Friday, April 27, 2007

To Write Or Not To Write, That Is The Question

Writer’s block.
Do the words make you wince?
If you belong to that blessed, miraculous group of people who can write anywhere, anytime, who are able to switch themselves on into a writing mood like a light-switch, then your answer will be No. But if you’re like me, and belong to that cursed, demonic group who kill themselves writing that first sentence, these words will make you grimace with a heartache that plunges deeper than the Cayman Trough.
But what is writer’s block, and why do many writers--damn good ones—suffer from it? Some think the reason is old plain laziness or lack of discipline, but I disagree. The reason is more complex. I can’t help remembering my creative writing professor back in college—a published author of many mystery novels who suddenly stopped writing for eight long years simply because he “froze at the computer and couldn’t put a word down.”
Only God knows the dark mechanics that kept my professor from writing for such a long time, so I can only speak for myself.
So here it goes. What is writer’s block? Following the famous editorial advice, instead of “telling” you, I will “show” you.
Picture in your mind a beautiful winter morning, snow falling from the window, the office toasty warm, the house empty and quite. It’s just me and writer’s block:
9:30 I sit at the computer, ready to write that piece of literature that will bring me fame and riches (okay, no need to be greedy, I’ll settle for riches).
9:31 I decide I better answer my emails first, get them out of my mind (yeah, right).
10:00 I’m thirsty. I better make myself some tea. Writers drink hot beverages, don’t they?
10:05 I’m back at the computer. I take a sip of my tea and suddenly remember all the things I should be doing instead of writing: wash the rabbit hutches, purchase moist wipes for my husband’s glasses, do the laundry, vacuum the bedrooms, feed the fish… somehow there’s no end to this list.
10:25 I stare at the blank monitor. I loathe myself.
10:30 I’m hungry. I’ll have an early lunch (someone should conduct a study about frustrated writers and overeating).
10:50 I glare at the sign on my desk “A Writer Is Someone Who Writes Everyday,” and try to set it to flames with my mind power.
11:00 I put Vivaldi on the stereo (studies have shown baroque music “expands” the mind).
You get the picture. This is writer’s block. This is what happens when I break the habit of writing everyday and disconnect myself from my current project. I don’t know about you, but when I don’t write, the consequences are catastrophic. I hate the world. I snap at people (my husband is my favourite victim). I feel trapped in a box, unable to breathe. If I were the sort of person who went to pubs, I would surely start a brawl.
But what causes writer’s block?
Almost always, it is fear. Plain and simple. F-E-A-R.
Fear of not being good enough.
Fear of not being able to write that perfect sentence that will impress the reader. No wonder it blocks! How can you write freely and impress people at the same time?
So in order to lift the block, you need to get rid of that fear. It is easier said than done, I know, but I will give you a few practical tips that will help you overcome it, based on probably the best book on writing in the market today, Julia Cameron’s The Right To Write. If these tips have worked for me, they can work for you, too.

1. Keep a journal and write 3 pages of anything that comes to your mind each morning. Strictly stream-of-consciousness stuff. Don’t worry, no one will read this (if you’re paranoid like me, hide the journal). The idea is to drain your brain of all the clutter so that when you sit at the computer to do the actual writing, you’ll be able to do it with a clear head. You don’t feel like writing this morning? Your writing sucks? You feel fat? You hate your neighbour? Write it down. By the way, if you feel like clobbering someone to death with a medieval flail, add that too. Write down your dreams, your plans, your fears. The idea is to keep writing non-stop until you have fill those 3 pages. I write in my journal almost everyday. I’m addicted to it, almost to the point of being superstitious. Remember to do it in the morning. If you write in your journal at night you’ll probably go over what you did during the day and this will defeat the purpose. The idea is to positively affect your day by writing those pages in the morning. By training your mind to do this each morning, you will not only make writing more approachable, but also more disciplined.

2. Don’t edit as you write. If you can’t keep your neurotic, perfectionist urges under control, then at least keep them to an absolute minimum. Editing as you write is like editing a movie and filming it at the same time. It can become pathological. Editing, re-editing, searching for that flawless sentence that will create that immaculate paragraph. Well, do you want to know something? It won’t happen. No matter how many times you try to improve it, there will be always room for improvement. Ultimately, if you want to finish that first draft, you’ll have to trust yourself and simply let it go. Remember that a first draft is just that, a first draft. Once you’ve finished that first draft then you can polish and change and edit all you want.

