Book Review – MY MASTODON by Barbara Lowell

 

I have to admit that I am a little partial to this story as I had a very small part in shaping it from its very beginnings when my wonderful critique partner, Barbara Lowell, first brought this adorable story to the attention of our critique group years ago.

I immediately fell in love with Sybilla, the young girl whose family lives in a natural history museum and whose best friend is a mastodon skeleton. I really wanted to see this story become a book…and now it is finally here!

Barbara at Magic City Books in Tulsa at the Launch of MY MASTODON
Barbara signing my copy of MY MASTODON, a dream come true!

Although it’s been a long road to get Sybilla’s story from beginning concept to reality, and it has seen many, many revisions, it’s even better than I could have imagined. The gorgeous illustrations by Italian illustrator Antonio Marinoni are a perfect fit.

MY MASTODON by Barbara Lowell

Published by: Creative Editions

Release Date: February 25, 2020

Genres: Picture Book, Nonfiction, Biography

indieboundbn-24h-80

 

Plot Summary:

Inspired by the 19th-century lives of artist and scientist Charles Willson Peale’s family, this is a tale of a girl and her favorite companion—a fossilized mastodon!

(Plot summary from author’s website.)

Isn’t that a fascinating place to grow up? In a museum? And that story is based on a real family!

I love Sybilla and how she thinks of herself as an explorer, just like her father. I also love how she helps out around the museum.

 

Sybilla has strong feelings about what should and should not be done with her mastodon. When she hears her friend will be sent away, she campaigns to have him stay.

And even creates flyers advertising her opinion.

 

 

She also has a pretty great older brother, Rembrandt, who doesn’t like seeing her so sad. I don’t want to spoil the ending, so you should read this wonderful book yourself!

But don’t just take my word for it, this book received a starred Kirkus review!

“Accomplished illustrations further elevate this engaging introduction to America’s first family of science.”

Here are what other reviewers had to say:

“It’s a sweet and remarkable story, with Marinoni’s exquisite illustrations inviting the reader directly into the Peale’s museum home, a world of taxidermic animals and towering skeletons” – Booklist Review 

“Nurtured by intelligent eccentric family members and permitted familiarity with priceless scientific curiosities, Sybilla has an ideal Enlightenment-era childhood” – Publishers Weekly

I know you will love this story as much I as do!

Happy reading!

Learn more about Barbara Lowell here.

 

Tulsa Library Day of YA Coming!

 

This coming week, the Tulsa Library is hosting a wonderful event called Tulsa Day of YA. This FREE event “celebrates young adult literature and those who love it by bringing together authors, fans, and aspiring writers through workshops, panel sessions, and academic discussion.”

Doesn’t that sound fantastic? I can hardly wait!

The event begins with a special opening keynote on Friday night, February 21, with Justina Ireland, author of DREAD NATION, in conversation with Tulsa Artist Fellow Juliana Goodman.

I just finished reading DREAD NATION and it is so good! I can hardly wait for the sequel coming out soon!

On Saturday, February 22nd, the day begins with a Women in YA panel featuring Cindy Pon, Justina Ireland, Sonia Gensler, M. Molly Backes, and Juliana Goodman with Ally Carter moderating.

How awesome to have two fabulous Oklahoma SCBWI writers on this panel! Am I right?

The rest of the day continues with great break out sessions and a FREE lunch. The day concludes with a book signing! What more could a lover of YA want?

All events will be held at Central Library, 400 Civic Center, Tulsa, OK 74103.

To attend this free conference, you must register in advance. Lunch will be provided on site. If specific accommodations/assistance are required or would improve your experience at Tulsa Day of YA events, please reach out to Teen Services Coordinator Leah Weyand at leah.weyand@tulsalibrary.org or 918-549-7490.

For details on the speakers, the schedule, or answers to your most pressing FAQs, visit the event website here.

#TBT Post – Hemingway Revisited

I wrote this #ThrowBackThursday post for a group blog I was once a part of and it was originally published on that site on January 29, 2014. 

Of all the books I was forced to read back in high school, THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA was one of the most painfully dull tomes I had to suffer through. The plot? An old fisherman cursed with a long dry spell has the worst experience of his life when he tries to break his losing streak by pursuing the catch of a lifetime, struggling for days to catch it only to see it slowly stripped away as he tries to bring it to shore. (Sorry, Spoilers!)

An entire book about fishing? BLECH! DEPRESSING! (Yes, I know it was deeper than that, but I was sixteen, give me a break.) 

