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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Book Reviews, Fiction

Kids’ books to beat winter boredom!

If you have children, you probably have mixed feelings about the holidays–excited and scared at the same time! Two weeks! How am I going to keep them busy for two whole weeks?? There are only so many holiday crafts, parades, and Christmas films.

How about supplying the kids with books to keep their brains active and you sane!! Here are a few I’ve read and liked…

Picture Books

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The Gingerbread Witch is a fun story written by Lisa Logan with help from her 4-year-old son, Dean. My kids (age 7 and 4) love it because it’s not your typical sweet-as-sugar children’s book (often written more for the parents than the kids!). There’s an actual story here–a really good one! And a lesson to be learned.

Chapter Books

        

Straight from the horse’s mouth — my daughter and I both like these mysteries involving Cam, a girl with a photographic memory and her best friend Eric. They are great at solving mysteries! We especially like the very first in the series, Cam Jansen and the Mystery of the Stolen Diamonds.

Young Adult

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Into The Land of Snows by Ellis Nelson is a fast-paced story about 16-year-old Blake who must deal with his parents’ recent divorce. When he gets into trouble, his father demands that Blake join him — at Mount Everest! I haven’t finished reading this book yet, but I’m enjoyed it so far and have read lots of Nelson’s well-written book reviews. I have high hopes for this book!

 

The Rain Catcher

The Rain Catcher, Snippet Two!

Kind words from my writer friends have inspired me to keep on working on my Young Adult/middle grade novel, The Rain Catcher! I feel really lucky to have such great support! Here is the next snippet…. If you didn’t read the first section, please check it out here.

Snippet Two

We stepped outside the airport, and the wind hit me like a blast of refrigerator air. Aunt Claire dove into her purse and pulled out a packet of cigarettes, which surprised me, since no one in our family back home smokes. Well, Granddad sometimes chews tobacco, but that’s just for show, Dad says. Whenever his “Yankee” neighbors jog past the front porch in their yoga pants, Granddad throws a wad of tobacco into his mouth, gnaws on it for a few seconds, and spits out the juice into an old brass spittoon he got at a yard sale. After the neighbors have passed, he rushes in and brushes his teeth, Dad says.

“Where’s my mom?” When I didn’t see her at Arrivals, I’d thought she must be waiting outside, perhaps circling the airport instead of paying for a parking space, like my Aunt Marsha does up in New York City.

“Em… She has to teach a yoga class.” Aunt Claire tugged my sleeve, leading me toward a yellow sedan with dents in the sides, as though someone had rammed a shopping cart into it many times. She wiggled the key in the lock and banged on the trunk until it creaked open. Then she threw my suitcase in; I was glad the only breakable thing in there was my sunglasses, which I probably wouldn’t need, judging from the blanket of gray clouds above our heads.

“She couldn’t take off a few hours?”

“Well… she’s already missed three!”

“Why did she miss them?”

“Hmmph! She’s a bit of a free spirit, your mum.”

“What does that mean?”

But my aunt didn’t answer, just put both hands on the roof, planted her feet, and began rocking the car back and forth. I stood watching her.

“What on earth are you doing?”

“It helps to get the car started; on the way over here, it conked out. Had to coast into the parking space.”

“But why does rocking it work?”

“No idea. I saw Ewan doing it before, and it seemed to do the trick.”

She got back in, and sure enough, the car started.

“Who’s Ewan?”

Aunt Claire ignored my question.

We drove past fields of brilliant yellow flowers and then cottages with brown roofs and little gravel front yards and tiny cars parked on the street; they looked like Lego houses. Behind them, low green hills lay like piles of cabbage in the distance. One cliff stuck out like a book lying on its side.

“That’s Arthur’s Seat,” Aunt Claire said, seeing me staring.

“Who’s Arthur?”

“No idea.”

Storefronts began popping up as we got closer to the city. A man in a black turban stood in front of a fruit stand, perhaps waiting for someone to buy a bag of oranges or apples. (I think there are maybe three Indian people in the whole of Graham.) Girls in navy school uniforms trotted down the sidewalk. Summer vacation hadn’t started here yet, obviously. My school had finished at the beginning of June, and here it was nearly July. Thank God I didn’t live here!

