You’re a Mean One, Miss Kitty

The following poem is my version of Clement C. Moore’s classic poem, with a bit of inspiration from How the Grinch Stole Christmas! by Dr. Seuss. It explains what Kitty’s been up to lately, which I’ve hinted at a couple of times. (Yes, I know this is more appropriate for Christmas Eve. But you don’t want to wait that long, do you?) So, if you stopped by to learn who won the books in the latest giveaways (click here and here for the author interviews), check the end of the poem.

’Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, save Kitty—that louse!

While the children drew close to the warm fireplace,
Kitty took herself up the stairs to rob the place.

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But a child crept upstairs to observe her at work.
Yet Kitty heard her creeping, and turned with a jerk.

“Are you Santa Claus?” asked the sweet little tike.
“I’d like a Nintendo, and some kind of bike.”

“A Nintendo what?” asked the grumpy fake Nick.
“Nintendo’s a company. Please be specific.”

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“You’re not St. Nick!” cried the suddenly wise child.
“You’re grumpy and harsh; he’s sweet and warm and mild.”

“He sounds like a hot drink,” the would-be thief sneered.
“Take my advice. This Santa Claus? Well, he sounds weird.”

Kitty shooed the child off with a ten-dollar bill.
She returned to the sack she had hastened to fill.

But suddenly outside, there arose such a clatter.
To the window she raced. What on earth was the matter?

Sirens squealed in the distance—what a kerfuffle!
The window was shut; but the noise would not muffle.

She would be caught with the stuff she had stolen.
What could she say about a large sack so swollen?

So, she threw off the disguise, and then she made haste
Down the stairs with her usual cupcake at her waist.

“Oh children,” she said, “I’m a neighbor so near
I stepped through the window to visit you here.”

The child with the ten, not a word did she say.
She felt keeping mum made life better that way.

So, they gave Kitty cocoa and showed her a chair.
And soon, Kitty realized, she was better off there.

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Now let’s turn from a larcenous “Santa” to the winners of the books. As a reminder, I am giving away a copy of How to Share with a Bear and How to Build a Snow Bear by Eric Pinder, as well as Hard to Die by Andra Watkins and Our Justice by John Howell.

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The winner of Eric Pinder’s picture books is . . .
Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Jennie!

The winner of How to Die and Our Justice is . . .
Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Andy!

Winners, please confirm below. Jennie, please email your snail mail information and phone number to lmarie7b(at)gmail(dot)com. (Amazon will not deliver without a phone number.) Andy, when you email, please include the email address you use with Amazon.uk. I believe you can only get the Kindle versions of Hard to Die and Our Justice through Amazon.uk. Hope that is okay.

Thank you to all who commented!

Book covers from Goodreads. Photos by L. Marie. The Happy Places Shopkins Happy Home is a registered trademark of Moose Toys. Hello Kitty is a registered trademark of Sanrio Co., Ltd.

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Check These Out: Picture Books by Eric Pinder

Greetings from the frozen north! (Yes, we had a snow visitation recently.)

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’Tis the season to be jolly as the well-known Christmas carol goes. And I can guarantee some jolliness when you check out the following picture books by the erudite and extraordinary Eric Pinder.

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Both books were illustrated by Stephanie Graegin and published by Farrar, Straus Giroux. Eric is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette. Stick around till the end of the interview to learn about the giveaway. Ho-ho-ho!

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Kitty dressed as Santa? Perhaps she has something to do with this giveaway?

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Eric: (1) Once upon a time, I worked at an observatory on top of a mountain and commuted home—well, partway home—by sled. As job perks go, it’s hard to beat an eight-mile sled ride.
(2) The last time I bought a new vehicle, it was a unicycle.
(3) My summer job in high school was working on a dairy farm. But the cows there couldn’t type.
(4) I still want to be an astronaut when I grow up.

The author reading one of his picture books to a library lion

The author reading one of his picture books to a library lion

El Space: You’ve written two books in the sharing with a bear series. They are utterly delightful! What inspired this series?
Eric: Thank you! Building blanket forts and blanket caves with nephews inspired the setting of the first book. Usually character or plot comes to me first, but this time the first thing the Muses gave me was a clear image of the setting for the opening scene. I could picture the room, and the cave, and someone reading inside it by flashlight.