3. Set yourself a small quota everyday. You don’t have to finish a whole chapter in one sitting. Just write 2 pages, or 1, or even just a paragraph. The important thing here is to meet that daily quota. It’s amazing how thinking like this can affect your brain. It’s like with exercise. If you tell yourself, “Oh no, I have to exercise for one whole hour,” this will block you. But if you think, “I’ll only exercise 20 or 30 minutes,” the work becomes more approachable and you’ll stick with it. The key here is to create the habit a little step at a time. The best thing about meeting this daily quota is that it allows you to feel “guilt-free” for the rest of the day, making it possible for you to spend happier times with your family and do other things. In other words, if you stick to your writing schedule, you’ll be able to enjoy life.

4. Have the right sense of direction. This is probably one of Cameron’s most powerful advice. Don’t think that you have to think something up, that you have to create something. Instead, think that the words, plots, characters are already there suspended in some other dimension, and all you have to do is listen intently and write the words down as if taking dictation. Thinking like this will immediately lift a heavy load off your shoulders. It will make you feel free of responsibility and allow your writing to flow easier.

5. Find a support group. Artistic souls need artistic soul mates. If there isn’t any support group you like, start your own, like I did. As I write this article, I’m sitting at a café with 3 writer friends. We meet every Friday morning from 10 to 12. These meetings are incredibly productive, maybe for the simple reason that I HAVE to write. I mean, face it, not writing alone at home is bad, but not writing in front of your writer friends would be a disgrace. Who wants to be a loser? Also, sometimes writers need to get out of their homes and experience a change of scene. Writing at a café makes writing fun. There’s a baby howling a table away, and at the same time I can clearly hear the loud voice of a Spanish lady several feet from me, telling her friend that she wished her husband would hide his briefcase in the cellar… Hide his briefcase in the cellar? Strange… But I reel myself back in. I don’t want to become like one of my writing partners, who periodically listens to people’s conversations to get ideas for her stories. I’m not that desperate yet.

6. Give your brain high quality foods: Read great books about all types of subjects, both in fiction and nonfiction. I read astronomy, cosmology, history, comparative religion, physics, metaphysics. Listen to music. Music can trigger powerful inspiration. But please, not heavy metal! Put your favourite composer on the stereo, close your eyes, and just let your mind drift. Doing this alone is a form of meditation. I can assure you scenes of future books will appear in your mind, characters will talk, ideas for your present project will present themselves. Visit museums, flower shops, go to the theatre, take walks and observe nature. All these things will enrich your life and your mind, automatically giving your writing more energy and depth.

The following tip is not from Julia Cameron, but from me. It works wonders for motivation but is not for everybody, only for those of you who have generous and supportive husbands: Make a signed agreement with your husband in which he’ll have to pay you $10 for every full page you write. So if you write 15 pages a week, he’ll have to pay you $150… I said this is not for everybody. (By the way, my husband hasn’t agreed so far, but I’m still hopeful.)

Don’t be afraid. Just write. Just WRITE. Just describe the movie in your head and put the words down. In the meantime I’ll try to apply these wise words to myself, and not give the evil eye to the “A Writer Is Someone Who Writes Everyday” sign on my desk.


This article is based on ideas described in The Right To Write, by Julia Cameron.

Other great, inspiring books about unleashing the power of your creativity:

The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron
Becoming a Writer, by Dorothea Brande
Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg
Write From the Heart, by Hal Zina Bennett

Copyright ©2006 by Mayra Calvani / All Rights Reserved

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Book Review: Writing Children’s Books for Dummies

Writing Children’s Books for Dummies
By Lisa Rojany Buccieri and Peter Economy
Wiley Publishing, Inc.
ISBN: 0-7645-3728-8
Copyright 2005
Trade Paperback, 355 pages, $19.99

Reviewed by Mayra Calvani

Writing Children’s Books for Dummies is one of those complete, easy-to-use guides that should be on the shelf of any writer who is serious about writing and publishing children’s books. Having read most of the reference books on this subject on the market today, I can say this is right there among the best and well worth its price.

The structure of the book is clear and easy to handle, the language straight forward and to the point. No matter which aspect of children’s writing or publishing you’re interested in, you only have to look in the table of contents to find it. The authors use interviews and illustrations to present their ideas in a more engaging manner. They also utilize icons to stress important ideas or points. For example, special icons are used for “Tips” (expert advice), “Remember” (important information to store in your brain for later recall), “Warning” (avoiding mistakes), and “Ahead of the Pack” (new and innovative topic). At the end of the book there are five lined pages for note taking, quite practical for those readers who like to take notes as they read.

