Anna Myers TUMBLEWEED BABY – The Interview & Book Giveaway

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Next up in the series celebrating fantastic local SCBWI talent, I give you the dynamic Anna Myers. Anna is my first repeat interviewee on the blog, so she’s a pro at answering in-depth questions. I’m so happy to have her back!

Anna is stopping by to tell us all about her latest book, TUMBLEWEED BABY, which was just released this month. It is her 20th book. It is also her first picture book. (Stay tuned! At the end of this post, Anna is giving away a copy of her book.) There’s quite a difference between writing picture books and writing historical fiction novels – like her story set during the Tulsa race riots in TULSA BURNING or the one where she created a fictional character that existed during the time of Abraham Lincoln in ASSASIN.

But don’t take my word for it.

Before we get to the Q&A, let’s learn more about Anna’s debut picture book. One could say that this is the tall tale of how Anna herself came into the fold of her own large family. For those of us who know Anna and have had the pleasure of watching this story’s evolution, it is such a delight to see this become a living, breathing picture book.

The Book Tumbleweed Baby 2

TUMBLEWEED BABY written by Anna Myers, illustrated by Charles Vess

Published by: Abrams Books for Young Readers

Release date: October 7, 2014

Genres: Picture Book

A large, loving family in the 1930s Dust Bowl finds a “tumbleweed baby”—a wild baby—in the plains near their cozy farm home. The baby’s new siblings discover the ways she fits and doesn’t fit into the family, ultimately deciding that her wildness makes her one of them. The rhythm and voice of the text make this feel like a classic tall tale, and it pairs perfectly with the dreamy, warm art from master illustrator Charles Vess. (Plot summary from Goodreads.)

Tumbleweed Baby3

The Fabulous Kirkus Review

KIRKUS REVIEW

A family gets a new addition in a tall-tale sort of way.

The Upagainstit family (say it out loud) has five children in their “falling-apart house.” Coming home from school one day, they discover a baby in a tumbleweed, and they promptly bring her home. “She’s a wild-all-over baby,” says the “littlest-of-all girl,” and she is, with hair down to her little naked ankles. Tumbleweed Baby does not take well to bathing or to sleeping, although she is very enthusiastic about dinner—messily so. The next morning, the littlest-of-all girl is still insistent that the family cannot keep her, although the “biggish boy,” the “not-so-big girl” and all the other siblings find ways that they can help to do so. When Tumbleweed Baby kisses Papa’s cheek, it’s all over but finding the right name for her. Much later, the littlest-of-all girl shares a secret that will not surprise adult readers and will probably delight the younger ones. Myers’ consistently idiosyncratic nomenclature is charming, as is her matter-of-fact tone. Vess does the most expressive hair—each Upagainstit has distinctive locks, but none more so than Tumbleweed Baby’s. As usual, his color and line are expressive and rich while staying within a gently rainbowed palette.

An adoption story, a feral child story, a foundling story, a child-of-difference story—perhaps any and all of these; certainly wise and full of delight. (Picture book. 4-8)

The Interview
Anna Addressing the troops at the SCBWI OK 2014 fall retreat.
Anna addressing the troops at the SCBWI OK 2014 fall retreat.

Valerie Lawson: What was the inspiration for this book?

Anna Myers: I was born in west Texas, and my big brother always told me that he found me in a tumbleweed.

VL: And I bet for years, you actually believed him. Aren’t older brothers wonderful?

After writing 19 novels, what was the biggest challenge of writing a picture book? How did you go about learning to write a picture book?

AM: Getting a story down to picture-book length is hard. I had some help from writing buddies during the writing. One friend told me I didn’t leave enough to the illustrator in my first draft.

Another friend gave me an idea for the ending.

VL: That was a surprising thing to learn about picture book writing, that you needed to leave part of the story out so the illustrator could fill it in.

What surprised you most working in this different medium?

AM: I am surprised how excited I am about this book. Only my very first book made me more excited. I love having my words turned into such beautiful pictures.

VL: Working in a different medium invigorated you, that’s so wonderful. We should all strive to remember to keep trying new things.

Tell us about the difference between how you imagined the illustrations and how they turned out. What did you learn about the art of illustration?

AM: If I had been choosing illustrations, I would probably have chosen bright colors and a cherub-like baby. Neither of those would have been right for the story. Charles Vess knew what colors went with the story and how the characters in a tall tale should look. I learned writers should have nothing to do with the illustrations.

VL: And what gorgeous illustrations – those southwest landscapes! Vess really knows how to evoke a mood.

Tell us about your story of the Tumbleweed Baby.

AM: On their way home from school, five siblings find a baby in a tumbleweed. The smallest girl declares that the baby is a “wild-all-over baby” and that they should

put her back. They take her home. The baby is indeed wild. The question is whether or not the family can keep such a baby. Of course, they do keep her, and the story

ends with a surprise revealed by the girl who used to be the smallest.

VL: Your use of language is just so playful and perfect for the setting, like the Upagainsit family. I love it. 

What are you currently working on?

AM: I am revising Trashy Women, a book for adults about three teachers who form a garbage company to supplement their teaching income. I thought the book was

finished, but I don’t want it to be a pretty good book. I want it to be the best book I can make it.

VL: I’m so excited about TRASHY WOMEN! I’m glad you’re working on it. And it’s your first novel for adults, too. More playing with new mediums.

What has been your favorite book to read/book you’ve been most excited about over the past year?

AM: I think my favorite book this year has been The Book Thief. 

I have also read lots of books written for adults and have loved all of the books by Alice Hoffman.

VL: THE BOOK THIEF is just wonderful, isn’t it? And I do like Alice Hoffman. I’ve read about four of her adult novels. I didn’t even realize until recently that she wrote teen novels, too.

What would be your dream assignment/what would you most like to write about?

AM: I would like to write another picture book, but I have to find the right story. The idea for a picture book needs to be unique.

VL: Thank you stopping by, Anna, and for sharing TUMBLEWEED BABY with us. We wish her a very successful journey.

For those of you lucky enough to be within driving distance of the Oklahoma City area, Anna is having her book launch party, today, at Best of Books in EdmondThe fun starts at 5:30pm, where I’ve heard tale that there will be a readers’ theatre, answers to weedy questions, and refreshments with tumbleweed tea. Meet Anna and pick up an autographed copy of her book.