For a long time, the working title of what became How to Share with a Bear was just “Cave.” I didn’t have any idea yet how the story would end or even who all the characters were. But I knew right away it would start with a blanket cave. And what lives in caves? A bear!

After reading How to Share with a Bear, students at Polaris Charter School made blanket caves.—Polaris Charter School, Manchester, NH

After reading How to Share with a Bear, students at Polaris Charter School made blanket caves.—Polaris Charter School, Manchester, NH

The themes about sharing and siblings developed from there.

El Space: Picture books have had a resurgence in publishing lately. Why do you suppose that is the case?
Eric: Picture books are such amazing works of art that adults often appreciate them too. At craft fairs and book signings, sometimes adults will wistfully browse the picture books and confide, sounding almost embarrassed, “I wish I had grandkids, because I still love picture books.”

Of course, the elaborate pictures and design also make them expensive to print, which probably makes publishers and readers alike choosier when budgets are tight. I don’t know, but I’d guess the resurgence is a combination of the economy improving and the Millennial generation starting to have children and looking for good books.

White Birch Books made bear-shaped cookies for a recent How to Build a Snow Bear book signing. The kids approved.

White Birch Books made bear-shaped cookies for a recent How to Build a Snow Bear book signing. The kids approved.

El Space: What drew you to picture books?
Eric: Until almost age 30, I had no inkling that I’d someday write books for children. In high school, I wanted to write science fiction like Ray Bradbury. In college, a class about nature writing introduced me to writers like Annie Dillard and Barry Lopez, and since I’d always liked the outdoors, that became my focus. Then a funny thing happened: everyone in my circle of friends started having kids. Suddenly, their houses were full of books by Seuss and Boynton.

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There’s a poetry to picture books—a kind of music. While hiking with two friends and their six-month-old on the Imp Trail in the White Mountains one day, I heard them recite from memory the entire text of a Dr. Seuss book. The humor and the rhythm of the words, and the obvious delight of the audience—their toddler—gave me a real appreciation for the work and lyricism that go into picture books.

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I just wish I had the talent to illustrate them, too. I admire and envy those who do. At the end of one book signing, when things were slow, I was absentmindedly doodling on a scrap paper. A customer across the room noticed the book cover on display, and her eyes lit up. “Ooh!” she said excitedly. “Are you the illustrator?” Then, walking closer, she noticed my drawing, frowned, and said, “Oh. No, you’re not.

El Space: Oh my goodness! I guess she didn’t realize how rude that sounded. . . . In an interview awhile back with CNN, famed picture book author Mo Willems was asked how to create a timeless tale. Is that something you think about when you write a picture book? Why or why not?
Eric: I like that quote by Mo Willems, “Always think of your audience, but never think for your audience.” I think there are certain universal emotions or experiences, like sharing or anxiety or trying new things, that can help keep a story timeless even if it’s presented in a topical way. A century or two from now, I’m sure, there will be kids who want to drive the family spaceship instead of the bus. But I’d bet Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus would still resonate with them, because it’s not so much the topical vehicle that matters—it’s the underlying idea of imagining a pigeon or a child driving something big and bulky and thus capable of fun mayhem, which usually only the adults get to drive, that’s amusing and timeless.

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El Space: What advice do you have for budding picture book authors?
Eric: Because picture books are real aloud, performed in a sense by the parent or teacher or babysitter, the cadence of every sentence and the sound of every syllable is important. I recommend reading poetry, as well as picture books, to get a feel for the sounds of words and the moods and nuances they can convey. I like to think of poetry as “using the language as a musical instrument, to convey emotion or meaning.” Stephen Fry’s The Ode Less Travelled is a funny, informative book about poetic meter. It’s helped me a lot with writing picture books. But the biggest help was taking the picture book semester at VCFA.

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El Space: What will you work on next?
Eric: New ideas for picture books spring up all the time. Sometimes just witnessing a silly pet pratfall, or hearing a heartwarming anecdote, or noticing a strange word combination or phrase on a billboard can start the wheels in motion on a new story. Recently I’ve been revising a picture book about a little girl on Mars. I’m also finishing up a narrative nonfiction book about the joys and challenges of teaching in the era of standardized tests and student loans. When I teach nature writing at our college, we go on a lot of class field trips in the woods, so there’s a bear in that book, too.

