Tuesday, December 25, 2007

And the winner is...

Hello everybody,

First of all, I would like to say THANK YOU to all the people who made The Magic Violin virtual book tour a success!

Thank you to all the nice people who took time out of their busy lives to host my tour and leave comments on my tour stops. I really appreciate it! Some people commented on my every stop--really, I'm so very grateful and wish I could send you all gifts!

And now, the winner of the $20 Amazon gift certificate is......................

lisalmg !!!!!!!!

Have a WONDERFUL Christmas, everybody!



Monday, December 17, 2007

My Virtual Book Tour Announced on the British SCBWI!

How cool is that?

Sue Eves, the British children's book author who interviewed me on her blog on December 10th, just informed me that the British SCBWI has announced our interview and my virtual book tour on their front page... Yeah!


Happy holidays!
Mayra www.tips-fb.com

Friday, November 30, 2007

Win a $20 Amazon Certificate on Christmas Day!

Dear Readers,

To promote the release of my Christmas picture book, The Magic Violin, I'm going on a virtual book tour during the month of December. The tour will begin on December the 1st and end on December 25th, when I'll be giving away a $20 Amazon certificate to one lucky winner!
To be eligible, all you need to do is leave a comment on one of my tour stops--that's all there is to it! You don't need to leave a comment on all the tour stops, but the more comments you leave, the higher your chances of winning.
The winner will be announced here on this blog on Christmas Day.
This will be my virtual book tour schedule:
December 1 - Interview at Shari Soffe's blog, Out of My Mind
December 2 - Review of The Magic Violin at YABooksCentral
December 4 - Interview at American Chronicle (no comment feature here)
December 5 - Review of The Magic Violin at Reviews and Other Stuff
December 6 - Short essay on the author/illustrator relationship at Cachibachis
December 8 - Review of The Magic Violin at Muse Book Reviews (no comment feature here)
December 10 – Interview at Sue Eves' blog
December 11 - Interview at Cynthia's Attic
December 12 - Review of The Magic Violin at Armchair Interviews
December 13 - Interview & review at Beverly McClure’s blog
December 15 - Short essay on violin and inspiration at Judith Mammay's blog
December 17 – Interview at Kim Baccellia’s blog
December 22 - Review of The Magic Violin by Kim Baccellia

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Voice in the Dark Special Publishing Issue

Hi all,

The special publishing issue of Voice in the Dark Ezine is out for your reading pleasure.

In this issue...

Editor's Note
Fictional Character Interview
Special Publisher Interviews
--Meet Lida Quillen, Publisher, Twilight Times Books
--Meet Kathryn Struck, Publisher, Awe-Struck E-Books
Featured Interviews
--Meet Lida Quillen, Publisher, Twilight Times Books, Interview by Mayra Calvani
--Meet Lynda S. Burch, Publisher, Guardian Angel Publishing, Interview by Mayra Calvani
--Meet Elizabeth Burton, Publisher, Zumaya Books, Interview by Mayra Calvani Book Excerpt -- Tremolo by Aaron Paul Lazar
Gladiator's Arena--by Mayra Calvani
Short Fiction
--It's my Book! Right? by Ghost Writer
--Traditional Publishing, Self-Publishing and Subsidy Publishing by Barbara Hudgins
--The Perils and Pitfalls of Publishing: Who Can an Author Trust by Dee Power and Brian Hill
--How Do Books Get on Book Store Shelves by Dee Power
Sanctuary -- Columnist Mayra Calvani
Whodunit? -- Columnist Billie A. Williams
Pam's Pen -- Columnist Pamela James
Seedlings -- Aaron Paul Lazar
This & That -- Columnist Dana Reed

Just go to www.MysteryFiction.net and click on Voice in the Dark on the left sidebar.


Mayra www.tips-fb.com

Friday, November 23, 2007

The Magic Violin is now on Amazon!


I'm happy to announce that my first picture book, THE MAGIC VIOLIN, is now available on Amazon. They haven't uploaded the cover art yet, but it should go up pretty soon.


Mayra www.tips-fb.com

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Interview with Children's Book Publisher Lynda Burch

How and when did Guardian Angel Publishing get started?

We incorporated and opened our e-doors in Fall 2006. I had invented kids’ musical eBooks in the late 90’s and in the process of selling them I learned that traditional publishers liked the concept but didn’t have a clue how to make the books or market them. Sandy Cummins, CEO & Publisher, at Writers Exchange International (now Reader’s Eden) had published seven of my children’s books and set an example for me as a good e-publisher which pointed me in the right direction. Many of the early kid’s book e-publishers had already folded or moved on to greener pastures but children’s eBooks are my passion and here to stay.

What is your mission statement?

Guardian Angel Publishing, Inc. where our publishing goals are to lovingly create fun, affordable and educational eBook computer experiences for preschoolers and primary age children; and we wish to embed positive, loving and worthwhile meaning into these eBooks.

In other words we want our books to have values, morals and issues that kids can think about, not just a book about a cat and a rat. And we love educational books that can expand a child’s learning experience.

How many imprints does GAP publish? How many books do you publish a year?

At present we offer: Academic Wings- our educational line; Angel to Angel- where kids write and or illustrate for kids; Angelic Harmony-our musical books; Guardian Angel Pets- stories where our furry and feathered friends are the stars; Littlest Angels- learning, caring and sharing books for our youngest audience; Wings of Faith- our inspirational line of faith based stories; Guardian Angel Chapbooks for Tweens- with chapter books for older children. We are adding Guardian Angel Health & Hygiene- dealing with health issues.

We publish at least 24 books a year- as both eBooks and Print on Demand.

Tell us about your new imprint, Angel to Angel. What has been the public response so far?

Angel to Angel is the imprint where we encourage children to read, write and illustrate. A number of our authors carry this program into elementary schools where the school’s host writing and drawing contests to come up with winners who get their book published online for a year. We also publish young authors and artists who show great talent in writing stories and illustrating them.

The response has been very positive. Teachers and educators love it. Parents love to use it to inspire their own children.

I understand GAP’s books are distributed by Follett, Inc., the largest distributor of eBooks to schools and libraries. How has the public’s attitude toward eBooks changed in the past five years? How do you see the future?

We use multiple resources to distribute our books. Follett Digital Resources are just one of many. Distribution seems to be the name of the game. The more locations the books are sold, the better. Since the eBook market has been growing at a rapid rate and eBooks are available to be downloaded and read on multiple devices not just PC’s our market has been growing too. Even the old traditional print publishers are contracting e-rights to books so that may gain their share of the market. It’s just a matter of time before eBooks sell more copies than print. We will see it sooner than we think.

What about bookstores? How does a print-on-demand children’s picture book publisher set about selling books to booksellers?

Bookstores can purchase GAP books through all their wholesalers and suppliers. All they need to do is access their online suppliers- Ingram’s, Baker & Taylor, etc and order their books.

Who is Lynda Burch-the person, author, publisher? Describe a regular day in your life.

I start my day by swimming laps, wherever I am if possible. We spend three months at the beach in the winter and if I don’t start out by exercising it doesn’t happen. Then I hit the computer for three or four hours fielding calls, putting out fires, emails, reviewing any submissions, take a break in the middle of the day for errands mail etc and then back to the computer for another 4-6 hours.

I am a very hands-on person. I built this company from scratch-- learned how to do every single job because you can’t train anyone unless you know how to do it yourself. I built the website, build the books in all formats, handle the marketing up-lines- distributors etc. The only thing I do as little as possible is the bookkeeping. That’s not creative enough to keep my attention.

Are you open to submissions at this time? What are your guidelines?

We closed to submissions right now because I was teaching at the Muse Conference online and knew I’d be bombarded by submissions from that class for a couple months. Our guidelines are on the submissions page of our website.

On average, how many manuscripts do you receive a month? How many of those get accepted?

When submissions are open I receive about 50-100 a month. 2-3 might be accepted.

You’re also an author. Tell us a bit about your books and the type of fiction you like to write.

I try to find enough time in my week to work on my own books. I have about 100 musical and picture books in progress. I do the art and photography for them. I have 2 suspense novels WIP, too. I have one suspense published- Edge of Paradise. And I read 150-200 books a year but that’s not counting kid books. : )

What is the most challenging aspect of being a children’s book publisher?

I love having the ability to see a story of words come to life in a book. But the job requires keeping up with the fine details of not just the books but the intricacies of balancing the authors and artists and their creativity and expectations, too. But it is definitely a labor of love.

In spite of being a traditional publisher in every sense of the word, your authors must pay a $100 fee in order to have their books available in print. Could you please explain to our readers the reason behind this?

Although Guardian Angel Publishing adores the creative process of making children’s books we are also a business and in order to make revenue and make our business a success we want our authors committed to us and their books.

Since our books are in print, like all publishers, we must use a printer. Printers either make their money on traditional print runs where thousands of books are printed (and by the way many are stripped and discarded later) or they charge a one-time setup fee and take a larger piece of each book’s print costs. It’s rather like a mortgage- the banks get their money up front with points on the loan or over the long term of a loan repayment. But they always get their money.

