Sunday, August 21, 2016

More #MGGetsReal and a Fabulous GIVEAWAY!!!

Thought for the Day:
“All the best ideas come out of the process; 
they come out of the work itself.” 
~ Chuck Close, painter ~

Gifts for My Writer Friends:
My blogging buddy Greg Pattridge from Always in the Middle was kind enough to forward a link all about writing body language. He found useful and so do I, so I will pass it along. You can find Greg’s blog HERE and the useful link HERE.

We have all heard that one can’t be a real writer if one doesn’t write every day. Read another view HERE

Kristen Lamb has faced some personal problems, as have I, this year, and she has a great post HERE about ways to get your mojo back after going through such problems.

My daughter Maggie and I finished our cross country journey on Friday and arrived at The Barn, home of the Highlights Foundation's incredible workshops. I will be spending the next few days with David L. Harrison and a small group of other writers and editors working on the process of writing poetry. I thought the Thought for the Day was a good reminder of something we all need to remember as we write. 

Since I am still traveling, Shannon Wiersbitzky is stepping in with more wonderful information on middle-grade books that take on tough topics. Enjoy! And please leave a comment so Shannon knows I really do have readers. 


The group of authors working on #MGGetsReal also have a GIVEAWAY of all five of the Get Real books. Don't miss this chance. Click HERE to find out all about it. Take it away, Shannon!

Hello again The Write Stuff readers! We didn’t do too much damage last week (I took care of the pizza boxes and soda cans) so let’s give it another go! 

We were chatting about how myself and four other authors have created #MGGetsReal in an effort to get books about real (and sometimes tough) topics into the hands of kids. There are so many topics kids need to hear about today. And books continue to be a terrific way to deal with those topics. 

Now and then we hear of books being banned because the subjects are deemed inappropriate. We’ve also heard about authors being “disinvited” to schools because their novels deal with a topic the school feels unprepared to talk about. 

Hmm. My guess is that the kids wouldn’t feel the same way. Kids tend to lean into differences or unknowns, to walk right over and ask questions. For some reason, as we age, we increasingly shy away from this same behavior. We shush the conversation and try to move along. 

But we shouldn’t. Books help kids understand themselves. Understand others. Understand the world around them and all the tough and complicated topics that includes. 

This week, the five of us want to recommend another five books that fit in #MGGetsReal. And we welcome you to share more. Leveraging Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, or whatever social channel you prefer, share book titles with the tag #MGGetsReal. Together we can create a growing list for teachers, librarians, and parents. 

From Kerry Cerra comes a book with a compelling take on bullying. According to Kerry, “I've never read anything like it and when I talk about it during my school visits it is, hands down, the #1 book that most kids jot down the title of.”

CALL ME HOPE by Gretchen Olsen. 

A bully is ruining eleven-year-old Hope's life, and she doesn't know what to do. She can't even go to her mother for help, because the bully is her mother.

Kathy Burkinshaw recommends a 2016 debut Author, Melanie Conklin, and her novel COUNTING THYME, which tackles cancer and the subject of experimental drugs. 

When eleven-year-old Thyme Owen’s little brother, Val, is accepted into a new cancer drug trial, it’s just the second chance that he needs. But it also means the Owens family has to move to New York, thousands of miles away from Thyme’s best friend and everything she knows and loves. The island of Manhattan doesn’t exactly inspire new beginnings, but Thyme tries to embrace the change for what it is: temporary.

Shannon Hitchcock picked the book MARY MAE AND THE GOSPEL TRUTH by Sandra Dutton. 

Ten-year-old Mary Mae loves Sunday school and studying fossils. Trouble is her mama believes God created the earth in six days, only six thousand years ago. 

Shannon says, “Over the course of the story, Mary Mae learns that her love of science doesn't mean she can't believe in a higher power. Mary Mae and the Gospel Truth is not only a heartwarming story, it serves as a mirror for children raised in fundamental Christian homes. I can't think of another Middle Grade novel that tackles faith and science without disparaging either one.” 

From Joyce Hostetter comes EMPTY PLACES by Kathy Cannon Wiechman. 

Adabel’s mom is dead and her father is a temperamental alcoholic. 

“I believe lots of readers will relate to the story of children largely depending on each other for emotional and physical survival. Set in KY coal mine country during The Great Depression.” 

I picked a title that deals with race relations. After all the television clips in recent months my youngest son asked me, “Why are some people so afraid of others without even knowing them?” It is a great question. One that can be applied to so many topics, race, religion, nationality, disability, and the list goes on. 

