Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The View Outside My Window

The details and visitors change from week to week at the bird feeder outside my window. During winter, I had juncos and chickadees. With the arrival of warmer weather, spring brought in finches and other assorted sparrows. Because the populations of song birds have been decreasing across North America, I hope my little feeders help the birds sustain themselves through whatever hardships they encounter.  It is sad to think that someday their songs may be silent, unless we work to do better for them and for ourselves. Ultimately, the health of wildlife around us is a reflection of our own. As the cities of Flint in Michigan and Porter Ranch in California have shown, we are not immune from our actions.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Middle Grade Book Event - Start the Year with this Giveaway and Sale!

It's hard to believe that the holidays are over. Waking up to Monday, January 4, 2016 will mean that we'll be stepping out from the whirlwind of activity associated with life's recent festivities and into the whirlwind of day-to-day responsibilities. I'm dreading the thought of my own early morning alarm.

But January 4th also holds another celebration to look forward to. For those of you who love middle grade fiction, there can probably be no better way to start the year off than loading up your e-reader with great books at a great price. Or, how about FREE? Many of the titles included in this event are free! Others have a reduced price of just 99 cents. With many books from award winning authors, you won't be disappointed at the selection.

Do you have young, independent readers in your life? Then why not surprise them with books they'll enjoy? You'll find lots and lots of titles to choose from.

Check it out at the link below!


Monday, December 14, 2015

Holiday book list 2015

I love books. I love the lure of a new story, visiting places I haven't been, finding hope in the promise for better ever-afters, and discovering new itineraries to self-discovery and connections with the wider world of people around me. If I enter a book store, time drifts; and I can browse for hours, marveling at the creativity that's sprung forth from fellow authors. At the holidays I am especially susceptible to becoming lost in the shelves, whether they belong to a library, a store, or happen to be my own.

Here are a few titles I've been drawn to for those on my gift list this year.

How to Catch Santa by Jean Reagan. Illustrated by Lee Wildish 

This is a fun delight, focusing on holiday traditions of wonder and magic.

Giraffes Can't Dance by Giles Andreae. Illustrated by Guy Parker-Rees. The rhyme works and the story is heart-felt, which means that this will be one that will be read again and again.

The Lightning Queen by Laura Resau. A story inspired by interactions between characters from different cultures. This one is set in Mexico about friendship that spans generations.

Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates by Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger. This book is sure to please my sailor-dad, although I wish I had more time to spend reading it before I have to give it away. What is it about? The subtitle reads, "The forgotten war that changed American History."

And lastly, what am I reading now?

Glow by Jessica Maria Tuccelli. Set in Tennessee, this is another story that mingles two worlds into one through examining bonds between nations and families of the Scots-Irish and Cherokee descent. Since my father's side of my family is descended from marriage between Scots-Irish and Cherokee of Tennessee, I was drawn to this story.

Happy Holidays! Happy Reading! Happy Feasting!


Thursday, December 10, 2015

Coat of Many Colors - Tis the Season

Without a doubt, I am no expert on the culture of film. When I find I have a little free time to burn, I'll check out the latest offerings available. Lately however, I'd found myself lamenting at the lack of movies and TV shows that offered any sort of meaningful dialogue that extended beyond people simply talking AT each other, or issuing commands. I guess I have missed shows or films that offer displays of human connection and companionship. I guess I have grown tired the endless barrage of dystopian stories hinged on awful leaders and the results of poor decisions.

Just when I thought I would forever leave the television off and avoid the theater altogether, along came Dolly Parton's Coat of Many Colors. It seems silly to think that someone my age finally felt happy over the fact that she had a film to look forward to, but it's true.

And as I watch it, it's apparent that I was right. Finally, I was lucky to stumble across entertainment that meant something other than one side winning or losing. Finally, I was lucky to be able to sit down to enjoy a real story about real people. Isn't that what life is about?

Sunday, November 8, 2015

#NANOWRIMO - Consider your setting

By now, if you are a writer going through November, you are well into the midst of it -- writing that new novel, or rewriting that old one, or writing out gobs of nonsense in-between the bursts of word-smithing genius. It is, after all, National Novel Writing Month. NANOWRIMO

In order to get to this point that you are at, it's quite probable that you put a bit of time into getting your writing environment ready. Perhaps you cleared the clutter from your desk, sharpened the pencils, adjusted the lighting, or burned some incense.... All to prepare yourself for the process of sitting down to spend the next 30 days with a set of characters that will take life on the page. Characters with wants and needs. Characters with thoughts and challenges. Characters whose decisions help shape the plot driving through the heart of your novel.

However, there is one other character that may be standing on the sidelines, waving its figurative arms as you blaze through the literary forest, all the while slamming the text madly across the page. This is a character that can add depth and persona to the story you are wanting to tell. This is a character that can definitively engage your readers and lead them to turn the pages on a deeper, more intimate level. This character happens to be your setting. And as clearly as your main character asks for chai latte to go with that buttered ham-and-cheese croissant en route to meeting whatever imminent fate awaits around the next corner, your setting has a voice that ought to be heard. Perhaps not as equally as your main character who tosses that cardboard cup, still half-full, into the trash can on her way out the door, but definitely as noticeable as the damp chill that lashes at her face as she steps on to the sidewalk, causing her to pull her jacket more tightly closed before looking left, then right, then left again.