With authors investing in the printing process (paying their setup fee for each book), independent small publishers are assured that authors are going to get out there and sell those books. Marketing their books is an ongoing need for both small and traditional publishers. Many independent and traditional publishers require a comprehensive marketing plan with a book submission for one reason only. All publishers want books to sell not sit on a shelf or cyber shelf.

And committing some of the author’s own money is more likely accomplish a more active participation of successful sales.

Thanks, Lynda!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Press Release: The Magic Violin

Contact Person: Lynda S. Burch, Publisher
Company Name: Guardian Angel Publishing, Inc.Telephone Number: 314 276 8482Email Address: publisher@GuardianAngelPublishing.com
Website: http://www.guardianangelpublishing.com/

New Christmas Children’s Book Focuses on Violin Playing


SAINT LOUIS, MO – Mayra Calvani’s first children’s picture book, THE MAGIC VIOLIN, has just been released in ebook and paperback by Guardian Angel Publishing, becoming one of the few picture books in the market today focusing on violin playing.

Book’s Blurb:

More than anything, 8-year old Melina wants to become a good violinist. When she loses confidence, her Rumanian teacher Andrea decides it’s time for a magic dose of self esteem. A mysterious, old woman in rags gives Melina some curious advice; a violinist Russian hamster, who happens to live under the old woman's hat, offers her a virtuoso performance; a shooting star fills her with hope on Christmas Eve. Is Melina actually playing better, or has her violin become magic? Who is the old woman in the plaza, and why does she wear the same emerald ring as her teacher Andrea?

The message of The Magic Violin is that real magic lies in believing in oneself, and that if we trust ourselves, we can accomplish anything. The story, written for 4 to 8 year olds, shows how being compassionate and generous can have its rewards. It also introduces children to the violin and other countries--Belgium, in this case.

“The story combines violin music, magic, Christmas, and the charm of 19th Century Europe,” says Calvani, whose passion for the violin has led to several stories and novels since she began playing four years ago. “This is a book that little girls who are learning to play the violin will be able to identify with. The violin is an extremely difficult instrument to learn—probably the most difficult instrument there is, and sometimes learning a new piece can be quite disheartening. Hopefully my book will motivate young players to persevere and have self trust. Above all, I want my love for the violin to come through the pages and inspire children to try this incredible instrument.”

Author’s Bio:

Mayra Calvani is a multi-genre author whose short fiction, articles, and reviews have appeared on many print and online publications in the States, England, and Puerto Rico. She hails from San Juan, P.R., but now resides in Brussels, Belgium. Visit her children’s book website at http://www.mayrassecretbookcase.com/. Her official website is http://www.mayracalvani.com/.

THE MAGIC VIOLIN is distributed by Follett, the largest distributor of ebooks to schools and libraries. The paperback version is available from Ingram, Baker & Taylor, Gardners and Bertrams in the UK, most online retailers, and on order from any brick and mortar bookstore.

For review copies and/or interview requests, please contact the publisher, Lynda Burch, at publisher@GuardianAngelPublishing.com.

Title: The Magic Violin
Author: Mayra Calvani
Format: Paperback
Reading Level: 5-8 years old
ISBN-13: 978-1-933090-49-8
Publication Date: November 2007
Pages: 32
Price: Ebook $5.00, Paperback $10.95
To Order: 314 276 8482, or publisher@GuardianAngelPublishing.com

---30--- www.tips-fb.com

Friday, November 2, 2007

Interview with YA Novelist Kate Messner

Kate Messner's first book, a historical novel set during the time of the Revolutionary War, combines real life and imaginary characters. In this interview, Kate talks about her book, Spitfire, her writing habits, and her favorite young adult authors. She also offers advice to aspiring writers.

Do you consider yourself a born writer?

A born writer? Unfortunately, no. I love the idea of children showing up in the world with beautiful language just spilling from their crayons, but I’m afraid it’s not much of a reality - at least not for this writer. I’ve always loved stories and books, and I’ve always found magic in literature. When I was a kid, I’d escape into Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume books for hours on end, and after a while, I decided I wanted in on that magic, and I started writing. Like most writers, even though I liked it, it took me lots of practice before I was any good at it (and some days, I’m still not very good at it!).

When did you decide to become an author?

When I was seven. School was over for the summer, and I missed the research and the writing, so I started assigning myself these little reports. The rain forest. Gorillas. Sharks. The shark story was my favorite. My parents put it on the refrigerator, and that’s the first time I was “published.”I’ve always loved learning about history and digging into the past, so historical fiction is a favorite genre for me. I absolutely love having a license to ask zillions of questions and explaining that I’m working on a book. (The truth is, I’d probably be asking the questions anyway, but it sure sounds a lot better this way!)

Tell us about your historical young adult novel, Spitfire. What is it about? What inspired you to write such a story?

Spitfire is about a girl who disguises herself as a boy and fights in a Revolutionary War naval battle on Lake Champlain — the Battle of Valcour Island. If you visit my website, you’ll see some pictures of Valcour Island, which is truly a stunning place. I live on Lake Champlain, not far from there, and I’ve always been fascinated by the fact that an important Revolutionary War battle took place right out there on the lake. Then in 1997, the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum was doing a survey of the lake bottom and discovered the last remaining gunboat from Benedict Arnold’s fleet in 1776 on the bottom of the lake. That’s when my fascination turned into a bit of an obsession, and I did everything I could to learn more about that battle. The most exciting thing I learned was that there was a 12-year-old boy involved in the battle. His name was Pascal De Angelis, and he came to the Champlain Valley with his stepfather, who captained one of the ships. The Battle of Valcour Island went on for three days because the Americans escaped from a British blockade and got away for a time before the British caught up and the fighting started again. This boy, Pascal, celebrated his 13th birthday on the lake in the middle of the battle. I knew that was the story I wanted to tell, and I knew that I wanted to connect his story with the story of the missing gunboat, which was identified as the Spitfire.My book is historical fiction, so it’s a mix of historical fact and fictional characters. There are two narrators - the real historical figure, Pascal, and his fictional friend, a girl named Abigail who joins the fleet disguised as a boy so she can search for her uncle. Researching and writing this book was a joy for me, and seeing kids who live in this region read it and appreciate the history of their lake is just incredible.

When working on a novel, what is your schedule like? How long does it usually take you to finish a full-length book? Do you edit as your write or do you cough up the first draft and leave the polishing for later?

Oh boy... the schedule question. I teach middle school English full time, and I have two kids of my own, so it seems like there’s never enough time in the day. I generally write from 9pm to midnight. I’ll turn in earlier if I’m really tired or later if I’m on a roll, but that’s my usual schedule.I’m a spill-out-the-first-draft kind of person. I like to have that draft done so I have an idea where I’m going. Once it’s down on paper, I can settle down and revise. I’m much better at revising than actually writing.Who are your favorite young adult novelists?I have too many favorite middle grade and YA novelists to count, and I read a huge variety of genres. But I love the work of Laurie Halse Anderson, Rick Riordan, JK Rowling, Ellen Klages, Nancy Werlin, Joseph Bruchac, Cynthia Lord, Sonya Sones, Sarah Dessen, John Green, Lisa Yee, Bruce Covillle, and Lois Lowry, to name a few. I’m always discovering new authors, too, and I love reading a book by a brand new author and introducing it to my 7th graders. Some terrific new voices I’ve discovered in the past year are Linda Urban, Sarah Miller, Melissa Marr, and Carrie Jones. Fledgling writers often try to emulate their favorite author's style.

Did you experience this when you first started writing? If yes, who was your role model?

I try to learn from every author whose work I read and admire, but I can’t say that I really emulate any particular style. Voice is tough to fake, and if you’re not writing in a voice that authentically yours, it doesn’t sound true. I worked in broadcast journalism when I graduated from college, and I remember an older anchorman at the NBC affiliate in Syracuse, New York, chewing me out because I admitted that I was trying to sound like another well-established reporter in one of my stories. “You can’t be Sheryl Nathans,” he told me. “Because that job is already taken... by Sheryl Nathans.” It’s advice that I remember to this day - the only voice that will work for you as a writer is one that’s uniquely your own.

With so many books published, how do you promote your work and still have time to write, or vice versa? Do you follow a planned writing/marketing schedule? Any tips you would like to share with other authors?

Juggling marketing and writing with teaching and family is a delicate balancing act for me. I think I make a good go of it, but I’m certainly not in a position to be giving advice!

Any upcoming books in the horizon?

I’m finishing revisions on another historical novel set on Lake Champlain — this one during the 17th century — and I have a middle grade contemporary novel that’s out with a few agents right now. I’m just starting work on a humorous chapter book and polishing up a few picture books.

Do you have a website where readers may find more about you and your work?

http://www.katemessner.com/. Teachers will find the site especially useful, since the full study guide for Spitfire is available as a free downloaded pdf document.