For those not so lucky, you can still order your own copy here:

indieboundbn-24h-80amazon

 

 

Learn more about Anna Myers here.

Follow Anna on Facebook here.

The Book Giveaway

Anna has graciously donated a copy of TUMBLEWEED BABY to giveaway here on the blog. To enter, simply click on the link below and follow the instructions. Contest is open to everyone! Deadline for entering is Tuesday, October 28th.

Tumbleweed Baby 2
Win a hardback copy of Tumbleweed Baby by Anna Myers

ENTER HERE!!!  ➤➤➤ Anna Myers Rafflecopter giveaway

CONGRATULATIONS TO STEPHANIE THEBAN!

She won the the autographed copy of Tumbleweed Baby!

Doug Solter – Author Interview & Book Giveaway

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October is all about celebrating the fantastic local talent here within our SCBWI Oklahoma group. I’ll be sharing great insights from our phenomenal fall retreat and highlighting some of our brave authors who allowed me to interview them here on the blog.

doug-solterFirst up is YA author Doug Solter.

No stranger to this blog, back in early August, Doug shared the cover reveal of his latest book with us. Doug’s third self-published book, RIVALS (SKID #2), is celebrating its book launch this week. Doug really knows the business of self-publishing and knows how hard one has to work to take this challenging route to publication.

Now for the even harder part, answering my probing interview questions.

(Make sure you stay tuned. There’s a chance for awesome prizes at the end.)

 The Interview

Valerie Lawson: Your protagonist in RIVALS is a female racecar driver, what unique challenges did writing about her world from her POV present for you?

Doug Solter: Well, one big challenge was writing from a teenage girl’s POV. Honestly, I couldn’t have done that without reading piles of young adult novels by female authors. This allowed me to step inside Samantha’s head and present her in what I hope is an honest representation that other girls can empathize with. Another challenge was exposing female readers to the world of racing without turning them completely off. Maintaining a balance between Samantha’s person life and racing was crucial is this regard. Based on feedback from readers of the first book, many were surprised how interested they were in the racing scenes. I think it was because they were experiencing it through the eyes of a character they’re invested in and so they’re willing to open themselves up to that strange world of racing.

VL: Tons of research and engage the reader by making them care about the character. Very sound advice.

What was the inspiration for this book?

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DS: Rivals is the second book of my Skid young adult racing series. The inspiration for Skid was initially a screenplay I wrote called Season of Speed. I wanted to do a racing story involving someone from Oklahoma who moves away from a small town and steps into a much larger world. One big thing was that I wanted the driver to be a young woman instead of the usual guy. When I made the switch to writing young adult novels, this screenplay became a book and I knocked down Samantha’s age to 17 instead of 23. Rivals is a continuation of Samantha’s story, dealing with her second season in Formula One.

VL: We’ve personally talked about your background in screenplay writing and how you’ll write screenplay adaptations for your novels. I love how you do this just as an exercise and how it helps you write more visually. 

 

 When did you know you wanted to be a writer? When did you start pursuing that seriously?

DS: It happened in two stages for me. My brain was always filled with creative juices leaking out in the form of day-dreaming and thinking about “what if”. But then I didn’t know how to channel that creativity in some form of art. Creative writing itself seemed too daunting at the time. But in my twenties I worked as a production assistant on a local film that a friend of mine at the time was producing. The script was awful. Bad dialogue, cardboard characters, predictable ending. It caused me to think about writing my own screenplay. I did write one and it got me hooked on screenwriting. After my fourth script made the semi-finals in the prestigious Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting, I finally believed that writing was something I did do well and I should really pursue it.  Stage two. I wrote eight scripts and submitted those to film production companies and Hollywood agents with some interest here and there but no deals. And then the economy in 2008 tanked and the screenplay spec market dried up. No one was buying scripts from unknown writers, so I switched tactics and decided to write my first book. And here we are.

VL: Switching gears a bit, let’s talk about your formative years. What was the worst job you ever had while going to school?

DS: I didn’t work during high school, but on one summer break from college I worked at a telemarketing company. I would call people using the phone book (pre-internet) and tried to convince them to buy passes for a charity event that was suppose to help local kids. It was awful and I hated it. Plus I wasn’t sure if the passes we were selling actually did raise money for the kids. I quit after like a month or two.

VL: Yikes. That definitely qualifies as an awful job. I applaud you for lasting that long.

Tell me about the most interesting place you have ever lived. What did you like/hate most about it?

DS: After graduating college, I lived in Fairfield, Iowa for two weeks to work at a video production company that did info-commercials. What I didn’t know was that Fairfield is the center of the Maharishi Transcendental Meditation movement. Almost everyone there is a self-proclaimed “meditator” so I instantly felt like an outsider, especially when people were constantly asking me if I was one of them. The town was out in the middle of nowhere and there was nothing to do there but…meditate. The only good thing was meeting Dawn Wells (Mary Ann) of Gilligan’s Island fame when she came to do an info-commercial about rice cookers.

VL: That is completely surreal. And sounds like the plot of a great story.

Tell us about your self-publishing experience. What’s harder/easier about this path to publication? Why was this path right for this story?

DS: Self-publishing takes more work. It’s all up to the writer to handle all the publishing steps and to maintain a level of quality that the reader expects when they hand over their money. The book must go through beta readers, a thorough editing process, and finally a proofread to purge as many errors as possible. I can distribute the eBook quite easily on-line and also have a paperback version available for giveaways, local signings, and those readers who prefer paper. Do I get into Barnes & Noble? No. But 90% of my sales are through eBooks anyway so it’s not that big of a deal.

I went the traditional publishing route with my first book Skid. Queried over 60 agents. Sent out manuscripts to publishers and all that. I did receive positive feedback from a few people, but not enough to take on the book. So after that process, I decided to try the self-publishing route as an experiment in order to learn the process and see if it was a viable last option. The process was harder than I thought going in, but I’m still glad I did it. I’m convinced that Skid or Rivals would have never been published otherwise.

VL: Any tips you’d give other writers considering self-publication?