My next picture book, The Perfect Pillow, is forthcoming in 2018. Surprisingly, that one does not include a bear, but there’s still a lot of sharing. And a dragon.

Thank you, Eric, for being my guest!

Looking for Eric? You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and his website.

You can find How to Share with a Bear, How to Build a Snow Bear, and other picture books by Eric Pinder at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Wal-Mart, Powells, and possibly on your own front doorstep. One of you will win How to Share with a Bear and How to Build a Snow Bear. Simply comment below, giving the title of a favorite picture book you had as a child (or now), to be entered into the drawing. The winner will be announced on December 15. Stayed tuned for more book giveaways and information on Kitty Santa!

Author photo by Jenn Pinder. Cookie photo by Eric Pinder. Book covers from Goodreads. Dr. Seuss image from cliparts.co. Snow and Kitty photos by L. Marie.

Remarkable Trees

I often head outside to write and relax under the welcoming arms of this tree on the grounds of my apartment building.

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Hullo.

Don’t let this picture fool you. The lowest branch is at least ten feet off the ground. (I gauged the distance based on my height—about five four and a half inches—and the fact that I was only halfway to the branch.) So a ladder is a necessary tool if you want to climb this tree.

I don’t know what kind of tree this is. If you are a tree aficionado, can you tell, based on the leaves in the photo below, what kind it is? (Yes, I know the photo is not the greatest.) Some kind of locust tree maybe? I’m far more used to maple trees. We had those outside of our house when I was growing up.

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With the temperature at 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius), and the wind on the chilly side, I was not inclined to sit outside. (It rained anyway.) But I wanted to snap a few photos of this friendly tree.

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This is my good side.

Lately, I’ve been in need of a soul expansion. Ever have a season when you experienced too many battles and too few victories? Like the Grinch who stole Christmas (look here if you’re not sure who the Grinch is or look below), lately my heart has felt two sizes too small. But one quick way for me to regain good cheer involves placing myself near trees and other beautiful plants.

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I’m not a gardener, but I appreciate the efforts of others to beautify the grounds. I love the fact that I can look out of my window and see lilacs, vivid green grass, and trees.

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Tulips and lilacs at the front door

One look at a tree or flowers causes my blood pressure to drop and my hands to unclench. I love seeing birds flitting in and out of the tree the photo of which appears above. Robins are frequent visitors, though I’ve heard a sparrow or two in the vicinity each morning. I’ve also seen a blackbird perched on a high branch, singing a spring song.

As I type this post, suddenly I’m reminded of a book on my Amazon Wish List:

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Click here for more on this book. I’ll pick up a copy of my own at some point. I first learned of it at the library, where I borrowed a copy. I’m fascinated by books that discuss trees, especially ancient or huge trees like the cedars of Lebanon or redwoods. They remind me of how big the world is and how small I am.

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Cedars of Lebanon

Since the remarkable tree book came to mind, I thought about trees I find remarkable and would love to see in person someday. I’m not alone in my assessment. These trees appear on many lists of remarkable or beautiful trees.

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Banyan

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Japanese Maple

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Jacaranda

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California Redwood

Just looking at those trees makes me feel better. And this great post at Nancy Hatch’s blog, Spirit Lights The Way, has the same effect: https://nrhatch.wordpress.com/2015/05/19/relax-youre-on-island-time/

Which tree not currently listed which you add to the remarkable trees list? Why?

Book cover from Goodreads. Jacaranda from exploreaustralia.net.au. Japanese maple from boredpanda.com/falcor88. Banyan tree from en.wikipedia.org. Redwood tree from bigsurcalifornia.org. Lebanon cedars from habeeb.com. Grinch’s heart from adventuresforlife.wordpress.com.

Check This Out: 52 Dates for Writers

Once again, I am interrupting the Space Series, this time to bring you this awesome author: Claire Wingfield. Claire’s book is 52 Dates for Writers. For those of you who will participate in NaNoWriMo, you’ll find this a great way to stay inspired. One of you will have a chance to win this Kindle ebook. But first, let’s talk to Claire.