If there was one book you'd recommend as absolute read for aspiring young adult fiction authors, what would that be?

Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. It’s not about YA fiction but about writing in general and the life of a writer. I love this book and recommend it to everyone who will listen. It has lots of great, concrete advice, but more than anything, Anne Lamott has a way of making you laugh and then believe that this whole writer thing will work out. That, for me, is what it takes to stay in my chair and keep working.

What advice would you give to those young adult fiction authors who are trying to break into print?

Read a lot. Write a lot. Join SCBWI and hang out at Verla Kay’s Children’s Writers & Illustrators Discussion Boards. You’ll learn a lot there. Find a critique group with people you enjoy who will challenge you to make your writing stronger. And don’t try to be Sheryl Nathans or anyone else, no matter how much you admire his or her work. Those other jobs are taken. Work to find the voice that belongs to you and let it shine.
Thank you, Kate!
Thanks for having me!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Book Review: Princess Caitlin's Tiara, by Kim Messinger and Michael LaLumiere

Princess Caitlin’s Tiara
By Kim Messenger and Michael LaLumiere
Illustrated by Ginger Nielson
Stagger Lee Books
ISBN: 978-0-9791006-0-4
Copyright 2006
Hardcover, 32 pages, $14.95
Ages 4-8

What is it about little girls, princesses, and tiaras? From the writing team of Kim Messinger and Michael LaLumiere comes another enjoyable story for kids, though this time the tale is geared towards little female readers and book lovers.

Little Caitlin is in a rotten mood — a really “big old funk. A humongous funk. A funk that could eat Chicago.”

To lighten Caitlin’s spirits, her mom comes up with an idea. She tells Caitlin how when she was little she had something that always made her feel like a princess, a special thing that made her feel “funk-proof” — a beautiful princess tiara! But after trying on her mom’s tiara, Caitlin realizes it is too big for her; thus she sets to the task of making her own using cardboard, scissors, a stapler, and shiny silver foil. Then, with her brand-new, glittery tiara on her head, her imaginary adventures begin. Snowboarding at the South Pole with penguins, diving deep in the ocean with mermaids, riding in style in a big pink limousine, flying amidst the clouds in her pilot uniform — the fun never ends! Princess Caitlin’s Tiara is a delightful picture book that will delight young girls ages 4-8. I found it has a lot of text for a picture book, making it an early reader for young book lovers as well. The colorful illustrations are evocative and whimsical and possess a dream-like quality that suits the plot well.

This is a book that touches the ‘little girl’ in all of us. This is a fun story for bedtime reading, or one a mother may read to her child anytime for mother-daughter bonding.

Reviewed by Mayra Calvani

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Problems building up your plot? Try this!

Hi all,

I blogger friend from Live Journal (http://kara-gnome.livejournal.com/) directed me to this post. I found the exercise very helpful and will definitely try it later this weekend when I work on the plot of my novel. It couldn't have come at a better time, as I'm working on a proposal that includes a detailed outline.

The title of the post is: An Exercise in Plotting: The Seven Sentence Story

Hope you find it helpful as well!

Mayra www.tips-fb.com

Friday, October 26, 2007

The Origins of Halloween

Halloween is not only a colourful night of fun, frights, sweets and costumes. It is a full-blown industry, with more than $14 billion spent each year on costumes, decorations, party supplies, candy and other paraphernalia.

How did it all get started?

The origins of Halloween are quite dark, and go all the way back to 2,000 years ago, to the Celtic Celebration of the Dead, or Samhain (Sah-ween), in what is now Ireland, the UK, and Northern France. The Celtic Festival took place each year on the eve of November first, which marked the end of summer and harvest season, and the beginning of their New Year and winter, a time associated with cold and death. Samhain festivities lasted for a couple of days, until about November 2nd.

The Celts believed that on October 31st, the last day of summer and New Year’s Eve, the boundaries between the living and the dead became blurred and thin, and spirits, both good and evil, roamed about on the streets and countryside and did as they wished. The Celts were especially frightened by the prospect of these evil souls harming the crops.

On this night, Celtic priests called Druids dressed in animal masks and skins and performed sacrifices to placate the gods and “ward off” spirits. Bonfires represented the sun, the power to fight dark forces. The Druids lit huge bonfires and burned animals, crops, and sometimes even humans. In fact, the word “bonfire” comes from “bonefire,” literally! (It’s interesting to note that the practice of burning humans continued as late as the 1600s).

Besides the Druids, people also performed their little “rituals.” To ward off spirits, they carved turnips and lit them with embers. To “fool” them, they wore animal masks or scary disguises. To placate them, they left fruits and nuts at their doorstep as a gift or offering, thus preventing future bad crops. This is the origin of “Trick or Treat.”

Around the 7th Century the Celebration of the Dead spread to Europe, but it became known as “All Hollows Eve,” or “Night of the Dead.” In parts of Britain and Ireland it also became known as “Mischief Night.”

Around the 800s the Christians moved to the Celtic lands and tried to eradicate all pagan beliefs and celebrations. In an attempt to placate the Celts, Pope Boniface IV designated November first as All Saints Day as an attempt to replace the pagan “All Hollows Eve.” Thus he “transformed” the Celebration of the Dead into a Christian holy day.

It is believed that later the Irish brought the tradition of carving turnips to America. However, they soon found out that there weren’t as many turnips there, and that pumpkins were a lot bigger and better to carve scary faces on.

Eventually “All Hollows Eve” came to be known as Halloween.

The traditional Halloween symbols we know today, like witches, black cats, ghosts, pumpkins and candles appeared in the US around the 1800s. Entrepreneur minds no doubt realized the marketing potential. The whole concept of Halloween gradually became commercialized.

Today, in spite of its dark origins and although some religious people consider it an “evil” festival, Halloween is mostly regarded as a spooky yet harmless, fun, family celebration.

©2005, 2007. Mayra Calvani / All Rights Reserved. This column may not be copied nor printed in any form without permission from the author.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Have you signed up for Nanowrimo yet?

The National Novel Writing Month--or Nanowrimo--is a thrilling, exciting experience where you get to write a complete novel in exactly 30 days! It starts on November 1st and ends on November 30th.

Last year close to 70,000 people from around the world joined--I among them. If I remember it correctly, less than 10,000 actually managed to finish the 50,000-word goal.

Get all the details at the official site: www.nanowrimo.org

I wrote my tween novel, The Luthier's Apprentice, on the same marathon two years ago. The manuscript is in the hands of an agent at the moment. I've been editing/polishing it on and off for one and a half years! Yes, writing it on nanowrimo can be quicly, but then comes the EDITING.... www.tips-fb.com

Monday, October 22, 2007

Book Review: Little Skink's Tail, by Janet Halfmann

Little Skink’s Tail
By Janet Halfmann
Illustrated by Laurie Allen Klein
Sylvian Dell Publishing
ISBN: 978-0-9768823-8-1
Copyright 2007
Hardcover, 32 pages, $15.95
Ages 4-8

One day Little Skink, a blue-tailed young lizard, is basking on a big rock in the morning sun. Leaping to the floor, she begins to gobble up her breakfast, which consists of yummy-smelling ants, when suddenly a big crow appears and attacks. Luckily, Little Skink manages to escape. There’s only one problem: her tail is gone! Where did her bright blue tail go? Did the crow snap it off? What will Little Skink do now, without her wiggling, waggling tail?

She’s happy to be alive, but sad at having lost her tail. She can’t get her lost tail off her mind, so she begins to imagine how she would look with other animals’ tails. How would she look with a rabbit’s tail?
No, too ‘puffy-fluffy’. What about with a porcupine’s? No, too ‘sticky-prickly.’ And so on and so forth with the different forest creatures. Will Little Skink’s tail ever grow back?

This is a colorful, engaging, beautifully illustrated book that teaches children about animals and their tails. At the end of the book there are activities for ‘Creative Minds’—a footprint map and a game for matching different types of tails with their corresponding animals.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Self-Editing Your Novel


An agent directed me to this link, which is full of marvelous tips and techniques to revise your novel.

The title is: The Art of Detection: One Editor's Techniques for Analyzing and Revising Your Novel. This is actually a speech Cheryl Klein, Editor at Arthur A. Levine Books, made for the Michigan SCBWI conference on October 2007.


I'll be using these techniques to revise my tween fantasy/mystery novel, The Luthier's Apprentice.

Happy revising!

Mayra www.tips-fb.com

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Book Review: Meerkats Don't Fly, by Mark Miller

Meerkats Don’t Fly
By Mark Miller
Illustrated by Cathy Butterfield
Good Turn Publishing
ISBN: 9780979439308
Copyright 2007
Ages 4-8

Reviewed by Mayra Calvani

Meerkats Don't Fly is an adorable picture book! The story is sweet, humorous and engaging and the illustrations, done in color pencils, are beautiful.