Everything from formats and genres, understanding the market, setting up your workspace, coming up with ideas, researching, creating compelling characters, the mechanics of writing (conflict, climax, dialogue, setting, point of view, tone, theme, etc.) to editing and formatting, illustrating, finding agents and publishers, the publishing process and much, much more. You’ll even find more than ten great sources for compelling storylines, as well as helpful tips on promoting your work. In short, all the information you’ll need to succeed as a children’s book author.

Whether you choose to read from cover to cover or jump straight to the topic of your choice, Writing Children’s Books for Dummies will prove to be an indispensable reference and amalgam of helpful information for your writing career, as well as a fecund source of ideas for articles. Highly recommended for both fiction and non-fiction writers, students of children’s literature, and writing teachers.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Reviewers vs. Bloggers: The Controversy

Reviewing has been a hot subject among kidlit bloggers lately, ever since the magazine n+1 came up with an article about a week ago which criticized—though not in such direct terms—bloggers of not being objective, honest enough with their reviews, of not posting enough negative reviews and of lacing their positive reviews with facile praise. The main question seems to be: is it possible to be unbiased in a cozy environment where the people who post friendly comments under the bloggers’ posts are often the same people who request reviews from these bloggers? In other words, is it possible to be objective in the blogosphere, where authors, publishers, publicists, reviewers and librarians are in friendly terms with each other in such blog communities as Live Journal?

In a perfect world a reviewer should never review a book by a person he/she knows. But, as usual, more often than not, what is ideal in theory is not realistic in the real world, and this ‘sin’ is not only committed by bloggers, but also by professional reviewers who write for online and print review publications.

Another issue seems to be the lack of format which many (maybe most?) bloggers have when writing reviews. Unlike the ‘legitimate’ reviewers who seem to have a preference for a ‘standard’ structure—an interesting lead/opening sentence, a short summary of the plot without ever giving away spoilers or the ending, and an intelligent, fair, tactful evaluation—the bloggers write about books anyway they want. They have the freedom to write in any length or style without a thought to format—even to the point of giving away spoilers or relating the ending of a book. This freedom comes with the territory of being a blogger. But then, the questions arise… Are bloggers ‘real’ reviewers? What defines a review? After all, there are many types of reviews—academic and long, light and short, and snippets like those in such publications as Library Journal.

Different review sites and publications have different guidelines. Are blogger reviews a new, different type of review? Should we draw a distinction between bloggers who are simply readers and post ‘reader reviews’ and ‘legitimate’ reviewers who post ‘real’ ones on their blogs? After all, just like on Amazon, there are reader reviews and reviewer reviews. Are bloggers the lowly counterparts of legitimate reviewers? Is this an elitist attitude?

I find these questions fascinating because I think there are no easy answers. As usual, opening a discussion about what is right and wrong is like opening a can of worms.

A couple of years ago, this dilemma started with the emerging online review sites... I remember how librarians and bookstores often dismissed them as ‘not legitimate’. Online review sites have come a long way. Now it's the bloggers who are being attacked.

Ultimately, I think we're not giving enough credit to the discerning reader of reviews. It's so easy to tell a good review from a cheesy one guilty of facile praise! There are good and bad reviewers everywhere. Serious blogger reviewers aren't going to be stupid enough to post overly positive reviews because if the reader buys a book based on that review and then finds that book to be poorly written, that blogger will lose all credibility and that reader won't come back to this blogger for more reviews. Honesty and fairness go with our job as reviewers, without it, we're nothing but weak, cheap publicity. That is not to say we should be nasty or mean... which brings me to the writing of negative reviews...

I personally think there are too many good books out there to be spending time writing about the bad ones (even negative reviews are a type of publicity!). Unless it's a book that has been written by a famous author and/or heavily hyped, I won't bother posting negative reviews on my blog and newsletters (this wouldn't be the case, however, if the book was assigned by a review site/publication, in which case I wouldn’t have a choice but to write the negative review).

One thing the blogging technology has done is bring books and literature closer to the public and, let’s face it, the average person is so busy and/or has such a short attention span that long, insightful reviews are not the most practical thing in the world. Blogger reviews are like quick tasty treats of information for people on the run who enjoy reading about books. In the end, and in spite of the ‘slippery’ questions mentioned above, I’m all for anything that brings literature closer to the public.