I suggested we read ALL AMERICAN BOYS by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely. 

Rashad is just trying to buy a bag of chips at the local corner store when things spin terribly out of control. He is beaten and arrested, accused of shoplifting, and everyone in town begins picking sides. 

This book was eye-opening to me. It highlights how the same incident can be viewed so many different ways. And it makes real for readers how complicated it can be to know what to do in this type of situation. Not only for Rashad, but for those who saw it happen. 

If you know a book on a tough topic that would fit the #MGGetsReal mission, share it with us! Add it to our Facebook page. And wherever you are on social media, join the conversation. Just use #MGGetsReal. It’s as easy as that. 

Thanks so much for having us! We look forward to connecting with you.


Sunday, August 14, 2016

A Visit from Shannon Wiersbitzky

Thought for the Day:
“Fiction gives us a second chance that life denies us.”  
~ Paul Theroux ~

Gifts for My Writer Friends:
Getting the details right is so important. HERE are some good resources and tips from Marianne Knowles at Writers’ Rumpus to help you out. 

Janice Hardy always has important posts. This is no exception. HERE she talks about three words that will kill your manuscript. 

Stasia Ward Kehoe has a helpful post HERE on Adventures in YA Publishing. It is Four Essential Elements for your First Five Pages. 

My daughter Maggie and I are on a cross-country trip and in Colorado visiting family right now, so the lovely and talented Shannon Wiersbitzky, author extraordinaire, is sitting in for me for two weeks. Take it away, Shannon!

#MGGetsReal

Shannon Wiersbitzky
Hello to all The Write Stuff readers! I’m thrilled to be here both this week and next while Rosi is on holiday. I feel like Mom has left for the weekend and now its my job to ensure that everyone behaves and nothing gets broken. 

I want you to think about a book. A specific book. You probably read it when you were a child. The very first one that shook you to the core or stopped you in your tracks. 

Why did it move you? 

My guess is that it did one of these things: 
  • you found yourself (at last!) in one of the characters, it spoke to your reality
  • it discussed a topic you’d never seen in a book
  • it opened your eyes to something that you’d never thought about before
  • it dealt with a topic that was considered taboo for kids

For me, that book was Z FOR ZACHARIAH by Robert C. O’Brien. I remember a teacher in elementary school reading it aloud. And I remember sitting spellbound on the carpet. It was a story about nuclear war and a young girl who believes she may be the last person alive. 

Over the years, I’ve tried to piece together why the story was so powerful to me. When I was a little girl, US and Russian relations were often high tension. The possibility of nuclear war was discussed on the news. I certainly would have seen it and been aware of the topic. Perhaps my parents expressed worry in their own conversations. 

The thing is, I don’t ever remember anyone actually talking about what it might mean for me. But the book did. And in the story, that meant real situations of life and death. 

As adults, we sometimes shy away from introducing kids to books like this. I’m not sure why. We want children to hold onto their innocence I suppose. To live in the world of happily ever after, even as they’re coping with much tougher topics in school, in their families, their communities, or even trying to make sense of what they see on television. 



Kids live in a complicated world. And they aren’t ignorant of that fact. Yes, give them magic and fantasy, but also give them more. Kids need books that deal with a wide variety of “real” subjects. Which is why myself and four other authors have started a movement. #MGGetsReal aims to highlight books for middle graders that deal with these tough topics. 

My own book, WHAT FLOWERS REMEMBER, deals with Alzheimer’s.  
After her adopted grandpa, Old Red, is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, thirteen year old Delia takes it upon herself to save his memories, and includes the entire town in the process.

The other books being highlighted in #MGGetsReal include:

JUST A DROP OF WATER by Kerry O’Malley Cerra
A tale of two boys; one Christian, one Muslim, and how their friendship is tested in the wake of September 11.

THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM by Kathleen Burkinshaw
The story of Yuriko's life--a 12 year old girl--during the last year of WWII in Hiroshima. A family secret is revealed right before her world ignites and becomes a shadow of what it had been.

RUBY LEE AND ME by Shannon Hitchcock
Sarah Beth’s new sixth-grade teacher at Shady Creek is the first African American teacher at their all-white school. But she just may be the exact person to help Sarah answer all her questions. 

COMFORT by Joyce Moyer Hostetter
When Ann Fay returns home from the polio hospital, she assumes life will get back to normal. But Daddy is different since the war and everything is falling apart. 

We invite you to join us. 
On any social media using #MGGetsReal

Share with teachers and librarians you know. Read. Write Reviews. And speak up! Share books that you believe fit our mission. 