DS: You still must act like a professional. That means don’t take short cuts with your work. Hire out professionals to do your book cover and editing. If you can’t create the eBook or paperback yourself, you can hire those professional services too. The eBook revolution is not a gold mine. You must publish a lot of books and readers must find them among the sea of titles that are available. You must build up a fan base from scratch. This takes time, good marketing, and patience. You must think and act like an entrepreneur because your writing is a business and you must treat it as such.

VL: Very sound advice. And it looks as if you followed it to the letter. Your covers are so captivating and from the pages I’ve read, you’ve really taken the time to craft your story. I love Samantha. We need more characters like her.

What has been your favorite book to read/book you’ve been most excited about over the past year?

DS: I finally read Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell this year and loved it. The setting took me right back to school in the 80’s. I was on that very same bus that was described in the book. Perfect representation of that time period. I loved both characters and the story itself felt more down to earth and real. Not so much plot driven but character driven in many aspects.

VL: Loved, loved, loved, that book! I felt my hair getting bigger as I read each page.

What are you currently working on?

DS: The next book I’m working on is Skid #3 which I hope will be out by early spring of next year.

VL: Doug, thank you so much for sharing your time and your knowledge with us.

Good luck with your book and the rest of your tour!

Book Tour Itinerary

To Learn more about RIVALS (SKID #2) and to follow Doug on the remainder of his launch tour or to catch up on stops you may have missed, here are stops:

September 29th – Guest Post – BC Brown – http://bcbrownbooks.blogspot.com

September 30th – Character Post – Jess Mountifield – http://www.jessmountifield.co.uk/

October 1st – Guest Post – Mandy Anderson – http://twimom101bookblog.blogspot.com/

October 2nd – Guest Post – Skyler Finn – http://randomofalife.blogspot.com/

October 3rd – Author interview – Valerie Lawson – https://valerierlawson.wordpress.com/

October 6th – Character Interview – Jessica L. Brooks – http://www.coffeelvnmom.blogspot.com

October 7th – Character Post – Melissa Robles – http://thereaderandthechef.blogspot.com

October 8th – Author interview – Dani Duck – http://daniduckart.blogspot.ca

October 9th – Gif Interview – Kate Tilton – http://katetilton.com/blog

October 10th – Guest post – Jasmine  – http://bookgroupies2.blogspot.com

Learn more about Doug Solter here.

Follow Doug on Twitter here.

The Giveaway

Doug has a fantastic launch-wide giveaway that you can enter right here. He’s giving away two autographed copies of his books – one copy of SKID and one of RIVALS.  Click on the link below to enter.

Win an autographed paperback copy of Book One
Win an autographed paperback copy of Book One
Win an autographed paperback copy of Book Two
Win an autographed paperback copy of Book Two

ENTER HERE!!!  ➤➤➤ Doug Solter’s Rafflecopter giveaway

TGNA Returns from Summer Vacation (and You Could Win the Motherlode of all Contests)

tgnalogorevampI mentioned a few days ago that we were mixing things up over at The Great Noveling Adventure (TGNA) – the other blog that I contribute to – and that I would have some details for you soon.

Time to spill!

We’re making our blog more about you, our fellow writers. We want to make our writing adventure more interactive with yours. So, we’ve invited a couple of new, well-seasoned writers to join the team and we’ve created a new structure to the blog. Each day will have a set theme and we, the contributors, will rotate instead.

Here’s the new schedule:

  • Media Mondays: This is a brand-new content feature–we’ll share downloads, printables, playlists, and more!
  • Travel Tuesdays: Our ever-popular “Your Adventure” posts, link roundups, and guest posts.
  • Writing Wednesdays: Craft posts.
  • Things I’ve Read Thursdays: Book reviews!
  • Top Five Fridays: Lists of our five favorite things.

Each quarter we will have a flash fiction writing prompt contest. (I had so much fun with our Christmas-themed flash fiction that I really can’t wait to do this, again.)Tweet

There will also be group writing sprints on Twitter, starting this Monday. I will be leading some sprints, myself, usually in the mornings. If you’re taking the day off for Labor Day and want some writing companionship, look for me under the Twitter handle @Novel_Adventure and @litbeing using the hashtags #tgna, #sprint, and #amwriting. I’ll be doing at least few rounds of twenty minute sprints before I take the kids to the ballgame downtown.

So, you mentioned something about a ginormous contest?

Oh, right! So much to talk about, I nearly forgot. From now until Sunday evening at 7pm EST (that means 5pm locally) you can enter to win some of the following prizes:

  • Two mystery book packages – Two lucky winners will each get a set of 3 books chosen by Serena, Kit, Isabelle, and Megan.
  • Character Sketch — one lucky winner will receive a character sketch from the super-talented Laura Hollingsworth, thanks to Alyssa.
  • Outlander Audiobook — one lucky winner will snag an audio copy of OUTLANDER by Diana Gabaldon, courtesy of Lauren.
  • Ultimate Submission Package — one lucky winner will receive a Query Critique from Danielle Ellison, the author of SALT and FOLLOW ME THROUGH DARKNESS, and Senior Editor at Spencer Hill Press; a Pitch + Synopsis Critique (with up to three revisions!) from Sarah; and a 30-Page Critique from Valerie (that’s me!).

That submission package alone is totally worth entering, right?

So, click on over to the TGNA website and enter today!

Barbara Lowell – Author Interview & Book Giveaway

The very first person I met through SCBWI was Barbara Lowell. She epitomizes the spirit of our SCBWI Oklahoma group – open and generous and willing to help anyone who asks. I am so grateful that she was the first to make a permanent impression on me. We met at one of the fall conferences, my first ever to attend. How lucky was I that she also soon became one of my very first critique partners, as well? I’m happy to say that she is still my critique partner to this day. We’ve both learned so much from when we started out as newbie writers, making typical mistakes and writing awful stories. Our whole group has grown and we have all come a long way from those stumbling beginnings. Barbara has fantastic suggestions that help me take my stories in much better directions, and even though she swears she could never write something so long herself, I’m not so sure she couldn’t if that’s where her passion led her. Fortunately for us, she loves writing dynamic and intriguing picture book biographies. I adore Barbara’s writing and have felt it a privilege to be a part of so many of her great stories. I’m so happy that the first of these has finally found its way to publication.

