldo, the author looks for his or her place or his or her subject’s place in the vast arena of history. And yes, that’s the segue to the reveal of what you probably came for: the winner of a copy of Mennonite Daughter—The Story of a Plain Girl by the one and only Marian Beaman. Click here for the interview with Marian.

   

The winner of Mennonite Daughter—The Story of a Plain Girl is Lori of Lori’s Lane!

Thank you to all who commented.

Henry is convinced that he would make an excellent Waldo. In fact, he thinks you’ll have a hard time finding him in this photo.

Waldo postcard from blogspot.com. Book cover from barnesandnoble.com. Martin Handford photo from waldo.fandom.com. Wenda from somewhere on Pinterest. Odlaw from Waldo.wikia. Henry photo by L. Marie.