Little Meerkat Benny is obsessed with the idea of flying, possibly because the first thing he saw from his hole in the ground after he was born was a bird in the sky. The other meerkats constantly remind him that ha can't fly, that it's against the nature of meekats to do so. But Benny has a dream, and none or nobody can get that dream out of his mind. He's going to find a way to fly, no matter what it takes. He comes up with various ideas that don't work, some even dangerous, but he must follow his dream. At the end, he comes up with an ingenious idea... but will it work and will he be able to run free from the dangerous eagle?

This is a story that both teaches and entertains. The dialogue is smart and funny, the story suspenseful as we wonder what will happen with the dangerous eagle, and the illustrations are cute and evoking. This is a winner that will be enjoyed by all young children ages 4--8.

*Originally published on Armchair Interviews

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Interview with Virginia S. Grenier, Children's Author and Editor of Stories for Children Magazine

Stories for Children Magazine is a free online publication for children and children's authors and illustrators alike. I recently had the chance to chat with its editor, Virginia S. Grenier. Virginia talks about her magazine, its guidelines, and about the process of starting your own ezine, among other things.

How and when did Stories for Children Magazine get started?

I started Stories for Children Magazine after being published in a few children’s Ezines. I really liked what they were trying to do and felt I could bring something different to the table with my own Ezine. My first goal: to develop a FREE children’s Ezine for elementary aged children. The second goal: To publish youth authors (ages 17 and under.) There aren’t a lot of print or on-line magazines out there publishing authors under the age of 18. I wanted Stories for Children Magazine not only to be read by children, but to be written by children authors along with new and established children’s writers and illustrators. So far we have met my goals. Stories for Children Magazine is FREE for its readers and we have at least one writer, 17 years old or younger, in each issue. Stories for Children Magazine’s debut issue released on April 1, 2007. We’re on our sixth issue this September.

What inspired you to begin such a project?

Mostly, because I love children, writing, and marketing. I use to be a buyer in ladies and junior fashion before I started writing. And really the writing just sort of happened. I retired from fashion to be home for my children. But I wanted something to do when my son was in school and my daughter took her naps. I came across the Institute of Children’s Literature and from there fell into writing and starting Stories for Children Magazine. I love sharing what I write and helping new writers young and old getting published. And what better way to do that, but with my own Ezine.

What type of stories do you publish?

Stories for Children Magazine publishes any genre of children’s fiction as long as it’s written for our audience, ages 3 to 12 years old. We publish four stories in each issues age group: Read Aloud (ages 3-6), Early Readers (7-9), and Middle Readers (10-12). We also publish three non-fiction pieces in each group along with poems, crafts, puzzles, and games.

Who is your audience?

Stories for Children Magazine is for kids ages 3 to 12 years old, but don’t let that stop you from reading our Ezine. We have teachers, writers, illustrators, and parents reading Stories for Children Magazine each month, too. Just recently a teacher from Henrico County, VA contacted me about using multiple stories and articles in preparation for the state’s reading and comprehension test. I’ve also received emails form two children’s actors. One is on the T.V. show Jericho and the other is the Disney Channel.

Are you open for submissions at the moment?

We did close our door to submissions this summer, but are open once again September 1, 2007.

What are your guidelines?

Our guidelines are like most publishers who are serious about the type of writing they want to see for their publications. The basics always apply at on-line or print publications, but here is quick break down of what we look for:
Stories for Children Magazine publishes short stories, articles, poems, coloring pages, word and picture puzzles, book reviews, arts & crafts, and interviews with Children's Book Authors and/or Illustrators for children ages 3 to 12 years old. Stories for Children Magazine will publish reprints with the information as to where it was published prior to our magazine. Content should be age appropriate. We encourage you to study back issues for content and style. When writing non-fiction, please use primary sources with up-to-date information. We also like to see engaging articles that read more like a story or have a WOW factor. Kids read enough book reports and text books at school. We want to be fun and lively when sharing information. Stories for Children Magazine ISN’T a themed magazine, but there are holidays and subjects that we would love to cover in each monthly issue along with the creative, adventurous, and thought provoking stories and articles.
STORY CATEGORIES: READ ALOUD STORIES (ages 3-6): Rebus, easy-to-read stories, humorous tales, fantasy, fables, and myths. EARLY READERS (ages 7-9): Realistic fiction, humorous tales, satire, fantasy, fairy tales, science fiction, fables, light scary stories, mysteries and myths. MIDDLE READERS (ages 10-12): Realistic fiction, humorous tales, satire, fantasy, fairy tales, science fiction, fables, scary stories, mysteries and myths.
NONFICTION CATEGORIES: nature, animals, science, technology, environment, foreign culture, history, and biographies. Please make sure the information is appropriate for the right age group.
Discovery (ages 3-6): Learning about the world around them.
HOW AND WHY (ages 7-9): Wants to understand the how and why of things.
TELL ME MORE (ages 10-12): Has a basic knowledge of how things work. This age group wants to dig deeper to really understand their world.A short bibliography is required for all nonfiction articles.
LENGTH FOR ALL STORIES AND ARTICLES: 3 to 6 year olds: 150 to 400 words 7 to 9 year olds: 400-800 words 10 to 12 year olds: 500-1200 words Poems: 2 pieces per submission, 100 words max per poem. Puzzles/Arts & Crafts/Games: 1 page Book reviews-targeted at children: up to 200 words Word counts should be noted on each submission.
For a more detailed look at our guidelines young writers, adult writers, and illustrators can visit our site at http://storiesforchildren.tripod.com/id7.html

Do you also review books?

Stories for Children Magazine does do book reviews. There are multiple ways to send in a book review. One type of book review we publish is from our readers. We love hearing about a book our readers enjoyed or didn’t enjoy reading. The second type of book review we publish is from Book Reviewers themselves. We have a few Book Reviewers who will send in book reviews that are also posted on their book review blogs or sites. The last type of book review is done by one of our editors. This would either be myself or my assistant, Gayle Jacobson-Huset. Our reviews are sent back to the publisher, agent, author, illustrator, or editor that asked for the book review for their promotional use and is also posted on our site.

How may authors contact you with book review requests?

Currently we are seeing about two submissions a month for professional reviews, two to three from Book reviewers, and one or two from our readers. Authors or Illustrators can contact us at:

Stories for Children Magazine
54 East 490 South
Ivins Utah 84738
Phone/fax: (206) 350-3440

Or Email us at:

VS Grenier, Editor storiesforchildren@vsgrenier.com

Gayle Jacobson-Huset, Asst. Editor submissionseditor@vsgrenier.com

How hard is it to start your own online magazine?

I don’t find anything hard if it’s what you want or love to do. Something you’re passionate about shouldn’t be considered hard. But if you want to start an Ezine, there are a few key factors to consider.

The first factor is where to host your site. There are lots of free hosting sites or hosting sites that cost very little money if you plan to be a free Ezine like Stories for Children Magazine. I think it’s a little harder if you are going to charge for a subscription on-line. Most people surfing the web feel it should be free if it’s on the internet. But there are some willing to pay a subscription and therefore you may want to go with a higher paying hosting site that can do some of the maintenance for you.

The second factor is know what you want to do, say, or get across with your publication. You need to first know your niche before you can really start putting an Ezine together. Have a mission statement, goal, or outline of what you stand for. This is going to be your guide in how your site and information will look, and the type of readers you will attract.

The third factor is you need to have the time. If you plan to write a series of books for young adults, adults, or middle graders, you may want to rethink doing an Ezine. I spent a lot of time working on Stories for Children Magazine; from reading submissions to formatting each new issue.

What words of advice would you give to people who are considering such an endeavor?

Do your homework! Starting a magazine is no different than starting your own business or submitting your manuscript to a publisher. You need to research, research, research and then research some more.

I know lots of people think they can just jump on-line, build a site, and have readers or subscribers. Well you can, but if you want to be taken seriously as a magazine then you need to know your niche, competition, and publication rights.

How do you go about promoting your magazine in the midst of all the competition?

I was very lucky about how fast Stories for Children Magazine’s name got out there. Being a student from the ICL was one of the best helps I had. I knew other writers and editors because of the ICL. Also I’m in a few different writers groups both on-line and locally. “Word of month” is the best way to spread anything your marketing. Most people will trust a friend, relative, or co-worker before they will an advertisement. So by talking about Stories for Children Magazine with-in my writing groups and with my fellow writing students, the word just spread like wild fire.

The second thing that helped Stories for Children Magazine get its name out was actually making contacts with our competition. For example: I was first published in Fandangle Magazine, a free on-line magazine for children ages 6 to 12 years old. Nancy the editor wrote an Ebook for teachers about how to use print and Ezines in the classroom. Two of my publications with Fandangle were in her Ebook. I asked Nancy if I could link from my site to her Free Ebook. She was more than happy and in return we have shared information on marketing with each other. And as you can see here I am putting a plug in for her Ezine now. LOL.