GEORGE FERRIS WHAT A WHEEL
Grosset & Dunlap. June 26, 2014.

 

George Ferris Book

 

George Ferris, ever confident, didn’t know that the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair would make him famous, but when engineers were challenged to build something unique and original, he knew he was the person to create it. George had to convince the fair officials, find the money and design and build an amusement wheel that could hold 2,160 people at the same time, something no one had ever done before.

 The Interview

 

Barbara was kind enough to stop by my blog to answer a few questions about her writing process and how she came to be the writer she is today. And she’s also donated not one, but two of her books for a fantastic giveaway! (I told you she was generous.) More details on that later. First, the questions!

Barbara Author PhotoValerie Lawson: What was the inspiration for this story? What made you want to tell it?

Barbara Lowell: My husband was reading Devil in the White City by Erik Larson about the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. What amazed him most was that George Ferris had built an amusement wheel with train-sized cars that could hold 2,160 people at the same time.

As soon as he finished the book, I read it. Those two details and George’s confidence that despite overwhelming odds, he could and would build his wheel inspired me to write his story as a nonfiction picture book.

I also loved how Mrs. Ferris absolutely believed in George. She rode in one of the six cars mounted on the wheel for a second trial trip. The glass for the windows hadn’t been installed. When the car she was riding in reached the top of the wheel, 264 feet, she stood on her chair and cheered.

 

VL: I loved those details about the story. What devotion his wife had to test such a contraption. Mrs. Ferris must have been quite a character herself.

I was surprised by the sheer size of this first Ferris Wheel – so big that each car could hold a 40-piece marching band. Would you ever ride in a Ferris Wheel that big?

BL: I might try the new High Roller in Las Vegas. It is twice the height of George Ferris’s wheel, but holds 1,120 passengers verses George Ferris’s 2,160. 

 

VL: A book of this type requires an extensive amount of research. What is your writing process? How do you start a project like this?

BL: I love history, especially American history and researching is fun. There are many interesting stories to find that are not well-known. I try to research the person or story I am writing about as thoroughly as I can. Since I learned about George Ferris’s wheel in Devil in the White City, I first looked at Erik Larson’s sources. His sources that I couldn’t find in the Tulsa library system, I either found at the University of Tulsa or bought online.

One that I consulted over and over is Norman Anderson’s impeccably researched book Ferris Wheels. I researched the sources used for every book I read and dug deeper and deeper. I was able to find at the NOAA website that the lowest recorded temperature in Chicago in January 1893 was -16. I look for as many primary sources as I can – books written by and interviews conducted with the subject of my book, original documents and artifacts. I found an interview with George Ferris from 1893 – that was a great find. When I was unable to locate the answer to a question I had about George Ferris, I contacted the Chicago Historical Society.

 

VL: That is very diligent researching. It must have been amazing to read George Ferris’s own words and then incorporate that into your story.

Who were your childhood heroes and role models? What drew you to them?

BL: From the time I was in third grade, I loved reading biographies, especially about people I could learn from. My favorite autobiography was Helen Keller’s The Story of My Life. I read many books about Eleanor Roosevelt and Theodore Roosevelt. All three subjects faced enormous challenges with great courage. I still read lots of biographies and nonfiction history.

 

VL: I have such a strong memory of learning about Helen Keller, too. I thought she was amazing. 

When did you know you wanted to be a writer? When did you start pursuing that seriously?

BL: I knew when I was a child that I wanted to be a writer, but I never tried seriously to become one until my daughter started high school. I thought, now I have the time to work on this and it maybe now or never.

I tried on my own, but I was going nowhere until the wonderful Oklahoma writer, Anna Myers started the SCBWI Oklahoma Schmoozes (writers and illustrators meetings.) I attended the meetings and conferences, took online classes and joined a critique group. I began to learn how to write for children and continue every day to learn and improve. This is a tough business and the support of my fellow writers has given me the strength to pursue my writing goals.

 

VL: You are so right! The need for support cannot be emphasized enough. I may have given up long ago if not for my SCBWI family.

Tell me about the most memorable adventures you had with your friends outside of school.

BL: I loved the summer. I lived in a neighborhood with lots of children. We spent our summers dreaming up adventures and then acted them out. A friend’s father helped build sets for a local theater group and one day he brought home a full-size Conestoga wagon. We had a great time traveling out west in our imaginations. One summer we set up our own outdoor laundry and went around the neighborhood asking for things to wash. We played all kinds of outdoor games. There was so much to do that every day seemed to last forever. I loved being a kid and that’s why I like writing for them.

 

VL: Wow! A real Conestoga wagon? You kids must have had a field day with that. I think I would have wanted to camp out in it. Maybe sleep under the stars like a cowboy. I loved being a kid, too. I think you may have something there. 

What are you currently working on?

BL: I finished researching a picture book biography, and I am working on the first draft. I have also recently worked on the first picture book I ever wrote and have rewritten it, not just revised it, for about the sixth time. I think I have finally made it work – but I have thought that before. I also have a new idea for a picture book biography and will start my research by reading the subject’s autobiography. I hope I can find a great story arc there.

 

VL: I can’t wait to take a peek at it. 🙂

What are some of your favorite books for kids?

BL: I think I can agree with almost every fan of YA – The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. I also love his book An Abundance of Katherines. I recently read Kathi Appelt’s latest middle grade novel The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp and her book The Underneath is one of my favorites. Karen Cushman, Laurie Halse Anderson and Anna Myers write some of my favorite historical fiction novels.

My favorite book period is To Kill a Mockingbird. I have a huge collection of picture book biographies and historical fiction picture books. My two favorites are Deborah Hopkinson’s Apples to Oregon and Patrick McDonnell’s Me…Jane (Jane Goodall.) I think his is the best picture book biography written. I also like all of Barbara Kerley’s biographies and one of my new favorites is On a Beam of Light (Albert Einstein) by Jennifer Berne.

 

VL: There were some favorites of mine there and some new ones I need to read. Great suggestions.

What has been the best part of being a writer?

BL: Becoming friends with children’s writers. I absolutely love spending time with them and being part of this close community.