We look forward to connecting with you! 

P. S. from Rosi -- If you are not familiar with Shannon's wonderful books, I reviewed them HERE and HERE.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

The Girl in the Well is Me -- Review

Thought for the Day:
"If you rewrite a paragraph fifty times and forty-nine of them are terrible, that's fine; 
you only need to get it right once."  
~ Tana French ~

Gifts for My Writer Friends:
Authors Publish has a post HERE by Emily Harstone that lists 25 publishers who accept submissions without an agent. This is worth looking at. 

Gail Carriger has a fun guest post HERE on writing author bios over at Fiction University. 

HERE is a neat infographic with 128 words you can use instead of “very.” It will make all our writing better. 

Last week, I promised a gently-read ARC of Mayday by Karen Harrington to one of you. Danielle Hammelef is this week's winner. Congratulations, Danielle! And thanks so much for spreading the word. Those extra chances seem to working. I will get your book out to you this week.

I don't have a giveaway this week. I will be hitting the road the end of the week with my daughter Maggie who is moving all her worldly goods to New York, where she now resides. It's where you have to be if you are an actor. Anyway, she invited me along for the journey, and then she will drop me off in
Pennsylvania where I will attend a poetry workshop led by David L. Harrison at
Highlights. I am very excited about the workshop and will report back here when I get home. But don't think my blog will disappear. It won't. I have very interesting guest posts that will be coming to you from some pretty amazing writers, so be sure to check it out. 

I had a chance recently to read a book from my TBR list. I had been hearing a LOT about The Girl in the Well is Me by Karen Rivers. I was able to snag a copy at my local library without too long a wait and was immediately and completely captured. Let me tell you about it. 

Kammie is new in town. She, her mother, and her brother Robby have had to move because Dad is in prison for embezzlement. But when Kammie decides she wants to be friends with the three most popular girls at her new school, she has no idea what a Pandor's Box she has opened. Little does she know they are also the mean girls. They say she will have to undergo an initiation, and, of course, Kammie goes along. They have her stand on a board far out in the woods away
Karen Rivers
from anyone and sing a song, but the board breaks and Kammie falls into an old well. The good news is she is not badly hurt. Nothing is broken. But the bad news is her arms are down at her sides, stuck between her torso and the walls. There is no way for her to climb out. The three popular girls call down to her and tell her to get out. She explains there is no way, but they don't seem to believe her or understand or, worse, care. After a while, the girls leave and tell Kammie they will go for help. But she is alone and stuck, although a couple of times she slips farther down, and she has no idea what is below. 

No one comes. Kammie has a lot of time to think. This story is first person and stream of consciousness. Kammie tells her story -- of her family travails, of the mean girls bullying, and more -- through flashbacks she has. The voice is pitch perfect for a girl of around twelve. The writing is magnificent. What I found most interesting is the longer Kammie is in the well, as she becomes dehydrated, she hallucinates and the reader is left to wonder where the hallucinations start and reality leaves off. I will leave it to you to read this wonderful book and find out if help arrives and how this turns out. I don't want to spoil it for you, but take it from me, this is a perfectly riveting story, terribly well written, and worth your time.

Please read and leave comments for the guest posts the next two weeks, and I will be back the end of the month. If you are reading this in your email, click HERE to go to the blog so you can leave a comment. Don't forget to check out Shannon Messenger's wonderful blog HERE for many more Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday reviews and giveaways.


Sunday, July 31, 2016

Mayday -- Review and Giveaway

Thought for the Day:
“Literature is the art of discovering something extraordinary about ordinary people, and saying with ordinary words something extraordinary.”
~ Boris Pasternak ~

Gifts for My Writer Friends:
Maybe the best two minutes you will spend this month can be found HERE

Anne R. Allen’s Blog has a must-read post that is full of links to help you right size your book. Click HERE for this great, rich post. I will be spending a lot of time in the “Too Much of a Good Thing?” section. 

Kathy Temean at Writing and Illustrating has great stuff to share with writers. Her post HERE is about intruder words and how to avoid them. Very worthwhile.

Last week, I offered a gently-read ARC of Joyce Moyer Hostetter's Aim to one of you. I had more hits on this post than I usually get in a month and more commenters than on any other post I've written. This week's winner is Donna Earnhardt. Congratulations, Donna! I will get the book out to you soon. And thanks for spreading the word. Those extra chances always help. For the rest of you, please keep reading. I have another wonderful book to give away this week. 

