Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Invest in Yourself. You're Worth It!

Thought for the day: The beautiful part of writing is that you don't have to get it right the first time, unlike, say, a brain surgeon. You can always do it better, find the exact word, the apt phrase, the leaping simile. ~ Robert Cormier

My daughter Maggie sent the following link. It certainly is food for thought. Don’t be put off by the fact it starts out talking about music. It is really for all kinds of artists – like writers! Just thought you might find it interesting.

A couple weeks ago I announced Megan had won an autographed copy of no-name baby by the incomparable Nancy Bo Flood. Megan, I’ve tried to contact you three times and haven’t heard back. Please contact me so I can send you the book. Readers, if I don’t hear from Megan by the next blog post, I will draw a new name from those who commented on that post. I also have winners to announce from my last blog post. Jennifer Rumberger was the first to have her name drawn, so she will be receiving The Bell Bandit, and Barbara Watson’s name was also drawn, so she will get a copy of The Secret Tree. Congratulations!!!

When I retired a few years ago, my good friend Jan Paluch, who had listened to me talk about how I wanted to get serious about my writing, sent me a brochure for the Sacramento Writer’s Conference. I plunked down some money and spent a couple of days rubbing elbows with the likes of Erin Dealy and Patti Newman, and John Lescroart.(Yes, THAT John Lescroat!) I met some other newbies and learned a great deal. Out of that experience came my first critique group. I was on my way. I went to the conference again the next year, but it was pretty repetitious, so I started looking around for other ways to further my writing. I took the ICL course and went to workshops and conferences and joined SCBWI. I got better and better at my craft. Every year I invest in myself. I find the best workshops and conferences I can and spend the time and money to make myself a more accomplished writer.

Peggy Thomas
Last week I was in Pennsylvania at a Highlights Founders Workshop. This was my fifth time going to Boyds Mills to learn from the best, and it is paying off in many ways. I have sold some work in the last couple of years. No books yet, but YET is the operative word for me. I know that I will sell some of my books. And that is happening because I continue to invest in myself.

Last week’s workshop was Whole Narrative Non-Fiction. I spent a week with Peggy Thomas, Elizabeth Partridge, Susan Bartoletti, CarolynYoder, Nancy Bo Flood, Barbara Krasner and a wonderful group of attendees. Look at the names on that faculty list! Imagine just being in their presence for a week! I’ll bet between them they have close to a hundred books published. Amazing. We had hours of workshop time every day as well as hours of quiet writing time. In addition, we had all our meals together as well as cocktail time. (You’ve got to love the cocktail hour at Boyds Mills.) In addition, we had an individual talk from most faculty members sharing how the writing process works for each of them.

Nancy Bo Flood
This is a new workshop for the Highlights people and it wasn’t perfect, but they listen well and I’m confident the next time it occurs it will be close to perfect. But I came away from that week with a non-fiction book manuscript I believe will be ready for submission very, very soon. It’s miles better than it was when I showed up. I had lots of help from almost all the faculty. (I didn’t happen to get much time with one faculty member, but had good amounts of time with everyone else.) Nancy Bo Flood also spent a lot of time with me on a poetry project I’m working on. She has such great expertise in that area and was happy to share her time and knowledge with me. I think that project is now almost ready to submit. (Thanks, Nancy!!) I made the comment while at the workshop that if I didn’t have grandchildren in California and if money were no object, I would go to all the workshops Highlights offers. I’m not kidding. They are that good. Check out their offerings HERE.

I received an email recently from Nancy Sondel, founding director of the Pacific Coast Children’s Writers Workshop.  She is contacting people for her Fall 2012 workshop and said she hoped I could join them. I wish I could afford to go, but I just came back from a pretty expensive workshop and am already committed to another later this year. Maybe next year I’ll return to the PCCWW. I went to one a few years ago, and it was a great experience. There are different levels you can sign up for including one which includes a full-novel critique from one of the faculty. This year’s faculty includes editor Simon Boughton (senior VP and publisher; Roaring Brook Press and Farrar, Straus & Giroux), agent Emily Sylvan Kim (president, Prospect Agency), and agent Joe Monti (Barry Goldblatt Literary). WOW! For more information, check out the site HERE I really think this is worth your time to explore. I learned so much when I attended and, again, had a great deal of time with wonderful faculty members.

Not all writers’ workshops are as good as these are. One year I attended one of the Big Sur Writers’ Workshop. They are pretty popular. After all, it is Big Sur. They do them twice each year. These workshops are put on by a literary agency, are expensive, and don’t return much on your investment, in my humble opinion. Others may have a different view.

I make sure I attend at least a couple of conferences each year and go to a couple of workshops or retreats as well. I really like the one-day local SCBWI conferences and workshops. They are inexpensive and they seem to draw excellent faculty. And the SCBWI regional people work really, really hard to put on great events. I’ve never been disappointed. Ask around before you make any decisions. Talk to all your writer friends and see what experiences others have had. Invest in yourself, but invest wisely.