Thank you for inviting me to your blog!

Thank you so much for being here, Barbara. And I hope to have you back very soon!

Learn more about Barbara Lowell here.

BUY THE BOOK:

indiebound

 bn-24h-80amazon

 

The Giveaway

 

And now for the fabulous giveaway!

Barbara has generously donated two hardback editions of her new book GEORGE FERRIS WHAT A WHEEL. So there will be TWO WINNERS! This contest is open to everyone. The contest will run through July 18th and you can enter once a day. Good Luck! The winners can now been seen when you click on the giveaway site. Congratulations!

 

ENTER HERE!!!  ➤➤➤ Barbara Lowell Rafflecopter giveaway

Jazz Age January Event – Review of Mrs. Dalloway

Mrs DallowayYou may realize that this is the middle of February and I am a tad bit tardy in posting my final Jazz Age January post. Actually this is the final day to post for the challenge, so I’m cutting it just under the wire. Whew!

I have been the unfortunate sufferer of the nasty flu and have been bed-ridden for the better part of two weeks. Although I still haven’t recovered my voice, I am now able to work for brief periods without massive coughing attacks and body aches. I won’t bore you with anymore bodily function issues. Let’s get down to business, shall we?

I think it was most apropos that I read MRS. DALLOWAY while I was ill. I have never read a book by Virginia Woolf before and her stream of consciousness style fit right along with my feverish dream state.

The surface plot for Mrs. Dalloway is simply that Clarrisa Dalloway is preparing to host a party in the evening. But beyond the surface, Woolf explores the thought processes of Mrs. Dalloway as she is prompted to reflect on her life and past events. Central to the novel is reference to the effect of World War I on British society in the post-war years and in particular, the loss of loved ones and the altering fate of those left behind. The consequences of this included the physical and psychological damage done to those who fought and survived, as well as to those who survived despite never having set foot on the battlefield. It all adds up to an odd juxtaposition of people carrying on their lives, with parties, families and friends, while an unspoken suffering erodes their happiness. (Excerpt from book foreword.)

Woolf is much more interested in the inner life of characters than of following a tradition plot. Instead, you find yourself flitting from mind to mind. The story begins with Mrs. Dalloway going out to buy flowers for her party. Then we meet a troubled young couple whose husband is suffering terribly with PTSD. We see the world through his thoughts and then hers and then skip through others traveling along Bond Street.

The story is written in one long, continuous chapter with no breaks. It feels like you’re riding a wave of thoughts and emotions that somehow do weave together with recurring themes. The finality of life being one of them. Here, Mrs. Dalloway reflects on death in the midst of enjoying her day:

What she loved was this, here, now, in front of her; the fat lady in the cab. Did it matter then, she asked herself, walking towards Bond Street, did it matter that she must inevitably cease completely; all this must go on without her; did she resent it; or did it not become consoling to believe that death ended absolutely?

I found this preoccupation fascinating, especially considering how Woolf ended her own life years later. That being said, not all of the book was preoccupied with mortality. Another major focus was the missed romance between Mrs. Dalloway and Peter Walsh. Two people who knew each other so well, who could affect each other by merely entering a room and yet, Mrs. Dalloway had refused to jazzagemarry Peter Walsh. Their history was reflected on by both, back and forth throughout the tale.

Here is a brief excerpt from Peter’s perspective after he has called upon Mrs. Dalloway (Clarissa) unexpectedly in the morning before her party:

There was always something cold in Clarissa, he thought. She had always, even as a girl, a sort of timidity, which in middle age becomes conventionality, and then it’s all up, he thought, looking rather drearily into the glassy depths, and wondering whether by calling at that hour he had annoyed her; overcome with shame suddenly at having been a fool; wept; been emotional; told her everything, as usual, as usual.

Although I couldn’t always tell where Woolf was taking me with her tale, I really enjoyed her use of language and the questions she brought into the reader’s mind. This description of Peter observing a group of young people out on the town is just delicious:

They dressed well too; pink stockings; pretty shoes. They would now have two hours at the pictures. It sharpened, it refined them, the yellow-blue evening light; and on the leaves in the square shone lurid, livid – they looked as if dipped in sea water – the foliage of a submerged city.

Overall, this book was a delightful way to end this Jazz Age experience.

Ah! Lest I forget! The winner of my DOLLFACE giveaway is…

ELIZABETH BEVINS!

Thanks to everyone who entered.

I had a great time with this whole event and with the contest. I’m sure there will be more contests the near future.

Jazz Age January Event – Review of A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

A Moveable FeastMy next choice for the Jazz Age January Event is somewhat surprising since I absolutely hated reading Hemingway back in high school. An alcoholic womanizer who ended his days in misery? Why in the hell would I want to read that drivel? As I recall from my fond memories, THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA was one of the worst books I had to suffer through, and I hoped that I would never have to read another Hemingway book ever again. Never ever. I mean, who thinks teenagers can relate to that crap? That’s what I thought way back then. Flash-forward a few decades and I decided to give the old sea dog another try.

Why, you might ask?

I saw the HBO movie, Hemingway & Gellhorn and really enjoyed it, especially when presented in the lovely Clive Owen packaging. Now, I can’t help picturing/hearing Hemingway just as Clive Owens portrayed him. Not altogether a bad thing, if you ask me. Certainly improved his surly disposition.

A few months after viewing the show, I was discussing it with my father and he had mentioned recently reading the book A MOVEABLE FEAST. He said it was an excellent read. That kind of sold me on it more than anything else. (Sorry, Clive.) Then along came the Jazz Age January Event. Perfect timing to actually pick up the book and suffer through it.

Clive Owen Reads
Read me another story, Clive.

If all else failed, I could imagine the gorgeous Clive Owen reading it to me. Right?

Begun in the autumn of 1957 and published posthumously in 1964, Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast captures what it meant to be young and poor and writing in Paris during the 1920s. A correspondent for the Toronto Star, Hemingway arrived in Paris in 1921, three years after the trauma of the Great War and at the beginning of the transformation of Europe’s cultural landscape: Braque and Picasso were experimenting with cubist form; James Joyce, long living in self-imposed exile from his native Dublin, had just completed Ulysses; Gertrude Stein held court at 27 Rue de Fleurus, and deemed young Ernest a member of une generation perdue; and T.S. Eliot was a bank clerk in London. It was during these years that the as-of-yet unpublished young writer gathered the material for his first novel The Sun Also Rises, and the subsequent masterpieces that followed.