I first ran across Karen Harrington early in 2014 when I read her debut novel, Sure Signs of Crazy. If you missed my review, click HERE. There is also an interview with Karen there, so if you missed that post the first time, do check it out. I loved that book and was very excited when I was able to get her second book, Courage for Beginners. I was NOT disappointed. You can find my review of that one HERE.  I had a nice email from Karen a few months ago telling me she had a new book coming out, Mayday. Needless to say, I was thrilled to hear about it. More than that, she offered me an ARC. I think I liked it even better than her earlier novels. I must say, though, I would love to carve out a few days and read all her books again. They are just so good. Here is the review of Mayday I wrote for the San Francisco Book Review, although I added a little extra because their word limit is hard for me and I had a lot to say about this one.

Wayne Kovok is young, but already his life is divided into Before and After. In
Karen Harrington
Before, his mostly-absent dad is a jerk, his mom doesn’t smile much, and Wayne has learned to spout interesting facts to distract his mother, to fill in uncomfortable moments, and to dazzle pretty Sandy Showalter at school. When Wayne’s Uncle Reed is killed in Afghanistan, Wayne, his mother, and his retired drill-sergeant grandfather drive to the funeral. Wayne and his mother fly home and their plane crashes. Most passengers die and Reed’s flag is lost. Wayne and his mother survive, but After really begins when Wayne wakes up and finds an L-shaped scar across his face, his throat injured so he cannot speak, and Grandpa has come to live with them. Mom gets a new boyfriend and the scene where the boyfriend takes on Grandpa in a put-down contest is terrific. Wayne learns much about himself and his family as he searches far and wide for Reed’s flag.

“In the hour I’d known him, he’d already kept his promises. He made my mother smile and not wear her I need to watch English movies face. And he even stood boot to boot with Grandpa.”

Author Karen Harrington writes books that are full of heart with great characters readers will care deeply about and stories that are memorable and important. This is no exception. Her writing is lyrical and difficult topics are deftly handled throughout, and there are many difficult topics. This warm, wonderful coming-of-age book deserves readership far beyond a middle-grade audience. I Don't miss this one. It is simply too good. 

I have a gently-read paperback for one of you. To win, all you need do is have a US address, be a subscriber or follower, and tell me that in a comment you leave on this post. If you are reading this in your email, click HERE to go to the blog so you can leave a comment. If you would like extra chances, please spread the word by posting the link on a Tweet, blog post, Facebook, or any other way you like. Let me know what you have done in your comment, and I will put in extra chances for you for each that you do.

Don't forget to check out Shannon Messenger's wonderful blog HERE for many more Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday reviews and giveaways.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Aim -- Review and Giveaway

Thought for the Day:
“Not a wasted word. This has been a main point to my
literary thinking all my life.”  
~ Hunter S. Thompson ~

Gifts for My Writer Friends:
Angela Ackerman has a good one HERE called Let’s Get Sensory: Powering Scenes Using the 5 Senses. 

Dr. John Yeoman has a fun and useful post HERE called How to Shape Great Stories with Word Games. 

Alex at Ride the Pen has some terrific ideas HERE about enriching your story with subtext. Warning: he uses a lot of bad words, but has good advice. 

Last week I offered a gently-read paperback of Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan to one of you. This week's winner is Helen! Congratulations, Helen. I will get the book out to you soon. For the rest of you, stay tuned. I have another wonderful book to give away.

Back in 2011, I reviewed a book called Healing Water: A Hawaiian Story by Joyce Moyer Hostetter. I loved that book (even though I called it Healing WaterS with a big, fat S when I reviewed it HERE). It was so different from anything else I had read. If you are not familiar with it, please check out the review. Anyway, when I heard Joyce had a new book coming out this year called Aim, I was really excited. When I was able to get my hands on an ARC, I was doubly excited. I was not disappointed. It's such a wonderful book. Here is the review I wrote for the San Francisco Book Review

Junior Bledsoe has much on his plate. His father’s a drunk, his granddaddy, who shares Junior’s bedroom, is a cranky, mean old man, World War II is looming, and the spinster next door is his teacher. Junior doesn’t see much reason to stay in school. He could be earning money so Momma could have something nice now and then. Junior has watched his father take apart and repair engines as long as he can remember. He’s sure he can do the same. His father goes out one night and is found dead in the morning. Now school really seems useless. Junior needs to find out how his father died. He learns a lot about his family and himself as he tries to discover what really happened.

“There we were, just sort of floating above the river—a grand
place to be on a school day, up at the height of the trees,
with the river below us, washing on downstream.”