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El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Claire: I live in the great literary city of Edinburgh—the first UNESCO City of Literature—with my husband and book-loving toddler. I work as an editor and writing consultant, supporting writers at different stages in completing their manuscripts and developing their craft. I studied English Literature at Cambridge University’s Downing College, where writer P. D. James also studied. She kindly submitted an article to a student magazine I launched. One of my first jobs in publishing was as a reader for a book production company, and I remain painfully aware of how mistakes can creep in right until the end of the publishing process!

El Space: Please tell us how you came to write 52 Dates for Writers. How did your background make you uniquely suited to write it?
Claire: The ideas in 52 Dates for Writers: Ride a Tandem, Assume an Alias and 50 Other Ways to Improve Your Novel Draft stem from my one-to-one work with writers over many years. Many of the exercises are those I devised to help writers solve real problems in their manuscripts. I decided to bring the material into book format during a period of maternity leave, and following the suggestion of one of my writers.

10569El Space: At this post about Stephen King’s craft book On Writing (“Stephen King’s 20 Tips for Becoming a Frighteningly Good Writer”), we learn:

Where other writing books are focused on the mechanics of the written word, King shows you how to capture the joy of the craft. You’ll find yourself wanting to write, not because of fame or fortune, but because it’s fun, and there’s nothing else you would rather do.

How does your book encourage the joy of writing?
Claire: 52 Dates for Writers is all about encouraging writers to be playful. Play is so important to creativity, but increasingly there can be so much pressure in day-to-day life that I found even the writers I worked with needed an antidote to this. Each writing date is almost like a workshop environment—giving writers the chance to experiment with different facets of their writing—from voice and style to the format and structure of their piece—away from the screen or written draft, and then return to work with new ideas, a refreshed approach, or simply the desire to keep writing.

The experiences themselves are designed to be fun—from completing a hi-tech treasure hunt to help readers think about the order of revelation in their novel, to climbing a hill or riding a ferris wheel in order to experiment with perspective. There are plenty of simple tasks like cooking a luxurious meal to work on refreshment scenes, which can often suffer from underwriting, as well as many which encourage the reader to try something entirely new.

6867The dates are an invitation to writers to escape their desks and engage in challenging and enjoyable tasks, often bringing new light on an area of their writing. They each provide space away from the daily grind to workshop a particular area of a draft, plus fresh and unexpected inspiration, all backed with rigorous theory in the form of a series of mini essays on the craft of writing. There are also fun examples from well-known novels to accompany the dates, such as the plot of Atonement laid out as a maze.

Those who are new to writing will find plenty of prompts and inspiration, showing there are as many different ways into a fresh piece of writing as there are those of us willing to write.

El Space: What author or authors have you read recently who seem to capture the joy of writing? How so?
Claire: I read a lot with my son right now, and am really enjoying revisiting the stories of Dr. Seuss. So inventive and playful with language. We’ve also just acquired a book by Neil Gaiman called Chu’s Day—about a panda with a very big sneeze, which has my son in fits of laughter, so certainly captures the joy of reading for both of us.

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El Space: What are you working on now?
Claire: I’m currently working on the second in the series—52 Missions for Children’s Writers—Learn a Circus Skill, Go out in Disguise, and 50 other Ways to Inspire your Children’s Novel whilst continuing to have the pleasure of working with a host of talented and committed writers. I’m working on a section called “Eat Jelly for Breakfast” right now—which is proving very enjoyable!

El Space: What writing tip would you offer a writer going through writer’s block?
Claire: 52 Dates for Writers is all about preventing writer’s block, but for starters, try to recall what first sparked your passion for what you are writing, and incorporate something from that into your writing life. If it was a place you haven’t visited for a while, pay it a fresh visit, or if it is a place you visit every day, try varying your journey. If it was a strong opinion that motivated you, try embracing the opposite point of view for a week—the clash of ideas may just get your project moving again. Or take your writing outside and tackle the part of the novel you’re most afraid of—that niggling problem you’ve not got around to fixing, but know you must. Be playful in your solutions—push your story further than you or your reader ever expected.

Thanks, Claire, for being my guest!

You can find Claire at her Goodreads author page here. Claire’s book is available right now at Amazon. One of you, however, will win a copy just by commenting. Since I’m hosting two giveaways this week, the winners will be announced on Saturday, November 1. Thanks to all who stopped by!

Book covers from Goodreads.