We drove for what was probably only a couple of miles but got stuck behind the red “double decker” buses, and so we didn’t get to Aunt Claire’s place for another 40 minutes. By that time, I had dozed off and didn’t wake up until Aunt Claire jerked up the handbrake, nearly sending me into the windshield.

“Here we are!” She jumped out of the car and began assaulting the trunk again until it finally opened. Then she pulled out my suitcase and began marching up the street.

“Wait!” I called, struggling to unfasten the seatbelt which suddenly did not want to let me go. I pulled on the strap until I had enough to slide under it, then pushed open the door and dashed after my aunt. We passed a Scot Bets and a bar called The Malevolent Crow (weird name for a bar, surely?) and another fruit stand. The green apples looked kind of bruised, and the oranges looked more green than orange.

“Wait here.” Aunt Claire disappeared into the shop, leaving me standing beside my suitcase, the wind whipping my hair above my head. I stared at my shoes, hoping nobody would notice the strange teenager standing by herself. I wondered if people could tell I was American; I just had on jeans and a green sweatshirt (my usual outfit), but suddenly my sneakers seemed unusually bright in the grimy street.

“Back again!” My aunt stuffed two unopened packs of cigarettes into her purse, and we were off again. Three more blocks (why had we parked so far away?), and we reached a grungy-looking black door. Brown scuff marks spotted the lower half, making me wonder if someone wearing big work boots had tried to kick it open more than once.

We stepped into a stairway as damp and dark as a dungeon, the only light trickling from a skylight high above.

“I’m on the top floor,” Aunt Claire said, lugging my suitcase behind her. Why wasn’t I surprised?

Once inside Aunt Claire’s “flat,” I followed her down a shadowy hallway, the walls lined with hooks of scarves and coats and umbrellas. A holey rug covered the floorboards, which creaked horribly as we walked over them. I felt a breeze from somewhere and shivered. The T.V. or radio chattered from down the hall, and I wondered who was there, waiting for us.

Suddenly, I had a thought. Maybe it was Mom! Maybe she wanted to surprise me; it had been so long, the only contact we’d had was through letters and a yearly phone call (maybe not even that often). I held my breath, a smile creeping across my face, not wanting to give the game away. I’d act surprised, so as not to spoil their game. My heart sped up, like the wheels on the old-fashioned steam trains Granddad had taken me to see at the Transportation Museum in Spencer. It had been Easter — I was six — and we’d ridden a train with the Easter Bunny. Had I remembered to bring the photograph album to show Mom?

Aunt Claire pushed open the door at the end of the hall, and I poked my head in, unable to wait any longer. My eyes stung with anticipation and then, dread, as on the couch sat not my mother but the creepiest man I’d ever seen.

The Rain Catcher

The Rain Catcher, first peek

I’ve been working on a novel set in Scotland for the past hundred or so years. It was published as Rest and Be Thankful by the lovely Pilrig Press in Edinburgh, but since then I decided to re-write it for the American market and slant it more for kids aged 13 and older. So, I’ve been reworking it under the new title The Rain Catcher.

I thought I was finished a few months ago. The excellent Susan Buchanan of Perfect Prose proofread it for me, and I was all set to go. Then the doubts started creeping in… If you’re a writer, I’m sure you’re all too familiar with the feeling: “It’s just not there yet!” And “I just read this other YA book, and it’s much better than mine! I need to make mine better…” And “What if it’s too long/simplistic/complicated/short?” Oh, the debilitating self doubt!!

Anyway, I’ve decided to post little snippets of my novel here on Southern Bend Books. I would like to get it out there and see it from a different angle. Feel free to add your 2 cents if you like it or don’t like it, if you think it’s too “old” for a 13+ audience, or just anything you feel like sharing about your writing process! Cheers!