Having an author website, blog, or newsletter is another way to get your name out there. I have all three. On my author site you can actually download the past issues of Stories for Children Magazine. On my blogs I post who our Featured Guest of the month is with a link to the SFC site. Having interviews each month with Children’s Authors and Illustrators is a great way to bring traffic.

I also send out media releases on our Featured Guests or if we have some fun news going on at Stories for Children Magazine. And again I always include the link to SFC’s site. You would be surprise how many media releases I get without one.

How does one subscribe to your magazine? Is it free?

Stories for Children Magazine is FREE for everyone. We do hope to go to print with-in the next year or two at which time the print magazine will be a paid subscription. However, I still plan to keep Stories for Children Magazine’s site free by publishing a smaller issue for our on-line readers when we go to print.

You’re also a published author, with many magazine credits to your name and several upcoming book releases. Would you like to tell our readers a little about your works? My writing has been something of a surprise to me. The first submission I ever sent was inspired by my dad’s childhood. He’s a retired pilot and was born with wings. I had first written the story as my sample writing for the ICL to see if I really had what it took to become a children’s writer. After my second assignment I decided to submit a revision of the story to Fandangle Magazine. I guess I still didn’t believe I was cut out to be in children’s writing and felt I needed a rejection to make that clear to me. The funny thing was, Nancy, the editor accepted the story. After that I had two more publications in Fandangle Magazine followed by publications at Vision: A Resource for Writers, KidsMagazine.com, Storybox On-Line, and most recently Pack-O-Fun bought a craft for the June/July 2008 issue. I’ve also written a few articles for my newsletter which has 100 subscribers to-date and for Stories for Children Magazine.

On the book side of things, well does anyone really ever want to say much before they have publication dates?

I will say this much. I have two picture books in the works. They are in the revision stage and I’m working on a novel with another writer. It’s for young adults and my hope is that once I’m done with my part of the novel, my co-author will love it and we’ll see it in print.

Author, editor… and also manuscript critiquer as well. What kinds of manuscripts do you critique, what are your fees, and what can a writer expect from one of your critiques? I critique only children’s writing. I look at short stories, articles, and children’s book in all genres. I’m in a critique group as well as editing accepted submissions for Stories for Children Magazine. I don’t think I ever take off the critiquer hat. LOL.

I don’t charge a lot for a critique. My fee is $15 for 1,000 words or less and then $2 per page after that. When I critique someone else’s work, I look at it two ways. The first way I read the manuscript is as a reader. I love to read children’s books. I hardly ever read an adult genre book. So when I read a manuscript, I look at it as if I picked it off the shelf at the local book store or library. I make my notes from that prospective and then I go back through as an editor. For more information about my critiquing service and testimonials, writers can visit my site at http://vsgrenier.com/critiques.aspx

What mistakes do you keep encountering over and over when you critique other people’s manuscripts?

Formatting is the number one mistake I see as a critiquer and editor. A lot of people want to use fancy fonts or colored text. As a critiquer or editor this is very hard to read. Times New Roman 12pt font is best. Grammar is another area I see lots of mistakes. The most common is the usage of commas, dashes, semi-colons, or quotes. A lot of rules of writing change over the years and if you don’t read current trade magazines or newsletters, then you’re missing some pretty important information. One discussion came up, in an on-line form I was attending, about the use of italics for thought instead of underlining thought on a manuscript. At one time publishers wanted you to underline internal dialogue, but now, a lot of them have you using italics as the preferred way to show internal dialogue or thought. When I critique someone else’s work, I look for all of this on top of spelling, plot, character development, etc. The other big thing I see is pacing. Once you hook your reader you don’t want to lose them with too much detail or slowing in the plot. I see this happening a lot with writers who are in love with descriptive words. Yes you need to be descriptive, but you also need to let your reader use their imagination to fill in some of those blanks. Remember to “Write Tight”. If I wanted to see all the detail to a story, I’ll go watch a movie instead of reading a book. I like painting part of the picture the author starts to draw for me.

The world of children’s book publishing is extremely competitive, with many authors hesitating between trying their luck with a traditional publisher or self publishing. What advice would you offer writers who are oscillating between these two publishing venues? I debate this same question all the time. Self publish, traditionally publish, E-publish, or POD my works. I think you have to first research all avenues and then you have to look at your work and decide, “Why did I want to write this story?” Did I write it to share with my family and friends? Did I write it to be the next New York Times Best Selling Author? Did I write it because I just needed to tell the story? Did I write it because I want to see the smile on a child’s face as they read what I had to write? After that then you need to decide how important it is to get your work out there. POD is something I’m looking into for the Anthology of Stories for Children Magazine. This makes sense because I want to take the best of the best in Stories for Children Magazine and combine it. For my own writing, I’ve looked at E-publishing some of my shorter stories and a more traditional publishing for my picture books and novels. But that is me. Each writer has to do what they feel is best for them and their work. But make sure you research each publisher in any genre of publishing and read the testimonials by those who have used that publisher. And never be afraid to ask someone who has published with a publisher their thoughts about the process.

How do you see the future of children’s book publishing, both traditional, electronic, and print on demand?

I know many younger writers and illustrators believe we are headed to a paperless world of writing. I’ve heard this even back when I was buying clothes for department and specialty stores some 10 years ago. We still have print to this day and I think it will be a long time before we are totally paperless as a society. However, I think a writer would be foolish not to have their hands in both print and E-publishing. I do think POD and self publishing is becoming more common place because it’s so hard to get your foot in the door at the big traditional publishing houses. There are a lot of talented writers who normally would never see their manuscript as a book if it wasn’t for POD or self publishers, but don’t forget the small publishing housings. I do feel all three will always have a place in the children’s book market.

Is there anything else you would like to tell our readers?

Learn all you can to hone your writing. Never think you don’t have anything else to learn. Each day is a day to learn something new or share something to help another along the road to publication. Join one or more writing groups to network with others who have the same passion in writing. Through networking you become more confident in your work. Make sure to have your work critiqued before sending it out. Join a critique group, partner with another writer as critique buddies, or have a professional critiquer look over your work. Having others read what you have written and giving feedback not only makes you a better writer, but you start to understand how a well written story’s voice captures the reader; drawing them into your world of ink.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

ABC's Children's Picture Book Competition--The Winners

I would like to thank all the people who took time from their busy lives to vote for my children’s story, The Doll Violinist, at the ABC’s Children’s Picture Book Competition. Even though I didn’t win, it was certainly a different experience and I at least learned how much I’m capable of promoting and networking under pressure and with a deadline. The 2-week voting period has left me exhausted and I definitely look forward to a calmer and less stressful Halloween season...

Congrats to Gillian Colley and Nikki Shoemaker, for their winning title, What's Wrong with Mud?!!!!!!!!

Moving on to other projects...! :-)


Saturday, October 6, 2007

Book Review: The Christmas Angel, by Mary Jean Kelso

The Christmas Angel
By Mary Jean Kelso
Illustrated by K.C. Snider
Guardian Angel Publishing
ISBN: 1933090588
Copyright 2007
Softcover, 32 pages, $9.96
Children’s Picture Book

Reviewed by Mayra Calvani

The Christmas Angel is a sweet, heart-warming Christmas story about a little girl who ends up finding friendship in the most unexpected of circumstances. Set during the time of the pioneers, this is a tale that both teaches and entertains.

Eight-year old Melissa must leave her Philadelphia home to travel with her family to the West across the Oregon Trail, a daunting 2,170-mile long journey. Because they will travel by wagon, she is allowed to take with her only her most prized possession. For Melissa, this is an easy choice: the delicate porcelain Christmas angel her father once brought her from England. Carefully and lovingly, she wraps the angel and packs it in a box. Their trip is harsh, as they must walk many miles a day, mostly on foot, cross dangerous creeks, and camp overnight in wild, Indian territory. Melissa constantly worries that something will harm her precious angel. Then one day, her worst nightmare comes true—her angel is lost. Luckily, the most unexpected person brings it back to her.

This is a lovely book about friendship between two very different people from opposite cultures. It is also a tale about hope and the magic of Christmas. Children will delight in the colorful illustrations as they learn about the Oregon Trail and the pioneers, their hardships and dreams of a better life. At the end of the book there’s a section with activities and information about the pilgrims, as well as a game and a map.

The Christmas Angel will make a lovely Christmas gift to any child as well as an excellent tool for teachers to teach this era of American history.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Book Review: The Magic Medallion, by Mary Cunningham

Cynthia’s Attic: The Magic Medallion, Book II
By Mary Cunningham
Echelon Press
ISBN: 9781590804605
Copyright 2007
Paperback, 157 pages, $9.99
Middle-grade, Fantasy/Mystery

Reviewed by Mayra Calvani

In this the second book in the Cynthia’s Attic series, best friends Gus and Cynthia are once again swept back in time into a world of fantasy, mystery and adventure. These two young protagonists never give up or say no at the opportunity of a good thrill, and this book is even better than the first.

