Book Reviews, Conferences, Fiction

Red Hot Carolinas!

I recently attended Red Hot Carolinas, the annual conference for SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) — long story short, it was a lot of fun and I met so many talented writers and artists. But my favorite part was learning about all the brilliant Young Adult and Middle Grade fiction books out right now.

I trained as a creative writer in an MFA program that focused solely on literature for adults — I hadn’t realized what I’ve been missing out on all these years! I’ve just started reading two Middle Grade books, and I have to say that they are every bit as insightful (maybe more so) and beautifully written as “grown up” fiction.

Orphan Island is hauntingly lovely, reminding me a tiny bit of Lord of the Flies, but much less violent. It tells the story of 9 children who live on a strange but wonderful island, alone. Every few years, the oldest must leave and a new young child appears.y648

Call Me Sunflower takes me back to being the new kid in middle school! The description of the cafeteria — the smell of boiled cabbage, the tables full of kids who already know each other — made my stomach lurch. I’ve been there. The way the snooty kids act when an “outsider” sits at their table without being invited made me tense up. I’ve been there, too. 9781510711792-frontcover

Some more books that are now on my reading (and “to buy”) list:

Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman

Goldie Blox series by Stacy McAnulty

Tea Cakes for Tosh by Kelly Starling Lyons

There are many more, but I’ll save those for later reviews!

 

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Fiction, The Rain Catcher, Travels

New book release…finally!

I’m pleased to announce the publication of my middle-grade fictional book, The Rain Catcher! It’s been changed since I posted the earlier snippets of it, but the general idea is the same. The story is set in Scotland and follows 13-year-old Katy as she visits her estranged other for the first time in 10 years!

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My book started off as a diary-format novella for adults, then morphed into a more complicated (3 points of view!) novel for adults, then just a plain (1 point of view) novel for adults. And now…it is a short chapter book for kids aged 11 and up! Phew!

So, all those adages about writing taking time, blah blah…well, they’re true! The idea for my story came after I took a trip to Scotland with my mum in 2006, so you can count back to see how many years it took me to get to this point!

If you have a young person in your life who likes to read, please give The Rain Catcher a try. It’s got some mild bad language, and there is definitely a dark side to it, but nothing worse than most kids see on the nightly news. If he or she likes adventure and is curious about traveling to another country, this might be a good fit for him or her. I’m going to be setting up a kid-friendly page on this website soon, so stay tuned!

Fiction, Writing Tips

Kids can write!

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Kids, learn the basics of how to write a story!

I’ve been experimenting with the website pixton.com, which my friend Lisa Logan (also a writer) introduced me to. You can create your own comic strips or graphic novel – the trial period is free, and after that rates start at $8/month, which is pretty reasonable.

It’s a lot of fun, and as Lisa says, is also a kind of therapy. I’ve made comic strips about the election, my 3-year-old’s habit of shouting “Poop!” really loudly, and all sorts of things.

Anyway, I created a tiny ebook (PDF) for kids that lays out VERY basically how to write a story. Here it is if you’d like to share it with a kid you know. The age range is about 7 to 9 (my 2nd-grader helped me come up with ideas). So, please download it and let me know what you think! I’m hoping to do a longer, more detailed version at some point…eventually…

Kids Can Write! (pdf ebook)

The Rain Catcher

The Raincatcher, Snippet 5

Hello, Everyone! I really appreciate all who have been reading the little snippets from my novel, and although it may take me a while to get back to you, I will do my best to reply to all comments!

Here is another “snippet”… Feel free to comment, and I hope you enjoy it!

Recap: Katie arrived in Scotland from the United States the day before and is staying with her estranged mother, Liz, who seems quite scattered and disorganized for someone who hasn’t seen her daughter in 10 years. Last night, Katy was surprised to hear Liz coming back from somewhere at 2 in the morning and has no idea where she went…

Snippet Five

A whistle woke me. Then the sound of feet thumping across floorboards, a woman sneezing, and finally I was able to pry my eyelids open. Sleep hung over me like a soggy blanket. Where was I?

I pushed myself up and felt around for my glasses. They were under my pillow. So was a brown bottle of oily liquid, labeled “Sinus Surprise Therapeutic Oil.” Then I remembered.

“Mom?” I called

The whistling stopped. “Yes?” Mom poked her head out of the kitchen.

“I thought you’d left me,” I said, before realizing how babyish I sounded. Mom came over and sat down on the couch, her hip against mine, warm and reassuring. She must have been boiling water for tea. I imagined the steam from cups of tea, warming her tiny kitchen, scrambled eggs and buttered toast on the coffee table for breakfast, and smiled.

“Come on, sleepyhead.” Mom yanked my blankets down, and I gasped at the cold air on my bare arms. She handed me a pair of felt slippers shaped like bananas.

“What time is it?”

“Four o’clock.” Dark circles hung under her eyes.

“Why are you up so early?” I asked, shoving my feet into the bananas for warmth.

“It’s a long drive to Ullapool, and we want to get there before dark.”

“Where? What?” Was I still dreaming?

Mom clapped her hands together. “A surprise treat for you, Katy! We’re going on a tour of the Highlands, all the way up to Ullapool on the west coast. Won’t that be nice? You’ll get to take lots of pictures to send to your dad, and we’ll ride in a ferry and maybe even see the Loch Ness monster!”

“Loch Ness?” That woke me up. Ever since I saw the movie, “Water Horse,” about a boy who finds a special egg that hatches into a sea dragon, I’ve wanted to try to spot the Loch Ness monster.

Mom hopped off the bed, scooping up a pair of tights from the floor and stuffing them into a tote bag made out of what looked like shoelaces.

She handed me a granola bar. “Here’s breakfast.”