Perhaps the true test of good fiction is that the reader must believe every word. That is the case with this wonderful story. Joyce Moyer Hostetter’s writing is
Joyce Moyer Hostetter
spectacular. She’s done excellent research and takes readers to another time and place and creates characters of great complexity and richness. The voice of young Junior Bledsoe is pitch-perfect in this first person narrative. Aim deserves a much wider readership than a middle-grade audience.

Joyce is a very prolific author and all her books deserve your time and attention. Please check them all out. She also has a newsletter about reading and writing that she and Carol Baldwin put out called Talking Story. You can see it by clicking HERE. It always has good things in it.  

Aim won't be out until October, but you can win an ARC here. I have a gently-read copy for one of you. To win, all you need do is have a US address, be a subscriber or follower, and tell me that in a comment you leave on this post. If you are reading this in your email, click HERE to go to the blog so you can leave a comment. If you would like extra chances, please spread the word by posting the link on a Tweet, blog post, Facebook, or any other way you like. Let me know what you have done in your comment, and I will put in extra chances for you for each that you do.

Don't forget to check out Shannon Messenger's wonderful blog HERE for many more Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday reviews and giveaways.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Counting by 7s -- Review and Giveaway

Thought for the Day:
“What we expect rarely occurs; what we don't expect is what happens.”
~ Holly Goldberg Sloan ~

Gifts for My Writer Friends:
Tired of your characters all sounding alike. Kathy Temean at Writing and Illustrating has a good post HERE on giving your characters unique voices.

Angela Ackerman did a great gust post HERE on 5 mistakes writers make with setting. As always, Angela has something worth your while. 

Helen Pyne has a fine post HERE on Through the Tollbooth about getting to the end of your novel. This will help most writers. 

No giveaway last week as I was busy supporting my local library, but this week I have knocked another book off my TBR pile and have a giveaway for you. Maybe I am the last person on the planet to get around to reading the very popular Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan. After all, it has been out for almost two years, but I suspect there are a few others who still have this on their I'll-Get-to-It-Soon list. Maybe this will spur you on to get to it.

Willow Chance is 12 years old and is different from most kids her age in several ways. She is obsessed with a few things -- medical problems (she likes to diagnose people's problems), everything about nature, and she counts by 7s. I don't exaggerate when I say obsessed. If someone were to diagnose Willow, it would surely be a diagnosis of OCD. Willow is also adopted and her parents are older than the parents of most other kids with whom she goes to school. Not that she spends much time with those kids. She is really a loner and doesn't have friends. And she is smarter than all the other kids -- probably than most of her teachers! When she is given a state-mandated test, she finishes it in no time and gets a perfect score. The teacher and principal can only come to one conclusion -- she cheated. She is sent for counseling. This is truly life-changing for Willow. Not because her counselor is so good at his job. Anything but. 

Counselor Dell Duke doesn't love his job, but he tolerates it and truly tries to do no harm. But counseling doesn't seem to be a big part of it. The good he does, for the most part, is pretty accidental. But Willow finds a couple other kids, a brother and sister named Quang-ha and Mai, on her forays to Dell Duke's office and decides she wants to be friends with the sister. Naturally, Willow teaches herself Vietnamese to be able to make that friend. It is on one visit to Duke that he ends up taking them all home and, when they arrive at Willow's home, they discover Willow's parents have both been killed in a terrible accident. Thus begins a journey that draws all these people (and a couple more) into a fascinating alliance and changes every one of them in wonderful ways. The writing, characters, and story are all amazing. I need to find out what else Holly Goldberg Sloan has written and add her other books to my TBR list.

Holly Goldberg Sloan

There are a lot of dead-parent stories, it seems, in middle-grade literature. Sometimes it seems a bit much, but I understand the reason for it. If a writer thinks about what worries kids this age, this is probably the very thing that worries them most. For Willow, this is the most devastating since she has no other relatives she knows of. That almost certainly means foster care -- something kids this age worry about too -- but this is a story that is filled with hope and personal growth and is anything but a dead-parent downer. I loved this book and found it so uplifting. If you haven't read it yet, I hope you will. To that end, I will pass along my copy to one of you.

I have a gently-read paperback for one of you. To win, all you need do is have a US address, be a subscriber or follower, and tell me that in a comment you leave on this post. If you are reading this in your email, click HERE to go to the blog so you can leave a comment. If you would like extra chances, please spread the word by posting the link on a Tweet, blog post, Facebook, or any other way you like. Let me know what you have done in your comment, and I will put in extra chances for you for each that you do.

Don't forget to check out Shannon Messenger's wonderful blog HERE for many more Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday reviews and giveaways.