By way of the magic trunk in Cynthia’s old and cobweb-filled attic, the girls are transported back to 1914, where they end up in a circus and at the hands of a sinister and mean hobo clown who tries to force them to work for him as clown performers. They also meet a beautiful and alluring fortune-teller gypsy who rescues them from the circus. However, she has a proposition for them that may be even more dangerous—they must travel in time to find the lost magic medallion. And if Gus and Cynthia don’t accept, they may not be able to get back to their present-day homes. As they go in search of the magic medallion, the girls meet a set of interesting characters and fall into a vortex of mystery and escapades.

The action is non-stop, the dialogue engaging, the secondary characters intriguing, and the protagonists nothing short of adorable—smart, kind, and with an unbeatable sense of adventure. This is a middle-grade novel that will be devoured by girls ages 10-13. I eagerly look forward to the third book in the series.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Check out the cover!

Hi all,

My publisher, Guardian Angel Publishing, just sent me the cover art for my upcoming children's picture book, The Magic Violin.

More than anything, 8-year old Melina wants to become a good violinist. When she loses confidence, her Rumanian teacher Andrea decides it’s time for a magic dose of self esteem. A mysterious, old woman in rags gives Melina some curious advice; a violinist Russian hamster, who happens to live under the old woman's hat, offers her a virtuoso performance; a shooting star fills her with hope on Christmas Eve. Is Melina actually playing better, or has her violin become magic? Who is the old woman in the townsquare, and why does she wear the same emerald ring as her teacher Andrea?

The message of The Magic Violin is that real magic lies in believing in oneself, and that if we trust ourselves, we can accomplish anything. The story, written for 5 to 8 year olds, shows how being compassionate and generous can have its rewards. It also introduces children to music and other countries--Belgium, in this case.

This will be my first--and hopefully not last!--violin-related children's book. People who know me are familiar with my love for the violin and how it has inspired my work. www.tips-fb.com

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Review of Birthday Snow, by Kim Messinger and Michael LaLumiere

Birthday Snow
By Kim Messinger & Michael LaLumiere
Illustrated by Angela Ursillo
Stagger Lee Books
ISBN: 9780979100611
Copyright 2005
Hardcover, $14.95, 32 pages
Ages 4-8

Reviewed by Mayra Calvani

Freckled-faced Daniel has a dilemma. It’s his birthday today but there’s no snow. Up until now, it has ALWAYS snowed on his birthday.

Patiently, he studies the sky from his bedroom window, waiting for signs of snow. He loves snow and all the fun things he can do when it snows, like wearing his snow clothes, make ice cream, and zoom down the hill on his snow tube.

Even though it is sunny outside, he puts on his snow clothes and decides to ask people—friends, his sister, the postman—about the weather. To his chagrin, they all assure him there won’t be any snow today. But that can’t be! It always snows on his birthday! Undaunted, he keeps faith and tries their crazy suggestions—does a happy dance, wears his pajamas inside out, puts four ice cubes in the toilet, etc..

Finally, exhausted, he falls asleep in his mother’s arms. Will there be snow when he wakes from his nap?

Birthday Snow is a beautifully illustrated picture book about persistence and faith. It is humorous without being wacky and maintains a sweet, rather quiet mood all throughout. It is a fun story to read to children at bedtime, as well as one early readers will be able to enjoy on their own. This book would make a lovely present on any occasion.

Monday, October 1, 2007

And the winners are...

First of all, a sincere, deeply felt THANK YOU to all the people who voted for my story, THE DOLL VIOLINIST!

I don’t know yet whether or not I’ve won, but your support really meant a lot to me. Some people voted every single day and I honestly wish I could send gifts to everyone who so faithfully supported me.

Now I will announce the 5 lucky winners of my drawing...

1st Prize, an antique doll in Brussels lace goes to Jackie Young.

2nd Prize, a $50 Amazon certificate goes to Jack Mishler.

3rd Prize, a sterling silver & zirconium ring goes to Linda Gates.

4th Prize, a print copy of my novel, Dark Lullaby, goes to Cherie Michalec.

5th Prize, a print copy of Angel in a Bubble, goes to Susan Ford.

Congratulations to all the winners!!!

A note on how I did the drawing:

I grouped together all the voters under the ‘star’ system used by Gmail.
I copy and pasted the list onto a Word document.
I printed out the list.
I cut each voter’s name separately into small slips of paper (people who voted 5 times had 5 slips of paper, people who voted 8 times, had 8 slips of paper and so on)
I crumpled them and tossed them into a vase.
I closed my eyes and reached for 5 slips of paper, one at a time for each prize, starting with the first. www.tips-fb.com

Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Voting Has Begun! Vote for my story, THE DOLL VIOLINIST, and win prizes!

My story, The Doll Violinist, is a finalist at the 3rd Annual ABC's Children's Picture Book Competition!

What makes this competition different is that while the finalists are chosen by judges, the winner is chosen by online public vote. In other words, YOU the reader, get to choose the winner—that lucky author & illustrator team who will walk away with a publishing contract!

The Doll Violinist is a heart-warming Christmas tale set in Victorian Europe about a little orphan girl who dreams of becoming a violinist, and features illustrations by talented artist Amy Moreno (http://www.amycullingsmoreno.com/).

To view the finalists in the competition and vote for my story, please visit the competition website at http://www.abcbookcompetition.org/third_comp/index.htm.
The two week voting period starts September 16, 2007 and will continue through midnight September 30, 2007. You may vote ONCE a day for the duration of the contest, if you wish. The winning author / illustrator team will be announced October 8, 2007.

People who vote for The Doll Violinist will be automatically entered in a drawing and prizes will be as follows:

1st Prize: An enchanting Belgian antique doll in Brussels lace
2nd Prize: $50 Amazon gift certificate
3rd Prize: Beautiful zirconium & sterling silver ring (size 8)
4th Prize: A print copy of Mayra’s latest paranormal thriller, DARK LULLABY
5th Prize: A print copy of ANGEL IN A BUBBLE (children’s picture book)

All you need to do is vote for The Doll Violinist (anytime between Sept. 16th-30th), then send me a message to mayra.calvani@gmail.com and write ‘You got my vote’ on the subject line. You must send me a message in order to enter the drawing, so please don’t forget!

The winners will be announced on this blog on October 1st, 2007.
But there's more...! Amy Moreno will be giving away one custom-made pen and ink rendering of YOUR house to a lucky winner. Check her blog, Cachibachis, for her own rules on how to be eligible for this rendering.

Please help Amy and I win that publishing contract!
September 18th NEWS! Listen to my radio interview with Lillian Cauldwell at Internet Voices Radio: http://www.internetvoicesradio.com/Arch-LillianCauldwell.htm


About my story, The Doll Violinist, and how it came about….

The Doll Violinist takes place in Christmas in the late 1800’s and it is about a little orphan girl named Emma who escapes every day from the orphanage to look at a doll that resembles her mother, who is now in heaven. The doll is holding a violin, just like Emma’s mother used to. Emma dreams of becoming a violinist one day, just like her mother.

The tale starts five days before Christmas with five dolls on display, and, to her dismay, as Emma comes to the shop each day, one doll is sold. On Christmas Eve, the doll violinist is the only one left. The story also has another character, the stern and seemingly cold shopkeeper, who doesn’t want Emma standing by the shop. Of course, there’s a reason, and it’s not that Emma is dressed in rags, but that Emma reminds her of her own dead daughter. The story has a quiet mood while offering suspense, and of course, it has a heart-warming, happy ending.

This story has a long history! It is inspired by a real-life tale my Spanish grandmother used to tell me when I was a kid. It is actually based on something that happened to her. When my grandmother was a little girl, her father, a very hard and stingy man, owned a shop. One Christmas, her father brought a beautiful doll to the shop and put it for display on a shelf. When my grandmother saw this doll, she became instantly mesmerized. In her innocent, little girl’s heart, she had hopes her father would give her the doll as a Christmas present. Each day she would come to the store to see if he doll was still there. Of course, her father never gave her the doll; he sold it. She was crushed and could never forget that.

That story must have made a deep impression on me. I never forgot it as well. Two years ago, after years of mental simmering, I put the story to paper. Initially there was no violin in the story; I added that element later to make it more unique.

During the last two years, the story has gone through various titles, a critique group, two editors, and dozens of agents and publishers. Despite all the rejection letters, I had--and still have--deep faith in it and really believed this is a story all children, especially young girls who play the violin, would love to read.

Then last year the story got an Honorable Mention Award at the 75th Annual Writer’s Digest Writing Competition. There were 19,000 entries, so it was quite a validation for me. When I learned about the ABC's Children's Picture Book Competition, I felt compelled to give it a shot.

Please mark your calendars on the 16th of September, when the finalist stories will be displayed online for everybody to read and vote! Voting ends on Sept. 30th, so you have two whole weeks to vote!

My story will be accompaigned with a beautfiful illustration by talented artist Amy Moreno. Amy has perfectly captured the essence and mood of the story.

May the best story win! :-)
Violin, My Muse...