Among these small, reflective sketches are unforgettable encounters with the members of Hemingway’s slightly rag-tag circle of artists and writers, some also fated to achieve fame and glory, others to fall into obscurity. Here, too, is an evocation of the Paris that Hemingway knew as a young man – a map drawn in his distinct prose of the streets and cafes and bookshops that comprised the city in which he, as a young writer, sometimes struggling against the cold and hunger of near poverty, honed the skills of his craft.

A Moveable Feast is at once an elegy to the remarkable group for expatriates that gathered in Paris during the twenties and a testament to the risks and rewards of the writerly life. (Plot summary from Goodreads.)

Although this was an unusual piece to reintroduce myself to Hemingway since it was his last work and it was unfinished when he died, it made me curious enough to want to read some of his other works. I still have no desire to reread THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA, but I would like to try THE SUN ALSO RISES, as it was the book he was writing during the time period of this book.

I did find the order of the chapters and the skipping around a little jarring at times, but when taken chapter by chapter as brief essays, they were really quite enjoyable. Overall I relished getting a feel for the period and for the writers living in Paris. I did have a strong desire to snag a time machine and zip back to Paris to surround myself with the intoxicating sights he described so well. What a fantastic time and place to be a writer! His insights on his own feelings about writing and his fellow expatriates were honest and touching and sometimes quite scathing, but above all always interesting.

Here is one my favorite sections on writing that I think every author should take to heart:

I always worked until I had something done and I always stopped when I knew what was going to happen next. That way I could be sure of going on the next day. But sometimes when I was starting a new story and I could not get it going, I would sit in front of the fire and squeeze the peel of the little oranges into the edge of the flame and watch the sputter of the blue that they made. I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, ‘Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.’ So finally I would write one true sentence, and go on from there. It was easy then because there was always one true sentence that you knew or had seen or had heard someone say. If I started to write elaborately, or like someone introducing or presenting something, I found that I could cut that scrollwork or ornament out and throw it away and start with the first true simple declarative sentence I had written.

Whenever you find yourself embellishing from your true writing, gut it back to the studs; your foundation of truth. Nicely put.

And that’s just one of the little gems about the craft I stumbled upon. I loved discovering them and I’m sure most other writers will as well.

One other thing Hemingway allows you to experience, to crawl into and feel deep down in your bones, was the hunger of the starving artist. The smells wafting from the open cafés made my stomach grumble as he talked of skipping meals to stretch his income and instead fed on viewing Cézanne paintings at the Luxembourg museum, feeding his artist’s soul. His hunger was almost a necessity to his creative process. He describes it as “good discipline”.

He talks about when he had an entire novel lost, when a bag was stolen at the Gare de Lyon. Every writer’s nightmare.

I knew it was probably a good thing that it was lost, but I knew too that I must write a novel. I would put it off though until I could not help doing it. I was damned if I would write one because it was what I should do if we were to eat regularly. When I had to write, then it would be no choice. Let the pressure build. In the meantime I would write a long story about whatever I knew best.

How many of us just on the cusp of publishing can relate to the struggles he describes?

I was delightfully surprised by what I found in this book. Hemingway may still have been an alcoholic womanizer who came to a sad end, (who am I to judge?) but he did have talent and some fascinating things to say.

I highly recommend this book to my fellow readers. You’ll enjoy it.

jazzageOh and don’t forget, all through the Jazz Age January, I am holding a book giveaway. Enter below to win a copy of the first book I reviewed for this event.

 ENTER HERE!!!  ➤➤➤  DOLLFACE Rafflecopter giveaway

Jazz Age January Event – Review of Dollface by Renée Rosen with Giveaway!

jazzageThis is my first selection for the Jazz Age January Event. (You can read all about the challenge and sign up yourself here.) I’ve always felt like I had the heart of a flapper, if not the style of one. What I would have given to have been a rebellious young woman during such interesting times in this country’s history – sneaking out to speakeasies, swilling giggle juice, and listening to hot jazz? It’d have been the cat’s pajamas.

Falling into this challenge and receiving this book for review were both serendipitous events. Ms. Rosen’s agent, Kevan Lyon, put out the request on Twitter for bloggers willing to receive a copy of this book for review and after reading the premise of this delightfully sinister story, I answered the call.

Dollface: A Novel of the Roaring Twenties by Renée Rosen

dollfaceAmerica in the 1920s was a country alive with the wild fun of jazz, speakeasies and a new kind of woman—the flapper. 

Vera Abramowitz is determined to leave her gritty childhood behind, and live a more exciting life, one that her mother never dreamed of. Bobbing her hair and showing her knees, the lipsticked beauty dazzles, doing the Charleston in nightclubs and earning the nickname “Dollface.”

As the ultimate flapper, Vera captures the attention of two high rollers, a handsome nightclub owner and a sexy gambler. On their arms, she gains entree into a world filled with bootlegged bourbon, wailing jazz and money to burn.  She thinks her biggest problem is choosing between them, until the truth comes out. Her two lovers are really mobsters from rival gangs during Chicago’s infamous Beer Wars, a battle Al Capone refuses to lose.

The heady life she’s living is an illusion resting on a bedrock of crime and violence unlike anything the country has ever seen before. When the good times come to an end, Vera becomes entangled in everything from bootlegging to murder. And as men from both gangs fall around her, Vera must put together the pieces of her shattered life, as Chicago hurtles towards one of the most infamous days in its history, the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Although the pacing of this book races, and Vera may seem like a superficial social-climber at first glance, this isn’t necessarily a light read. The setting and characters are full of depth and racked with conflict. When Vera returns to the filth of the stockyards on a mandatory visit with her mother, the tension between her two worlds is palpable.

“Take it. Go on.”