I can see why it was his last book. I only hoped it was my last Hemingway book. 

Then I watched the HBO movie, Hemingway & Gellhorn, and really enjoyed it. It may have had more to do with Hemingway being presented in the lovely Clive Owen packaging, but whatever worked. (Now I can only picture Hemingway as Clive portrayed him – not a bad thing, if you ask me.) It got me thinking that maybe I should give the old sea dog another try. 

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 had a lot to do with his early life as a writer and was an excellent read. That kind of sold me on it more than anything else. (Sorry, Clive.)

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

Clive Owen Reads

(Read me another story, Clive.)

Plot Summary:

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 himself 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?

If I had never given Hemingway another try, I wouldn’t have discovered these insights about his writing. I look back now at his deliberately terse sentences, where he’s culled away all ornamentation, and I see the beauty in them. Of course I am looking at them through very different eyes, as a writer myself. I still don’t like THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA and nothing you say can change my mind! But maybe there is something to learn from this old sea dog after all.

Have you ever given a writer a second chance? Were you surprised when you did?

 

Book Review – SHOUT by Laurie Halse Anderson

 

I adore everything about Laurie Halse Anderson, from her kickass attitude to her uncompromising writing to her posts about weird Scandinavian breakfasts when she’s on vacation and fully embracing the hygge philosophy.

I absolutely loved her book SPEAK, and this more personal, more intense follow up, SHOUT, I loved even more.

SHOUT by Laurie Halse Anderson

Published by: Viking Books for Young Readers

Release Date: March 12, 2019

Genres: Young Adult, Poetry

indieboundbn-24h-80

 

Plot Summary:

A searing poetic memoir and call to action from the bestselling and award-winning Laurie Halse Anderson!

Bestselling author Laurie Halse Anderson is known for the unflinching way she writes about, and advocates for, survivors of sexual assault. Now, inspired by her fans and enraged by how little in our culture has changed since her groundbreaking novel Speak was first published twenty years ago, she has written a poetry memoir that is as vulnerable as it is rallying, as timely as it is timeless. In free verse, Anderson shares reflections, rants, and calls to action woven between deeply personal stories from her life that she’s never written about before. Searing and soul-searching, this important memoir is a denouncement of our society’s failures and a love letter to all the people with the courage to say #metoo and #timesup, whether aloud, online, or only in their own hearts. Shout speaks truth to power in a loud, clear voice– and once you hear it, it is impossible to ignore.

I almost cried just from reading the dedication page.

“for the survivors.”

This book may hit a little close to home.

But then, we are all survivors, right? We’ve all survived some kind of hell. Not all of us are brave enough to explore it so thoroughly in our writing and put it on display for others to see, to share, to learn from.

I had no idea before I started reading this book that SPEAK was based on Anderson’s own experience of being raped as a teen. This book, SHOUT, is a response to SPEAK, and it talks a lot about what she went through at the time of her assault and how it shaped her life afterwards.

This should give you an idea of how that went:

“…too many grown-ups tell kids to follow 

their dreams

like that’s going to get them somewhere

Auntie Laurie says follow your nightmares instead

cuz when you figure out what’s eating you alive

you can slay it”

Fucking powerful.

Here’s another passage that stopped me in my tracks – probably because it  was way too relatable to me.

“…the overlap of my stories and my life

is a garden courtyard, sky-strung with stars

and scars where planets were torn

from their orbits

the courtyard where that stump grows

is surrounded by stone walls

three miles high, carved

with thousands of locked doors

and secrets that bloom open

in the moonlight”

Ouch. Ouch. OUCH.

But don’t get me wrong, this book is not all sadness and pain. There is definitely hope and strength and joy.

I absolutely loved this poem called “yes, please”. I think it should be distributed far and wide to all, especially those confused about consent.

yes, please

“yes”

sounds like heaven falling from the sky

yes smells like hot, hot

sweet apple pie

yes dances hip to hip, eye to eye

sober, yes

demands very sober, cuz yes shares this body

touch me

with permission only, yes–signed, sealed

deliverance from evil, no sin to be

tempted, but only with yes in the sheets

yes in the backseat, yes to a condom

yes, please go down on me until yes!

because yes is not swipe right, yes is hello

I want to get to know

you because maybe we

might yes, but the dance comes first, yes

the interplay of hey, flirt, hey, the pounding heart 

of questioning yeses and not, let’s go

slow revolyestionary notion

that behold, this body and soul

that yes welcomes yes embraces yes

that taste of someone who has proven

worthy

of your yes

is worth the questing, slow beckoning

interrogating, interesting, conversating

adventuring yes is ongoing 

yes enthusiastic 

yes informed

yes free-given

yes the truest test

of sex

the consent of yes is necessary

Every woman human should read this book.