Violin… The word brings such vivid images to my mind. A slender and graceful soloist performing on stage, her eyes closed with delirious ecstasy. The mysterious, dark, gaunt figure of Paganini, his long thin fingers racing up and down the fingerboard with demonic, preternatural speed. Tartini reclining in bed while handing the violin to the devil himself. Sherlock Holmes playing a tune in his small flat on 221b Baker Street.

The sound which comes forth from the violin stirs different emotions deep within my soul—sublimity, sweetness, passion, sadness, fear. Sibelius’ concerto is dark and mysterious; Beethoven’s is spiritual and noble; Brahms’ is earthly and passionate; Tchaikovsky’s is grand and dramatic.

It’s curious how, unlike other instruments, the violin seems to possess a dark, sinister quality. Surely no other instrument in history has been the ‘victim’ of such lore and legend. The violin is light and darkness. It has two faces, two personas. This is what makes the violin so intriguing. At the same time, it is associated with the feminine. I’m not referring to the shape and sound of the violin, but to the feelings it evokes on their owners. I’ve read that men violinists see the violin as a female companion, while women see it as an extension of themselves.

Another thing I’ve come to realize is that most people have intense emotions about the violin—they either love it or hate it. Interesting enough, for someone who hasn’t an affinity for music, the violin can be the most horrific, tortuous instrument to listen to.

I was a late starter. I began taking violin lessons in my mid thirties. Just as Elle Woods in Legally Blonde woke up one day and decided to become a lawyer, I woke up one day and decided I wanted to play the violin. For somebody like me, who had never had any kind of musical education, it was a great challenge. Four years since then, I can only say I don’t know how I could have lived without my violin for so long. A wonderful new dimension has opened in my life. Enveloped in music, surrounded by etudes and books, I wallow in the daily practice of this magnificent instrument, this marvel of ingenuity. But, most strange of all, this new dimension has extended to my writing as well. The violin has stirred my imagination and unleashed my creativity in ways that I never experienced before. A little orphan girl who wishes to become a violinist begs me to write her Christmas story; amateur teenaged violinists whisper in my ear that they wish to be the protagonists of my new mystery; a fragile, mentally unbalanced young violinist shares with me her horror tale, assuring me that her story would make a bestseller…

Always near my computer, my violin beckons me to hold it when I’m stuck in a scene or passage, as if only one embrace, one stroke, are enough to lift the dark cloud from my mind. And always in the background is the violin music, my muse and inspiration. I hope this gift will continue to be bestowed upon me for many years to come.
***This article originally appeared on Blogcritics.org

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Book Review: The Missing Locket, by Mary Cunningham

The Missing Locket
Book I, Cynthia’s Attic series
By Mary Cunningham
Quake (Echelon Press imprint)
ISBN: 1-59080-441-4
Copyright 2005
Trade Paperback, 152 pages, $9.99
Mystery/Paranormal, Middle Reader

Reviewed by Mayra Calvani

The Missing Locket is a paranormal mystery featuring two lovable young sleuths that girls 9 and up will absolutely love. It is the perfect, darkly atmospheric story for young fans of intrigue and adventure to cuddle up with on those gray, rainy afternoons or read in bed.

It is the summer of 1964 and Gus and Cynthia, two best friends who are very different from each other yet very close, are bored out of their minds. Then they have an idea—why not explore Cynthia’s old and mysterious attic? After all, Cynthia lives in one of those huge mansions with three floors and lots of rooms, the perfect kind of house that stimulates young imaginations. In the attic, among all the antiques, spiders and cobwebs, they discover a huge, dust-covered old trunk.

When they open it, they find an old, dirty, pink ballet costume and slippers, which Cynthia, unable to resist, quickly tries on. Then something very strange happens… Cynthia begins to dance and twirl with the effortless beauty of a ballerina! Stunned, she soon takes it off. As they head towards the door, the unimaginable happens—they’re ‘pulled’ back to the trunk as if by magic, and the attic changes, becoming cold and still when only a moment ago it had been hot and muggy. What’s even more strange, the ballet costume and the trunk now look brand new!

Under the costume, they discover a sailor dress, and this time Gus tries it on, with drastic consequences… she’s whisked in time back to 1914, to the time when their grandmothers were only twelve years old. Of course, later on, Cynthia joins Gus, and together they must help their Aunt Belle and solve the mystery of the missing, bell-shaped locket, an adventure that takes them over on a steamship across the Atlantic and where they make friends with a young boy’s ghost.

Talented author Mary Cunningham has drawn a delightful, intriguing fantasy world that will delight middle readers. Her love for storytelling and for the genre really comes through the pages. The pace is quick and there’s enough twists and turns to keep juvenile fans of mystery guessing. The characters of Gus and Cynthia are sympathetic and interesting and young girls will be able to identify with them. This is the first book in the series and I certainly look forward to read the second book, The Magic Medallion, soon.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

There's a Spider in my Sink! by Bill Kirk

There’s a Spider in my Sink!
By Bill Kirk
Illustrated by Suzy Brown
Copyright 2005
Ages 2-6

"There’s a spider in my sink!
Did he drop in from the brink?
Does he want a little drink?
There’s a spider in my sink!"

Thus begins this very cute picture ebook young children will love listening to and early readers will enjoy reading on their own.

The little boy in the story has a problem… a spider has suddenly taken possession of his sink! What is he to do? How to get rid of it without hurting it? After all, the only thing the spider wants is a safe home. But he has to do something! How will he be able to brush his teeth and comb his hair, when the sink is covered with cobwebs?

The story is written in iambic beat and has a smooth, fun rhythm that both children and adults will enjoy.

The colorful illustrations are appealing and possess the right touch of wackiness that well suit the story. I also found the ebook itself a pleasure to use. The book appears on the screen and all you have to do is click on the page for it to turn, giving the feeling of a real book. Even toddlers will be able to turn the pages on their own. In sum, this is a delightful little book that teaches children the good side of spiders, while at the same time developing children’s language and computer skills. www.tips-fb.com

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Book Review: Under the Jolly Roger, by L.A. Meyer

Under the Jolly Roger
(a Jacky Faber adventure, Book III)
By L.A. Meyer
Harcourt Books
Copyright 2007
Paperback, 526 pages
12 & up

Reviewed by Mayra Calvani

In this the latest installment in the Jacky Faber adventures, young and impetuous Jacky sails back to England after leaving the Lawson Peabody School for Young Girls in Boston.

Jacky is now in search of her beloved Jaimy, but when she shows up at his house, his insufferable mother turns her away. Later on, she finds an ingenious way to meet him at the races by dressing up as a boy. To her dismay, she finds him holding hands with another girl. Impulsive and passionate as always, she assumes the worst and storms out of the place without asking an explanation, only to fall into the hands of kidnappers. When she opens her eyes, she finds herself aboard a ship far from coast. But the worse happens when they realize the inevitable—she’s a girl! Now Jacky has to prove herself as an accomplished sailor, keep the filthy captain away from her, and earn the respect of her fellow mates. Of course, her dilemma doesn’t end here, for soon enough she’s mistaken for a pirate and the authorities put a price on her head!

This is a book that will be utterly enjoyed by young fans of pirate adventure stories. Non-stop action and thrills fill the plot, but what really stands out is the well-drawn, utterly adorable character of the sensitive yet head-strong teenaged protagonist, Jacky Faber. Her interaction with other characters and sharp wit are a delight to follow. L.A. Meyer has an unusual, original style that is fresh and engaging. The author uses the present tense to tell the story; since it is a historical novel, I would have preferred the past tense, but this is purely a personal choice. Also, at times the technical descriptions of Jacky as she handles the ship can be a bit tedious, though I suppose this can be appealing to hard fans of pirate stories. The book can stand on its own in spite of being the third one in the series. The ending leaves at a crucial point, leaving the story unfinished and readers begging for more.

*This review originally appeared on http://www.armchairinterviews.com/ www.tips-fb.com

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Review of Beauty Shop for Rent, by Laura Bowers

Beauty Shop for Rent
By Laura Bowers
Harcourt Books
Copyright 2007
Hardcover, 330 pages
YA/General Fiction
12 & up

Reviewed by Mayra Calvani

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this novel by first-time author Laura Bowers.

Fourteen-year old Abbey Garner lives with her great-grandmother and works part-time at her struggling beauty shop. The place has been displaying a ‘For Rent’ sign over a year, to no avail. Then one day a beautiful and sophisticated young woman comes to rent it, bringing with her modern ideas to remodel the shop. Soon Abbey grows to love and admire her. How can she not? She’s everything Abbey’s mother is not—successful, independent, reliable. Now that the shop has been turned into a modern spa, Abbey is able to work more toward her big dream: to become rich by the time she turns thirty five. But then, her mother, who had Abbey when she was sixteen and practically abandoned her, comes back into the picture, turning Abbey’s orderly life upside down.