I forgot my camera in the rush to get our bags packed – Mom said to only take a few things from my suitcase and put them in my backpack because we couldn’t use the trunk. Aunt Claire had run over a cat the night before. She’d put the dead cat in the “boot” of the car to bury later.

“Why did she do that?” And where had she been driving to last night? I suddenly remembered my mom creeping into the flat at two in the morning and wondered if I should ask her about it.

“Och, you know your aunt; always an animal lover! She wanted to give the cat a proper burial, somewhere nice and scenic up in the Highlands.”

“Really?” I tried to imagine Aunt Claire wiping her eyes over a little mound of dirt and placing pink flowers under a cross made out of popsicle sticks. All I could think of was her shrieking at getting mud on her fancy leather boots.

“Um, Mom? Did you go out for tea bags or something last night?”

She looked at me strangely. “No. Why?”

“I thought I heard the front door opening, that’s all.” I blushed.

“Och, it’s probably just jet lag. You’re exhausted, and your mind’s’ playing tricks on you!”

“Hmm. It didn’t seem like my imagination. Did you go outside to check the mail or something?”

“For goodness’ sake, Katy. I didn’t go anywhere!”

“Okay, okay.” Obviously I’d had some kind of out-of-body experience where I’d hallucinated the door closing and floorboards creaking. It had happened before when I was five and we’d just driven 11 hours from visiting Aunt Marsha in New York City. Dad put me to bed, and two hours later, I’d sleep-walked downstairs and began crying when I couldn’t get my arm into my coat sleeve. Dad found me in the coat closet, wrestling with a giant scarf and jabbering about going to the jungle to get more bananas.

We ran down the street, Mom’s shoelace-bag bouncing up and down behind her like a flag. I dragged myself along, wincing as the cold air pierced my nostrils. The sky was already tinged with pale blue, hinting at the promise of a sunny day. The stars had started to fade and only a few remained, blinking lazily.

Aunt Claire stood smoking beside her car, which was parked in the middle of the street. She wore a huge pair of sunglasses, and I wondered how she was going to see when it wasn’t even daylight yet. She jerked her head at us to get in and then threw her cigarette butt onto the ground and mashed it with the toe of her boot.

“Do you think it’ll start?” I asked from the back seat as Aunt Claire got in. “Do you need to rock it?”

“Hmph! Smart arse.” Aunt Claire turned the key, and the car made a whining noise as though it didn’t want to get up this early either, but then the engine caught and we all let out a sigh of relief.

The streets were empty, so Aunt Claire took every corner at blazing speed, bumping over the cobbled streets of the older parts of the city and making the whole car rattle. I hoped we’d make it to the Highlands without the car falling apart.

Tall buildings stood dark in their own shadows, as the sun hovered low in the horizon, not yet ready to make the climb. Mom pulled something out of her pocket. I leaned forward – it was a silver chain with a crystal pyramid pointing to the floor.

“Not the pendulum again!” Aunt Claire stared at the roof as though begging God to please give her a break.

Mom sat up straight and frowned at her sister. “It will guide us in our journey.”

“I thought the map was supposed to guide us,” I said.

“Shh! I have to concentrate.” Mom closed her eyes and breathed in and out loudly. “Should we take the A82? Or should we take the A9?”

“The A82 will take forever,” Aunt Claire blurted out.

“We’re not in a hurry, are we?” I wanted to see Loch Ness and castles and sheep!

“Ssshh!” Mom stared at the crystal. “Ah ha!” She nodded encouragingly as it began to move in circles. To me, it looked like Aunt Claire’s jerky steering was causing the crystal to move, but what did I know?

“We will take the A-82,” Mom declared.

“Fine!” Aunt Claire squealed the brakes and made a huge U-turn in the middle of the street, just about causing the car to flip over.

“Take it easy!” Mom gripped the dashboard.

“Thank God for seatbelts,” I mumbled.

“What was that?” Aunt Claire glared at me in the rear-view mirror through her gigantic sunglasses.

“Nothing.”

As we drove out of the city, the sun climbed higher, turning all the stone buildings and trees a beautiful golden-red color, and we all sighed at the sight. But then, almost immediately, clouds piled into the sky, as though late for work, and swallowed the sun up.

“Typical,” said Aunt Claire.

We passed the same hilly suburbs and fields as the day before, but under the gray sky, the purple-green hills and yellow flowers seemed “drab” (one of Mom’s words) and lifeless. And then the rain came, spattering onto the windshield and blurring Aunt Claire’s view. She slowed a little, but her driving still felt jerkier than the day before.

Cold began to seep up my legs, and I rubbed my knees to keep warm. Mom yawned and dozed in the passenger seat, while Aunt Claire turned the heater on high, which only fogged up the windshield and made the car smell like burnt rubber and dead cat.

I studied the back of Mom’s head, her long brown hair spilling over her shoulder as she slumped to the right. Her hair fluttered in the wind from her open window, and I had the urge to touch it and see if it felt like mine, which was shorter and darker. Also, mine was bone-straight, like Dad’s blond hair, while Mom’s had a loose wave in it. Was it soft like mine, or coarse? I leaned forward, but something held me back – a voice: “Don’t do it; you’ll just get hurt.” And I believed that voice because I’d been hurt in the past.

Embracing Creativity

“The world from two feet off the floor…”

Okay, so the Proclaimers’ song “Lulu Selling Tea” actually says, “The world from FOUR feet off the floor.” But my two year old is only about 2 feet tall, so I’m adapting the line! For a while now, I’ve wanted to post the photos he takes with my phone — they are so wacky, and yet there is often something about them that catches you off guard. It’s as if he sees light and color in a way that I don’t — until I look at his photos.

Then again, every mother thinks her children are geniuses, right? So, just for fun, here are a few of his photos…

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