Young, old, and in-between.

Period.

Thank you, Ms. Anderson for having the courage to Shout about this important issue and to share your story with us.

Learn more about Laurie Halse Anderson here.

 

Highlights from the Middle of the Map Conference SCBWI KS/MO

Last month, I attended the SCBWI Middle of the Map Kansas/Missouri Fall Conference in Overland Park, Kansas, put on by the fantastic SCBWI Kansas/Missouri group.

The conference started on Friday evening with a Mix and Mingle while critiques with speakers were held. On Saturday, the main event began with an all speaker panel and then most of the day was spent in breakout sessions, with a closing keynote and book signing with reception ending the day.

All Speaker Panel

All of the speakers at the conference participated in a panel answering questions from the moderator as well as questions from the audience.

Sarah Jane AbbottAssociate Editor for Paula Wiseman Books and Beach Lane Books at Simon & Schuster. She started her career at S&S as a publicity assistant before joining Paula Wiseman Books and Beach Lane Books as editorial assistant in 2014. She is also on the editorial board of Simon & Schuster’s OfftheShelf.com. She has had the pleasure of working on books such as The Boy, the Boat, and the Beast by Samantha M. Clark and Blue & Bertie by Kristyna Litten. She loves quirky, character driven picture books with a lot of heart; non-fiction picture books, especially about little-known, strong women; and unique, literary middle grade novels. Find her on Twitter at @SarahJaneEyre.

 

Katie HeitEditor for Scholastic. Katie Heit edits nonfiction picture books and chapter books, as well as select fiction picture book titles. She edits books by Sandra Markle, Monica Robinson, and Nick Seluk, among others. She is actively building her list and is interested in books that approach nonfiction in a unique, kid-friendly way. Find her on Twitter at @katieheit.

 

Jim HooverArt Director at Viking Children’s Books. A graduate of Rhode Island School of Design in Illustration, Jim has been in publishing now for twenty years. He speaks regularly at SCBWI and has designed and art directed hundreds of books including: PICTURE BOOKS (Tea Party Rules with K. G. Campbell, Shy with Deborah Freedman, Ella with Marcos Chin, Bus! Stop! with James Yang) NOVELS (Nnedi Okorafor’s Akata Witch books, Max Brallier’s New York Times best-selling series The Last Kids on Earth) NONFICTION (National Book Award Finalist Elizabeth Partridge’s Marching for Freedom, Printz Award-winning John Lennon: All I Want Is the Truth, and the up-coming Boots on the Ground, and the children’s book adaptation of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth) Jim lives in Brooklyn with his wife and son. Find him on Twitter at @JimHoover17.

 

Alyssa Eisner HenkinLiterary Agent, and Executive Vice President, at Trident Media Group. After earning her Bachelors from the University of Pennsylvania, Alyssa fulfilled a childhood dream that she professed on a home video at the age of six: move to New York and work with books. In 1999, Alyssa began her career in editorial at Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. Here she found “kindred spirits” who loved Anne of Green Gables as much as she did and a kids book space that was rapidly growing. In late 2006 Alyssa (and her inner-entrepreneur) headed to Trident to expand the firm’s children’s book business. Over twelve years, hundreds of deals, and numerous bestsellers and award-winners later, Alyssa still delights in nurturing her books at every stage. From editing and idea-honing to collaborating with marketing, foreign, dramatic, merchandising, and audio partners, Alyssa works hard to ensure longevity for her authors’ work. She represents multiple award-winning and bestselling authors, including Julie Berry, Ruth Behar, Jen Bryant, and R.J. Palacio, whose novel Wonder has been on the New York Times Bestseller list since it came out in 2012 and was turned into a feature film by Lionsgate which came out in 2017. Find her on Twitter at @AgentHenkin.