Don’t be fooled by the fun, whimsical aspect of the beauty spa idea; although the setting adds a touch of hilarity to the story, this is a strong, beautifully written and heart-warming tale about a young teenager’s search for maternal love. It is a coming-of-age novel about overcoming disappointment and about forgiveness. Abbey is a sensitive, thoroughly sympathetic protagonist. Beauty Shop for Rent is fine piece of work that will appeal to both young adults and adults alike.

*This review originally appeared in Armchair Interviews www.tips-fb.com

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Book Review: Freckleface Strawberry, by Julianne Moore

Freckleface Strawberry
By Julianne Moore
Illustrated by LeUyen Pham
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Copyright 2007
ISBN: 978-1-59990-107-7
Ages 0-5, 40 pages, $16.95
Available October 2007

Freckledface Strawberry is about a seven-year old girl just like everybody else, except for one thing: she has red hair. Not only that. She has FRECKLES!

Where did they come from? Nobody in her family has freckles. How she got them is a mystery! No matter where she goes, people always have something to say about her freckles—that she’s dotted, that she’s dirty, that she looks like a giraffe, but even worse… that she’s a FRECKLEFACE STRAWBERRY!

Freckleface Strawberry must do something to get rid of her freckles. And fast. She tries various funny ways to get rid of them, before realizing that maybe, just maybe, freckles are not that bad after all. What’s even more… maybe freckles are what make her HER.

This is a picture book that will be thoroughly enjoyed by all, especially by children who have freckles. The story maintains the right pace to keep the momentum going and the colorful illustrations have a wacky quality that suits well the tone and add to the humor. Julianne Moore has created a cute, fun story based on her own childhood experience . I look forward to reading more books from her.

Review by Mayra Calvani

*This review was previously published in Armchair Interviews www.tips-fb.com

Friday, June 22, 2007

Diligence the Dragon: A Pre-Biblical Fable

Diligence the Dragon, A Pre-Biblical Fable
Written & Illustrated by Kevin Scott Collier
Guardian Angel Publishing, Inc
ISBN: 1-933090-25-1
Copyright 2005
Children’s Picture Ebook

“A long time ago, before the Holy Bible was written, there was a place upon this earth known as Doubt. This prehistoric place was before the dawn of civilization, and only two creatures were known to live there; a boy named Jezubah, and a dragon named Diligence.”

Thus starts this 22-page Christian fable ebook, which is divided into three chapters: The Beginning, The Questions, and The New Pathway.

In spite of their closeness, Jezubah and Diligence are very different. Jezubah is never curious about anything, while Diligence is always asking questions. Because of their different natures, they’re worlds apart even though they’re friends. The dragon, feeling misunderstood and having no one to share his questions with, always feels alone. But he always cares and provides for the boy.

One night, huddled by the warmth of a campfire, Diligence wonders where the rocks, the mountain, himself and everything else comes from. The boy is driven out of his wits: “You drive me nuts!” the lad would shout. “Why do you question everything? What is here is simply here!”

Then winter comes and Diligence goes to a mountain top where a mysterious tree grows. With a blast of his nostrils, he sets the tree on fire, and it’s not too much later when he starts asking himself where fire comes from. To his astonishment, a mysterious voice responds, a voice that’s not exactly spoken language but one that deeply touches his heart and answers all his questions. Where does this voice come from? Will Jezubah believe Diligence’s story? If so, how will he react?

Diligence the Dragon is a thoughtful story for children, I would say, between 5 and 9 years old. It is the type of story an adult should read to children in order to help them understand its symbols and message. It is the sort of book which invites young minds to think about the meaning and history of Christianity. In spite of the colorful illustrations, the tone is quiet and serious. In this sense, it is not a light, fun book, but this doesn’t mean it is not one that can’t be enjoyed by children before going to bed, provided an adult is there to explain or clarify the hidden messages. Another factor in making this book appear ‘serious’ is that there’s a lot of text in comparison to the amount of illustrations—only three. More artwork would have definitely added a brighter atmosphere to the story.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Book Review: Journeys of Hope: A Star Shall Lead Them, by Kevin Scott Collier

Journeys of Hope: A Star Shall Lead Them
Written & illustrated by Kevin Scott Collier
Guardian Angel Publishing
ISBN: 1-933090-28-6
Copyright 2005
Ebook, 26 pages, $6.00
Children’s Picture Book/Christian

Journeys of Hope is a delightful picture ebook that includes five fables: Hope from Above, Follow the Star, Hermit without a Home, War and Peace, and Eye of the Beholder. The star of these fables is a very cute angel fish named Hope.

But Hope is no ordinary angel fish. For one thing, she has wings instead of fins. In fable number one, she also carries with her a special secret. The problem is, not everybody in the ocean believes her. They see her astounding story as a fantastic tale. Nonetheless, Hope doesn’t give up and continues spreading the word that she believes to be true, that “There’s brightness above the surface of the ocean.” Then one day, she learns that there’s a cold creature living at the bottom in total darkness. Filled with courage, Hope swims to the bottom to tell her story of the brightness above to the dark creature. Will the creature believe her miracle story?

In fable number two, Hope learns that there’s a cave at the far west end of the ocean that leads to a pond called Salvation. The problem is, it is extremely dark out there. However, soon a miracle happens: each time Hope says the word “Faith”, the Starfish who inhabits the cave glows brilliantly. Will Hope reach Salvation now that she has discovered the secret into finding it?

In fable number three, there happens to be a large Hermit crab living in a great barren trench at the bottom of the ocean. The crab has no friends and lives by himself, embittered by his own loneliness. Will Hope be able to befriend the crab and open his heart to the miracle of friendship?

In fable number four, Hope finds a great area of twisted metal wreckage at the bottom of the ocean. She wonders what it is and where it comes from. Learning that the wreckage comes from war, Hope has one big question in her mind: Why are there wars? Egan, an elderly electric eel, is more than happy to answer her questions. He also makes her realize that there are no winners in war, and that the only way one could really be a winner is by following the road of faith and goodness.

In the last fable Hope is as invited by her friend Mabel the Manatee to be a guest at a beauty pageant. To Hope’s surprise, Mabel tells her she is one of the contestants and, what’s more, she’s even sure she’s going to win in spite of being overweight. Hope wants to be encouraging, but how can she when all the other creatures are more sleek and graceful than Mabel? Soon the other fish begin to snicker and call Mabel names. But what do you think happens when the judge—a manatee!—shows up? A lovely fable about how beauty is not only within us, but in the eye of the beholder as well.

Though this is a book that early readers can read on their own, I would recommend an adult to read it to children the first time, if only to make the Christian messages and symbols in the story clear to young minds. Collier’s signature illustrations are as always bright and colorful and a real treat to the eye. The prose and dialogue are engaging. This is a book the whole family can enjoy and one that invites children to ponder and ask questions. It is also the kind of book that teaches without preaching. Recommended for young Christian readers.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Book Review: Whale Song, by Cheryl Kaye Tardif

Whale Song
By Cheryl Kaye Tardif
Kunati, Inc.
ISBN: 978-1-60164-007-9
Copyright 2007
Trade Paperback, 200 pages, $12.95
General Fiction/YA

Whale Song is a beautifully written novel that deals with a controversial subject and combines elements of myth, legend, and family drama.

The story begins when thirteen-year old Sarah Richardson moves with her family to Vancouver Island, leaving behind her old life and best friend. In spite of the fact that not all of her new classmates offer her a warm welcome, Sarah soon makes a good friend, a native girl called Goldie. A white girl where most of the people are Indian, Sarah soon experiences prejudice and racism. Her escape is her loving home, her friendship with Goldie, and her love for the killer whales that inhabit the island waters. From Goldie’s grandmother she learns many legends and Indian myths about these magnificent, intelligent mammals.

Then disaster strikes and all that Sarah holds dear is snatched away, leaving her enveloped in a dark vortex of confusion and loneliness. As her life abruptly changes, the issue of racism is replaced by a much more controversial one. Does the end justify the means? Does love justify breaking the law?

The story is told in the first person by Sarah herself; the reader is drawn into an immediate intimate rapport with the young protagonist. The language, in its simplicity, heightens the strong moral conflicts which carry the plot. In spite of the family drama, no silly sentimentalism mars the prose, and Sarah possesses a strong voice that is both honest and devoid of embellishments. The author has managed to create a sense of serenity and beauty that has to do with the mythical setting and the ‘parallel’ presence of the killer whales and wolves.

Consider this excerpt taken from the prologue and which sets the tone and mood for the rest of the story:

I once feared death.

It is said that death begins with the absence of life. And life begins when death is no longer feared. I have stared death in the face and survived. A survivor who has learned about unfailing love and forgiveness. I realize now that I am but a tiny fragment in an endless ocean of life, just as a killer whale is a speck in her immense underwater domain. (p.9)

A sad yet uplifting novel, Whale Song is about the fear and innocence of a young girl and about coming to terms with the shocking and painful truth one often must face. Above all, it is a novel about forgiveness and forgiving oneself.