I nodded, stuffed the bills inside my one good pocket. My mother wouldn’t splurge on a plumber, but she’d give me two dollars like it was spare change. I gave her a hug, and for a moment she stood there, her body stiff with surprise. My gesture had caught her off guard. I started to pull away but she drew me in closer, tightening her embrace. This was the nature of our relationship; we were always out of step. When I wanted nothing to do with her, she wanted me nearby, and when I grew desperate for her approval, for her attention, she was too busy for me.

“Go-go,” she said, still holding me tight.

After I boarded the streetcar, I stared out the window, watching her walk toward the slaughterhouse. Before the streetcar started up, she turned back and waved to me. I pressed my hand to the glass and felt a tear forming. I hated when I felt sorry for her. Seeing her make that walk back by herself made me feel as if I’d abandoned her; I was only trying to help myself. No matter what, I couldn’t let myself end up like her. I just couldn’t.

Ah, the complicated intricacies of the mother/daughter relationship. Who hasn’t had those same thoughts? Rosen not only nails the complexities of the child/parent dynamic, she really paints vivid pictures of this rich historical setting, from the night life of Chicago during Prohibition with fascinating details that don’t overwhelm the story, to the gritty mobster wars leading up to the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, to the intimate family lives of all involved. Rosen grounds you right in this time and place and brings this tale to life and it rushes by in a blaze of booze and bullets and passion. All in all a great read.

In the spirit of sharing, I’m holding a giveaway for this fine book throughout this month as we celebrate the Jazz Age. (Open to U.S. residents only.) Follow the link below to enter. You can enter each day from now until February 8th. For an easy entry, leave a comment telling me your favorite slang or phrase from the Roaring Twenties. It was such a great time for colorful language, don’t you think?

 ENTER HERE!!!  ➤➤➤  DOLLFACE Rafflecopter giveaway 

 

Learn more about Renee Rosen here.

Follow Renée on Twitter here.

Follow Renée on Facebook here.

A Scavenger Hunt YA Book Lovers Should Enjoy

Do you like scavenger hunts? Do you love YA novels and love learning about new authors and their latest projects and getting to read bonus material from their latest projects? What about possibly winning lots and lots of books? Well, you’ve come to the right place! Or rather, I’m here to point you in the direction of the right place. The latest YA Scavenger Hunt , the brain child of author Colleen Houck, is off and running with a deadline to enter of April 7th. From the official website, here’s a description of what this hunt is all about:

Image

“The YA Scavenger Hunt is a biannual online event that promotes collaboration between YA authors from different publishing houses, offering fans an opportunity to see the latest and greatest in young adult literature. During the hunt, we showcase exclusive bonus material, give readers access to top secret insider information, and offer fabulous prizes and giveaways for zealous YA fans.”

I’ve already got half of my first list completed, so you’d better get started if you want to have a chance to enter! Click on the site for details on how to play. Follow the action on Twitter at #YASH.

Enjoy!

Remember, Remember the First of November…Nanowrimo is here!

Emergency Candy

I am so completely surprised that November snuck up on me. I swear it was just summer. Actually, here in Oklahoma, it’s still been in the 80’s until recently so I can be forgiven for my confusion on that point. I’ve had my head down working in my writer’s cave so long, I’ve lost all sense of time and place. I almost missed Halloween. We didn’t even decorate the house this year – didn’t stop those freeloading cuties from ringing the bell. Good thing I did manage to buy some treats. (And extras of, course. They will be needed this month.)

I have so many things going on right now that I can hardly manage without skipping a night of sleep here and there – and that’s usually a bad idea because it always catches up with me. I become a brainless zombie that makes really bad online purchases. November is busy for me in a normal year, with Thanksgiving and my birthday week always colliding and then we usually travel to my folk’s place during that same time – it’s just nuts. Traveling with an autistic child and figuring out what to do with the two attention-seeking dogs is enough of a stressor alone. This year, I’ve added to the chaos.

I have a novel revision retreat this weekend that I’ve been preparing for all month which has meant reading and critiquing two other novel manuscripts, complete with detailed notes on plot structure, character development, dialogue, and voice. I’m just about finished, but there’s a few down to the wire things left to do. Once I’m there at the retreat, I’ll be able to relax and it will be an enjoyable three days of writing bliss with my friends along two editors from New York who survived the worst Hurricane Sandy had to offer and were gracious enough to rearrange their flights so they could attend our gathering.

Another major thing I’m working on is completing the final revision of my YA manuscript that an agent is waiting to see. I am so close and I really want to send it out this week, but I know I need to wait until it’s ready and in the best shape possible. So when I see another section that needs more work, it’s frustrating. I just want to be done already! Gah! I hope I can send out very soon.

Finally, I’ve signed up for National Write a Novel Month. Most of us just call it nanowrimo, or nano for short. It’s a really fun way to work on a first draft at a frenzied pace with a group of people cheering each other on. I need to get started on my next manuscript and once I send off the manuscript to the agent, nano will the best way to get my mind off of the agony of waiting to hear back from her. If you’re also doing nano, hit me up on your buddy list under litbeing and we’ll make it through this crazy thing together. I’ll be participating in #writemotivation this month as well, but mostly I’ll be keeping my goals related to nano, so that shouldn’t be too much of an added strain.

One final note of business, the die of fate were rolled for my Darcy Pattison book giveaway and three was the magic number. Sharon Martin won the signed copy of Desert Baths. Congratulations, Sharon! I’ll see you this weekend at the retreat and bring you your prize.

So are you doing anything crazy this month? Participating in nano? Let me hear from you.

Darcy Pattison – Novel Revisions and Desert Baths – The Author Interview

For most writers, the hardest part is getting to “The End”. Finishing a first draft can be daunting, but once accomplished, you feel like you can take on the world. You’ve managed to write a beginning, a middle, and an END!!! Congratulations! Have some cake! Then when you wake up the next day, remnants of your celebratory cake still stuck to your face after you crashed out on your couch from the massive sugar rush, you realize that the hard work is just starting; this is where the creative struggle really begins. The revision process can make or break your manuscript and one of the best teachers on how to get the most out of your novel revision is Darcy Pattison.

“Revisions are the messy route toward powerful stories.” from Darcy’s Novel Revision Workbook

I first met Darcy many years ago when she taught a novel revision retreat for our Oklahoma SCBWI group. She wasted no time. She told us that she didn’t care how we wrote our first draft – whether we were serious plotters or pantsters didn’t matter. The issue of “What is the story?” was no longer important. Our new focus should be, “What is the most dramatic way to tell this story?”