California coast
Masterful writers engage the setting as a powerful character, whose role in the novel can add substance through subtle warnings, hints, reprimands, or rewards.

In Kim Fay's novel, The Map of Lost Memories, the setting seems like a character of its own, both mingling with and driving the emotions of the main characters.

----The night seemed to shift, as if Shanghai were settling down into its foundation. A fitful cool struggled to press in from the distant East China Sea. Irene heard propellers thrashing against the black Whangpoo River. And she wondered what in hell had just happened, while below in the dark a melon had been split, its sweetness clinging to the humid air.

Matthew Kirby introduces the strong hold of the setting that the characters must deal with in the opening lines of Icefall.

---- The fjord is freezing over. I watch it from the edge of the cliff near our hall, and each day the ice claims more of the narrow winding ocean. It squeezes out the waves and the blue-black water, while it squeezes us in. Just as Father intended it to Winter is here to wall us up, to bury us in snow, and keep us safe.

And lastly, the characters in The Underneath by Kathi Appelt are deeply connected to and affected by their environment. This connection occurs, quite literally, from in the opening lines of the story.

--- There is nothing lonelier than a cat who has been loved, at least for a little while, and then abandoned on the side of the road. A small calico cat. Her family, the one she had lived with, has left her in this old and forgotten forest, this forest where the rain is soaking into her soft fur. 
--- How long has she been walking? Hours? Days? She wasn't even sure how she got here, so far from the town where she grew up. Something about a car, something about a long drive. And now here she is. Here in this old forest where the rain slipped between the branches and settled into her fur. 

It's effective, this use of setting by a writer. It helps the story make sense. It offers a sense of perspective. It also can help establish familiarity, even in places that are new to your reader. Thus, during the quieter moments of November, take the opportunity to consider your setting. How is it faring? Are you treating it with some attention? Does it need you to look toward it with patient eyes?  Perhaps doing so will help put your novel on course for a deeper dimension.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Earth Day and Stewardship, a challenge for writers

Earth Day came and went, and I wrote this post, but forgot I hadn't finished it. So, here we go.

It seems like as time goes on, Earth Day is no longer just a day that garners a bit of attention from a minority of the population once a year in April. Instead, the idea of Earth Stewardship has slowly taken hold of the public at large, as well as religious institutions and world leaders, presumably due to the problems that loom around every natural resource on our planet and which can no longer be so easily ignored. As such, this year marks numerous upcoming conferences and media events that spotlight the ramifications of adverse ecological change on the health and sustainability of the human population.  Of course, humans aren't the only living beings that will be affected, but it is with us and our fate that many can most easily relate, and so that is where the attention will predominately lie.

Keeping that in mind, I've decided to turn my attention to one of my own communities -- that of writers, and issue a challenge. Writers have a way of starting things. Garnering attention. Getting people to notice something and get excited about it. Things like, A to Z mystery series, cooking series, mysteries that involve cooking, furry creatures that evoke kindness, angels that inspire good deeds, ideas of life after death, and even ideas of cheating death.  Thus, I would like to challenge all writers to take notice of the way that all people depend on a healthy planet. And with those thoughts in mind, I would like to challenge writers to start invoking another idea, one that can go along with so many others that have taken hold -- the idea that tending to a healthy Earth is a good thing to do, an appealing thing to do, a smart thing to do, and maybe even sexy thing to do. Whatever slant works for you, my challenge is to have you see if you can work that perception into your stories. Not to teach -- that's the last thing we want to showcase in our stories -- but just to have the idea be an integral, inherent fiber of the overall fabric of whatever world it is that you strive to create in your storytelling.

I don't watch a lot of television, but I did catch that the series "New Girl," starring Zooey Deschanel as Jessica Day, has the idea of stewardship written into the story line of at least one episode with the fact that she apparently prefers environmentally-friendly products, for example. Thus, this challenge is doable, and I suspect it is already being done in many areas. But that doesn't mean that there isn't room for more growth in this area. Many more writers can inspire readers to take notice of what it means to live a sustainable life and how it can be done. Many more writers can write in a way that gets their readers to reflect on stewardship, and then perhaps some will be inspired or see how they can make changes toward achieving their own healthy, sustainable living.

We've got plenty of documentaries that show us the problems our world is facing, from slaughtered and diminishing dolphin populations, to dwindling giraffe populations, to deteriorating oceans that are drowning in plastics, to dwindling forests of all kinds, to melting glaciers and dying polar bears, to disappearing wetlands, to decreasing song birds and raptors, to unsustainable water practices, to toxic spills from industrial and agricultural wastes, and the list goes on and on. Yet, the source of the problem is the same. Us. And the problems continue. Not only with us, but most certainly with every other living creature on the planet, and also with the nonliving natural resources on which everything depends (i.e., water, air, soil, land).

But we as writers can be a part of the solution in showing how sustainable and Earth-friendly actions can be effortlessly done by simply infusing these behaviors into our stories, our characters, our decisions. And we as readers, perhaps can learn from them in a way that doesn't detract from the entertainment that we sought in the first place.

As a writer, I'm challenging myself. I'm challenging you. And I hope that in some way that will translate into challenging readers, who in turn can share and challenge each other..

Happy Earth Day. Happy Earth Year. Happy Earth Living. Happy Stewardship.