Snippet One

I dragged my suitcase off the conveyor belt and started to walk through the section that said “Nothing to Declare” when someone grabbed my shoulder. I shrieked, already jumpy from traveling all the way from North Carolina to Scotland by myself.

Calm down, I’m not going to bite you!” a man in an orange airport vest snapped. Then he smirked. “Or maybe I will…”

I shuddered and jerked my shoulder out of his grasp.

Are you traveling alone?”

Technically, I was an “unaccompanied minor,” although 13 and not exactly a kid. Not that it mattered; no one had met me off the plane. Once the doors had opened, I’d followed the nice American woman, Jane, who’d sat beside me, to passport control, where she’d gotten swallowed up in the swarms of passengers visiting Edinburgh.

“I need to search your luggage.” The man grabbed my suitcase and dragged it toward an inspection table, expecting me to follow him. My stomach started to ache. I missed Dad already.

The man’s walkie-talkie buzzed and he grunted importantly, putting his hand on my shoulder again, as though I was his property. An elderly woman sat on a luggage cart nearby, rubbing her stockinged foot. The passengers from my flight passed us, not one of them noticing I was being manhandled. Maybe people didn’t sue in Scotland. I glanced at the man’s security badge, wondering if he was really a terrorist who had sneaked into the airport, pretending to be an employee.

And then, out of  nowhere, came the shriek of a woman obviously used to telling people off: Get your sweaty paws off my NIECE!” It had to be my legendary Aunt Claire.

She had the same bellow that Dad used when the parking attendant at the North Carolina State Fair told him we weren’t allowed to park on the grass. We’d sat in the car for 20 minutes, inching forward while car after car parked on the grassy slope near Blue Ridge Road. When it was our turn, the attendant said the lot was full, and we had to park on the other side of the fairgrounds. Dad couldn’t believe it. “There’s a spot right there,” he said, pointing at the patch beside a Toyota minivan. The attendant shook his head. “It’s too close to the road.” Dad and I stared at the road, about 20 yards away.

“Are you kidding me?” Dad wiped the sweat from under his eyes. It was 93 degrees that day. Flies buzzed through his open window. The attendant pursed his lips and tapped his watch. “You need to park ACROSS the ROAD,” he annunciated, as though Dad was three years old.

That did it. Something inside Dad clicked “on.” He sat up straight in his chair.

“That’s just FINE!” Dad is kind of shy and hardly ever raises his voice. But when he does, he puts every inch of himself into it. “Never mind that my taxes are paying YOUR wages.” The attendant began backing away from our car. “I’ll be sure to lodge a complaint with the Agriculture Commissioner.”

The attendant waved his hands. “Okay, Sir. You can park there. That’s fine.”

“Oh, no. I wouldn’t want to break any RULES.” Dad slapped the steering wheel and jerked the car into reverse.

“Really, it’s fine. You can park here.”

“No, we’re just going to park in that field over there, next to the cows.” He pressed the gas, spinning up dirt as we careened out of the lot, the attendant still gesturing at us to come back. Now Dad uses his “State Fair Voice” whenever someone is trying to boss him around.

The airport security man’s eyes bulged at the sound of Aunt Claire’s State Fair Voice. She came marching toward us, lithe as a panther in her black leather pants and high-heeled boots, ignoring the airport official yelling at her from down the hallway to “Get your arse back here, Madam!”

The creepy guy let go of my shoulder– finally! – and waved his walkie-talkie at her, which only made her madder.

Don’t you point that bloody thing at me!” I half-expected her to headbutt him.

She seized my suitcase, and the security man gasped. I guess no one had ever taken the power, literally, right out of his hands.

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The Rain Catcher

YA novel, The Rain Catcher

Our first publication, The Rain Catcher, will be released summer 2014. This young adult novel follows Katy as she spends the summer in Scotland with her estranged mother, Liz, and living-on-the-edge Aunt Claire. The three end up on a bizarre road trip through the Highlands, whizzing past Loch Ness and Inverness, supposedly sightseeing, but Katy begins to wonder if her mom and aunt are actually running from something — or someone!