My next post will be back to some book reviews and probably some giveaways, so please tune in. And please leave a comment. I’d love to hear from you. Remember, if you have trouble leaving a comment, click on the title of the post and it will give you just this post with a comments section on the bottom. Also, if you haven’t signed up by email, please do. Just look in the upper right-hand corner of this page, pop your email address in, and you will receive an email each time I put up a new post. Your information will not be shared with anyone.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Two Reviews and Two Giveaways -- The Secret Tree & The Bell Bandit

If you are reading this in your email, don’t forget to click on the headline to go to my blog. If you haven’t subscribed yet, please do. And please leave a comment. If you have trouble leaving a comment, please click on the title of the post and comments should pop up at the bottom. If you don’t have one of the accounts they ask for or don’t want to use that, please use Anonymous, but let me know who you are. Thanks. I love to hear from you.

Thought for the day:

"We've heard that a million monkeys at a million keyboards could produce the complete works of Shakespeare; now, thanks to the Internet, we know that is not true." ~ Robert Wilensky

My gift for my writer friends:  – Great blog for writers – very helpful information for when you are ready to submit.

My apologies for disappearing for a couple of weeks. We had that horror of horror happen at our house last week. Our laptop died. It was sad and frightening. We have Carbonite, so it should have been no worry, but Carbonite didn’t seem to work as promised, and we were not able to accomplish a restore as we should have. Fortunately, we have lots of redundancies in the world of backups and were also able to get our old computer to turn on for short periods of time – long enough to copy some files on to flash drives. We have a new laptop and now have all our files on it. We are unable to send emails out in one of our email programs, but other than that, we are back up and running. Whew!

So back to the matter of my blog. I have a winner to announce. Megan had her name pulled from the hat and will receive the autographed copy of no-name baby by Nancy Bo Flood. Congratulations, Megan!!

Today I will review two middle-grade books and give away my gently-read advanced reader copies of each. Two reviews, two books, two winners! To make up for two weeks between blog posts. If you love middle-grade books as I do, check out other middle-grade reviews at Shannon Messenger's blog by clicking HERE. She lists tons of them each week. Stay tuned and you will find out how to get your name in the hat.

Minty and Paz are best friends. They have been best friends forever. But as Minty and Paz head toward the beginning of middle school, and they seem to grow apart over the long summer. They live in a neighborhood that has some strange things: a Witch House on the other side of the woods, a Man-Bat that wonders the woods, the ghost of Crazy Ike, and a couple of Mean Boys who seem to live simply to do mean things. One day, Minty sees a flash in the woods and chases a small figure. While looking for the small figure, she discovers another strange thing: a secret tree – a tree that holds secret messages about people in the neighborhood.

Natalie Standiford
Minty spends more time on her own, following the small figure until she finally meets Raymond, a boy near her age who, it seems, lives on his own in an abandoned model home. He has secrets, too. Frustrated with Paz’s disloyalty, Minty decides to work with Raymond to discover the truth about the secret messages in the tree and the people in the neighborhood. She finds the good in many people she thought didn’t have much good in them, as well as finding out how many secrets people around her have. She discovers a lot about her family and her best friend. She finds out Raymond’s secrets and how to help him. Of course, along the way, Minty also discovers much about herself.

“I was learning this thing about secrets: Even if they’re not about you, once you know them, they feel like they could be about you. Every secret connects to something inside of you, whether you know it at first or not.”

The Secret Tree by Natalie Standiford is an exciting and fascinating, fast-paced story middle-graders will love. It is a true coming-of-age story, one worth reading. The characters are relatable and the voice of protagonist is clear, strong, and believable.

* * * * *

Jessie and Evan go with their mother to see their grandmother, who is in the hospital after a small kitchen fire and a bad fall. When they arrive at her home, they find the damage is much worse than they expected. To top everything off, they find that Grandmother’s bell has been stolen! Every year the kids can remember, the ringing of the bell has been a New Year’s Eve tradition, with the oldest and the youngest present doing the honors together.  Clearly, this holiday season won’t be what they are used to.  Jessie meets a neighbor boy, Maxwell, who has strange habits, odd ways of moving, and difficulty communicating. While Evan works side-by-side with the man who has been hired to repair the house, Jessie befriends Maxwell and decides they should become spies and find the bell thief.

When Grandmother comes home, she is not herself. At times she doesn’t know who Evan is, and she makes poor choices that put her in danger.

“She didn’t look like his grandmother. She looked strange, with one arm missing inside her coat and the empty, flopping sleeve hanging like a dead fish. Her knitted cap was crooked on her head, and one strand of gray hair hung down and curled around her neck.”

Jacqueline Davies
Jessie and Maxwell run into trouble when they spy on some “mean boys” in the neighborhood while looking for the bell. Maxwell has been treated badly by these boys and is clearly afraid, but Jessie confronts them. Things get pretty sticky.

The Bell Bandit by Jacqueline Davies is the third book in a series – The Lemonade War Series. This book stands clearly on its own. Even though I had not read the previous two books, I didn’t feel like I was missing anything. It is a well-structured mystery that will engage young readers with the story while taking on the difficult issues of Alzheimer’s and autism. Sometimes the point of view is a bit confusing, but overall kids will like this book.

If you would like to win one of these books, just leave a comment here on the blog for one chance and post the link to your blog, Facebook, or other social media and let me know for a second chance. As always, one of my incredibly honest grandchildren will pull the winning names from a hat. Also, please indicate which book you would prefer to receive. If your name is drawn first, you will get your choice. If your name is drawn second, you will receive whichever the first winner didn’t choose.

Remember, if you have trouble leaving a comment, click on the title of the post and it will give you just this post with a comments section on the bottom.