 

Quressa RobinsonLiterary Agent with Nelson Literary. Quressa Robinson joined Nelson Literary Agency in 2017 after working at a previous agency as an editor for five years. She is originally from San Francisco, but has been living in New York City for over a decade. As a New York based agent, she is eager to build her MG, YA, and Adult lists. When not curled on her couch reading, she plays video games, enjoys too much TV-mostly Sailor Moon and Harry Potter (Slytherin!), eats delicious things, drinks champagne, hangs out with her very clever husband, and adds another “dramatic” color to her lipstick collection. Quressa is also a member of the 2017-2019 WNDB Walter Grant Committee and holds an MFA in Creative Writing: Fiction from Columbia University. Find her on Twitter at @qnrisawesome.

 

Alexandra LevickLiterary Agent with Writers House. Alexandra Levick has worked with a wide range of established New York Times bestsellers, national award winners, and debut clients. After graduating from the University of Rochester with a degree in English focused on Creative Writing, Alexandra attended New York University where she received her Masters of Science in Publishing with a specialization in Content Development. Prior to Writers House, she spent time at Sterling Lord Literistic, in publicity at Bloomsbury, and as a bookseller for Barnes and Noble. Today, she is building a broad list and works on everything from picture books to speculative adult fiction. Find her on Twitter @AllieLevick.

 

Giselle Anatol Moderator   Author/Professor – Gisell is a professor of English at the University of Kansas. She has edited three collections of essays on popular literature for children and young adults. She is also the author of THE THINGS THAT FLY IN THE NIGHT: Female Vampires in Literature of the Circus-Caribbean and African Diasapora.

 

First question asked was describe a typical day from your side of the desk.

Most of the speakers said they started by reading up on industry news and checking emails before diving in to their day.

Jim Hoover said, “Ideally I’ll have a cover up.” He likes to look at a piece of artwork first thing.

Katie Heit said that since her work is mostly focused on nonfiction, she hits those type of sites first, like the Smithsonian and National Geographic.

Alexandra Levick and Quressa Robinson agreed that there wasn’t really a typical day in the life of an agent. Alexandra said, “If I try to plan, it’s disastrous.” Quressa said that instead of a daily to-do list, she does weekly lists.

Next question asked about their pet peeves.

Almost all responded that it really got under their skin when they received submissions addressed incorrectly, with their name misspelled, queries addressed ‘Dear Sir or Madam’, or addressed to multiple people. (Although Quressa Robinson said she doesn’t like it when you misspell her name, she won’t hold it against you.)

Katie Heit said she also didn’t like it when authors included more than one manuscript in an email submission.

Sarah Jane Abbott clarified her pet peeve a little further: “When people haven’t done their research and send a query way out of my wheel house.”

Next question delved into what writers/illustrators should ask when choosing agent/editor to work with, specifically regarding chemistry.

Sarah Jane Abbott said you should ask about the vision your editor has for your story. If it doesn’t mesh with yours, this is important to know before you get started.

Alexandra Levick said you should ask about edits. Hopefully the goal is to make the book more your own – stronger. Also ask for references from their clients, who will be more honest about how agents work.

Quressa Robinson said you should definitely ask about their agenting style. “Some people aren’t phone people – like me.”

Last question asked when they would be willing to take a risk on a project.

Most responded with a need to feel passionate about the project as the precursor to championing a project.

Jim Hoover said simply if he sees the potential is there.

Katie Heit asked “Does it have a lot of potential?” Then after conversation with the author, can we craft this together? Does this make me really excited?

Alexandra Levick said she needs a really strong vision on how to edit it. Very solid ideas on how to edit and get to end goals.

Alyssa Henkin said if she feels the voice and feels so certain in her love for the story. The plot can be a mess – the plot is fixable.

Breakout Sessions

Alexandra Levick – How to Find the Right Literary Agent

Alexandra did her first internship at the University of Rochester. She worked for Bloomsbury for two years while pursuing a Masters degree where she fell in love with Children’s literature when she took a class on the subject. She currently works with senior agents Rebecca Sherman and Brianna Johnson at Writers House. She started there as an intern under Merrilee Heifetz, Neil Gaiman’s agent.

Alexandra had many great tips on how to go about the process of submitting, including what questions to ask and what information to include in your query letter.

One of the first things you need to have before you get started is a COMPLETED MANUSCRIPT. That’s right. You shouldn’t be querying unless your manuscript is completed. So, if that’s you, stop right now and get back to to your pages.

Finish.

Write on until you reach ‘The End’.

Then, continue reading. (Yes, I am also talking to myself.)