She never told any of us how we should change our stories, instead she gave us strategies and techniques for revision to tell our stories our way, from completing a detailed novel inventory worksheet, which gave us an overview of what was really in our drafts, to exploring the obligatory scene, to character epiphanies and, my personal favorite, the section on sensory detail; how using the senses can really anchor a scene. I still use many of the things I learned from Darcy to this day.

Darcy not only teaches other writers how to be better writers, she is a well accomplished writer herself. She has ten children’s books published,  as well as several instructive books on writing. In Darcy’s latest picture book, Desert Baths, she brings her aptitude for teaching together with her creative talent for storytelling. Children curious about animals living in the American Southwest can learn about the diverse species presented through their unusual bath time rituals. From the scaled quail who scrubs herself with ants to the western banded gecko who uses his long tongue to lick his eyeballs clean to the nocturnal mud-bathing activities of the javelina, all twelve animals make do without much water and none use soap.

Darcy has paired up again with illustrator Kathleen Rietz, whom she worked with on a previous nature picture book, Prairie Storms. The illustrations are gorgeous and compliment the lilting text that lead you through the desert landscape and leave you wanting to know more. This book can be used as a jumping off point to delve deeper into the world of desert animals. An extensive teaching guide can be found on the publisher’s website.

Here’s a really cute book trailer for Desert Baths with children acting out different animals bathing rituals:

I asked Ms. Pattison if she would be willing to be interviewed for her new book release and she graciously agreed.

Valerie Lawson: Darcy, I wanted to say, that reading your book, Desert Baths, brought back a memory of when I was a kid and I asked my mother – when she obviously wasn’t paying attention – if I could go take a bath out in the rain. I was curious about how people bathed before indoor showers. As someone who’s always been curious about the hows and whys of the world, I really enjoyed your book.

Now, on to the questions!

As a young kid, what was the worst trouble you ever got into? And what was your punishment?

Darcy Pattison: I got caught eating pieces of candy from a candy box that was meant for a Mother’s Day present. I had to set up a shop and sell— beg —my siblings to buy pieces of candy at the exorbitant price of 10¢ a piece. I had to use all the money I had saved from my allowance, plus what I could make selling that candy and buy a new box. Talk about humiliation in front of your family—I was totally mortified.

VL: How awful! I believe I did something similar when I was in Bluebirds. We were supposed to be selling boxes of chocolates; I had all of these boxes of chocolate in my bedroom. What was a seven year-old to do but open them and start eating? I didn’t stay in Bluebirds very long. I know I was punished for that, but I blocked that part out of my head.

VL: Tell me about your most memorable adventure you had with your friends outside of school.

DP: I lived in the mountain of New Mexico, just a mile from the Continental Divide. You may think of it as a long continuous line, but it’s really a series of ridges, often skipping a section of the ranges at a time. Ours was a small mountain that was loosely connected into the range. Once, my brothers dared my sister and I to go with them and climb the Divide. You could actually start at one end of “our Divide” and walk up a fairly gentle slope to the top. But this time, the challenge was to climb straight up. Memory is fuzzy—it must have been a couple hundred feet to the top. I remember reaching for the next finger and toe-holds and toiling hard, and working for hours and hours. I made it to within ten feet of the top, but the last bit was truly straight up. I couldn’t do it. It’s something I regret to this day, that I couldn’t finish the last bit of the climb.

VL: Isn’t that interesting that some of our most vivid memories are of failures rather than successes? Maybe you’ll make it back there someday and conquer that mountain.

On to one of my favorite questions, what was the scariest thing that you ever experienced as a kid?

DP: When I was 8 or 9, our dogs got rabies and they ran around and around and around the house, baying and barking, while we clung to window panes and watched and begged Mom to explain, “What’s wrong with them? How long will they do that? What’s wrong with them?”

It was the sounds that were the scariest: the barks, the whines, the feet racing around the house, the whimpers. The barks that wouldn’t quit.

Finally, my oldest brother had to go out with the shotgun and put them out of their misery. Even that was scary, because he had to avoid getting bit while trying to corner them. It was a sad, scary day.

VL: Oh! That’s not only frightening, but so sad.

VL: On to something a little more uplifting, what did you want to be when you were in grade school? What influenced this choice?

DP: An astronaut, of course. Every kid in the 60s/70s wanted to be an astronaut, it was the time of Neil Armstrong walking on the moon. But then, someone told me that if you wore glasses or had ever had a broken arm, you would never qualify to be an astronaut. I had to give up my dream, since I wore glasses and my right wrist had been broken when I was ten. After that, I couldn’t decide on anything else, so I drifted until I found writing.

VL: Ah! How many of us drifted until we found writing? When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

DP: I was interested in sixth grade, when I read Lord of the Rings. I wondered what it would be like to be on the other side of reading, to be a writer. But I didn’t do anything about it till I was grown and had three children of my own and started reading the best of children’s literature again.

VL: Tolkein is quite an inspiration for a sixth-grader! When did you start pursuing your writing seriously?

DP: During nine months of 1985, my husband was unemployed. I was a stay-at-home Mom, who was homeschooling the oldest of our girls. But I had a Masters degree. I did a lot of fill-in work that year, but when a new job came through for my husband, we were still committed to having me stay home with the kids. But I thought that with this Masters degree, surely there was something else I could do while at home, some way to make money to fill in during lean times. I started writing—and never looked back.

VL: And we are so very glad that you did. Thank you so much for taking the time to visit with us, today. It has been a pleasure getting to know more about you.

If you would like to learn more about Darcy Pattison, visit her website –  Fiction Notes. There you will find an excellent resource of information on novel revision as well as a plethora of other writing topics.

And for one lucky reader, I have a signed copy of Desert Baths to give away. To enter to win, leave a comment. You can tweet about this interview or mention it on Facebook for an additional entry. Let me know how you got the word out so I can give you the extra credit – don’t you just love extra credit? I’ll determine the winner by a lucky roll of the twenty-sided die (or dice, depending on how many entries I receive) one week from this posting.