What you will need if you are querying:

  • Query letter
  • Sample pages
  • Synopsis
  • FULL manuscript (which, if you’ve read this far, you now have)

Every agent’s submission guidelines are almost always different. Make sure to do your research so you know what each one expects with a submission. What is important about following these guidelines is to show that you can follow instructions. (Yes, it is a test.)

Another interesting tip Alexandra gave was about using comp titles. The purpose of comps is to convey mood or a book’s place on the shelf. It’s better to have NO comps than to have ‘meh’ comps. Think of your examples in terms of “plot meets tone”. Give one comp title that has a comparable plot to your novel, and one that has a comparable tone. Using movies and songs as well as book titles are fine as well as any combination of the three. Also make sure your comp titles are RECENT! Published within about two years.

You can read about the submission guidelines for Alexandra Levick at Writers House here.

 

Sue Lowell Gallion – Beginnings, Endings, and That Murky Middle

 

 

 

 

Sue Lowell Gallion is the author of PUG MEETS PIG and PUG & PIG TRICK-OR-TREAT, which both received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly. Her latest books are the TIP AND TUCKER early reading series. Sue is the former SCBWI regional advisor of the KS/MO region.

Sue is no stranger to us here in the Oklahoma region of SCBWI. She has been a guest speaker at some of our SCBWI OK events as well as a guest on our monthly #okscbwichat on Twitter.

Sue gave some excellent advice on keeping your writing focused on its true purpose and how to get it unstuck when in the “murky middle”.

She said in the Beginning, sometimes we shortchange the rest of our manuscript when we agonize over the first sentence, the first page, the first hook.

She suggested READING PICTURE BOOKS WITH CHILDREN: How to Shake Up Storytime and Get Kids Talking About What They See by Megan Dowd Lambert. It will help you think of all the elements as you create your story.

Examples of stories with great beginnings:

  • ALMA AND HOW SHE GOT HER NAME by Juana Martinez-Neal
  • PENGUINAUT by Marcie Colleen, illustrated by Emma Yarlett
  • QUACKERS by Liz Wong
  • THE KING OF KINDERGARTEN by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton

Sue said the Middle is where her stories begin to wander because she gets tired of it or it’s time for recess.

Being too predictable can get you stuck in the middle. Ask yourself, does every sentence further the story? Does each trial and failure increase the tension? Make sure to stretch the tension out so your readers want to turn the page.

If you’re feeling lost in the middle, try writing the flap copy.

Examples of stories with great middles:

  • JABARI JUMPS by Gaia Cornwall
  • A KITE FOR MOON by Jane Yolen
  • TRUMAN by Jean Reidy, illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins

Sue said you’ve got to stick the Ending! Don’t rush it or short-change it. The ending needs to be logical AND completely unexpected.

Most picture books end with hope, even if the story is not happy. And the main character needs to have a hand in the conclusion.

More great examples:

  • A LITTLE CHICKEN by Tammi Sauer, illustrated by Dan Taylor
  • HELLO LIGHTHOUSE by Sophie Blackall
  • BOOT AND SHOE by Marla Frazee
  • BUNNY SLOPES and HUNGRY BUNNY by Claudia Rueda
  • CREEPY CARROTS by Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Peter Brown

The best compliment for a story after getting to the end, is that request to “Read it again!”.

 

Quressa Robinson – Plotting and Characterization: The Art of Conflict and Personality

Quressa brought her extensive knowledge to the task of teaching us to go deeper into our work on plot and character development. She put us through several writing exercises, which I always find painful under the best circumstances. Useful, maybe, but painful nonetheless.

She said the tension where a reader holds their breath when turning the page is what makes writing truly great.

(GOALS!)

She walked us through several different plotting triangle scenarios and discussed ascending and descending forces. It was very intense.

Quressa said that everyone’s story is different. The stakes in your story don’t have to be actual life and death, however, they do need to be high enough to matter.

If you’re having a problem with your plot, something that’s helpful is to try plotting backwards. Start at the climax of your story and work backwards. (This was actually the focus of one of the writing exercises – one I found very helpful.)

Also think about listing the external and internal stakes for each of your characters. Are their stakes high enough? What can you do to make them higher?

At one point during our discussion of the writing exercises, Quressa said, “Writing is a communal process.”

That is my favorite quote from this conference. Bar none.

“Writing is a communal process.”

And man, do I love my writing community.

I had a great time attending this conference and I hope to attend more outside my state. I love meeting new people and being around other writers.

What about you?

 

Whitty Books – Say Hello to a New Indie

 

As an author, I love supporting independent bookstores. Just a few short years ago, there was quite a drought of indies here in the Tulsa area, and now I am happy to say quite the opposite is true!

I want to introduce you to one of the newest indies in our area, Whitty Books. This little jewel opened its doors in July, 2018, in the Kendall Whittier District – just around the corner from the nonprofit Circle Cinema theatre.

The collection found in Whitty Books focuses on small publishing houses, diverse titles, #ownvoices authors, and under-the-radar releases.

I had the pleasure of meeting one of the owners, Victoria, when I attended the double book launch for fellow SCBWI OK author Traci Sorell. She said after a year of being open, she really has a feel for her customers and what they want. THAT’S one thing I love about an independent book store!

Oklahoma author Traci Sorell at Whitty Books during her book launch in September.
Traci reading from her gorgeous picture book AT THE MOUNTAIN’S BASE, published by Kokila.

 

I loved all of the artwork on the walls in the store and the friendly atmosphere. Books titles were easy to browse on the shelves – nothing felt overcrowded or uncomfortable. Victoria was approachable and friendly.

They have several book clubs at Whitty Books, and Victoria actually invited us to attend one the very next day, for a book by Joy Harjo – our current Poet Laureate, who just so happens is from Oklahoma. ( I do love her writing! If you haven’t checked her out, she’s amazing.)

The book clubs are held at the store – about one a week – all with categories like Sci Fi/Fantasy, True Crime, Native American Lit, Truth and Reconciliation, and Women in Horror. Visit their Facebook page to see what’s on the calendar this month.

Victoria ringing up my purchases.

The next time you’re thinking about buying a book, BUY LOCAL! And why not stop in and check out Whitty Books? Tell Victoria I sent you!

 

Book Review – STILL LIFE WITH TORNADO by A.S. King

 

I am a huge fan of A.S. King and have been ever since I read her novel PLEASE IGNORE VERA DIETZ. The voice was so authentic and gut-wrenching. Part of me WAS Vera – at least, my teen-self floating close to the surface could really relate to the heavy shit Vera was going through. (Honestly, you should stop whatever you’re doing and go read this awesome book right now. Seriously. I will NOT be offended.)

Each book of hers that I have read has been just as stellar as the first. And did I mention that she always adds a dash of magical realism just to make things even more interesting?

STILL LIFE WITH TORNADO by A. S. King

Published by: Penguin Young Readers Group

Release Date: October 11, 2016

Genres: Young Adult, Magical Realism, Contemporary

indieboundbn-24h-80

 

Plot Summary:

Sarah can’t draw. This is a problem, because as long as she can remember, she has “done the art.” She thinks she’s having an existential crisis. And she might be right; she does keep running into past and future versions of herself as she explores the urban ruins of Philadelphia. Or maybe she’s finally waking up to the tornado that is her family, the tornado that six years ago sent her once-beloved older brother flying across the country for a reason she can’t quite recall.

After decades of staying together “for the kids” and building a family on a foundation of lies and violence, Sarah’s parents have reached the end. Now Sarah must come to grips with years spent sleepwalking in the ruins of their toxic marriage. As Sarah herself often observes, nothing about her pain is remotely original —and yet it still hurts. Insightful, heartbreaking, and ultimately hopeful, this is a vivid portrait of everyday abuse and survival that will linger with readers long after the last page.

Sarah’s crisis starts when her art teacher tells her that there is no such thing as an original idea and that’s it. She can no longer create. That “truth bomb” explodes her entire world and she starts spiraling. But is that really what happened? Is that really where the problem started?

Sarah starts bumping in to her past and future selves who have a few things to say about Sarah’s crisis. At first, she thinks maybe she’s hallucinating, but other people can see her other selves, too. Her other selves have memories she can’t remember and opinions that rub her the wrong way. Will she listen to them or continue to self-destruct? (Even though self-destruction isn’t an original idea.)

That’s the other thing I love about King’s books, they are deceptively deep. You’ll be seeing things from the perspective of a pagoda, learning how to build an invisible helicopter, sending passengers love as they fly overhead in airplanes, or having conversations with different versions of yourself then BAM! You realize she’s hit you across the brain with some heavy philosophical shit out of nowhere that makes you disoriented for days. (In a good way.) She tackles heavy issues in a fantastical way like no one else.

Trust me, once you read one of her books, you’ll want to read them all. You can start with this one. It’s amazing.

Learn more about A.S. King here.