Mayra Calvani is the co-author of the forthcoming book, THE SLIPPERY ART OF BOOK REVIEWING, soon from

Monday, April 23, 2007

Book Review: Three Good Deeds, by Vivian Vande Velde

Three Good Deeds
By Vivian Vande Velde
Harcourt Books
Copyright 2005
Hardcover, 147 pages, $16.00
Ages 8-12

Reviewed by Mayra Calvani

Howard is your typical nice yet sometimes not-so-nice young boy. For one thing, he loves to play pranks, specially on defenceless geese and poor old women who look like witches.

One day he tries to steal goose eggs from an old woman in his town…. with disastrous consequences—this old woman, you see, happens to be a real witch who, to teach him a lesson, turns him into a goose. There’s only one way for Howard to break the witch’s curse and turn back into a boy: he must do three good deeds.

Easier said than done. As Howard tries to think up possible good deeds, he goes into a self-discovering journey without even realizing it, and becomes a much better person for it.

Three Good Deeds is a delight to read. The dialogue is engaging and the visual images transport the reader to the pond with the geese. The devious simplicity of the tale is what makes this book stand out. This is one of those excellent books which can work on two levels: as a light, fun, superficial story, and as a deeper, more complex one with a serious theme. The author doesn’t “spell out” the obvious to the young reader, allowing him/her to find out the reason why Howard’s presumably “good” deeds are not really good deeds at all. The ending is touching and transcends the more common, cute endings in many middle-reader novels published these days; though actually serious in tone, it serves to both contrast and complement the earlier part of the book beautifully.

*This review first appeared on

Saturday, April 21, 2007

On the Spotlight: Kevin Scott Collier

How long have you been writing and illustrating?

A: I have been drawing since I was 5, and always dabbled in little fiction stories recreationally, but I didn't become published and in the business until 2004.

Your YA novel,, was recipient of the Graig’s Choice Award for Best Book in 2005 and has been referred to as a “masterpiece of communication”. Please tell us a bit about this book. What was your inspiration for it?

A: "" was a little story I wrote for fun for a niece. When I was mailing a printout of the story to her, I bumped into a children's book publisher at the post office. The two men were in Michigan on business (from Indiana) and I told them about my story concerning an angel who emails a boy on earth. They requested a copy, they met with me again two days later, and contracted me to expand the short fable into a book. The way the story came about was actually a joke I told my niece. She asked me if I pray, and I told her no, that I email God instead. One thing led to another, but the final story is more serious than whimsical.

You seem to be extremely prolific with your illustrations. What are your working habits? Do you have any ‘crazy artist’ quirks?

A: I essentially draw every evening, and pieces of several book projects all at once. So I juggle things by nature but daily push out product. Perhaps the biggest myth-buster is that I have a huge drawing desk and fancy tools to draw with. Not true. I use white typing paper, Flalir pens, and use a clipboard as my desk. I draw 80% of my books sitting on the living room carpet.

What type of illustrations do you enjoy working on the most?

A: Whimsical images, animals who resemble humans, etc. I like to draw characters and develop their appearances. The more adorable the image, the better.

You made the headlines with Topsy Turvy Land when it was chosen one of the 50 favorite books of all time. How does that make you feel—having your book right next to Dr. Seuss’, The Wind in the Willows and Charlotte’s Web?

A: I actually overlooked it and brushed it off until my agent and others pestered me as to its importance to promote in my resume. I drew the entire book in 3 evenings after my day job, so it was very short project. I see now that the honor is indeed something significant. I guess I should stop and smell the roses on occasion.

How would you compare the creative process of an author vs. that of an artist?

A: The two are totally different. One is text, the other literally visual in nature. I can say art is easier than writing, it's just as time consuming, but more relaxed. I do like being an artist a tad more than being a writer, because everyone claims to be a writer, but few people are actually artists.

Are you familiar with Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way? Do you think illustrating has a healing, channeling quality?

A: Yes I do. Tender and gentle illustrations convey love. Illustrators say a lot with their pictures, sometimes more than the words of the story they are drawing.

You seem to work on many projects at the same time. Do you follow a disciplined schedule to cope with all the work?

A: Yes, get something drawn every day, and move things and projects on their way. It's a constant process of starting and ending and beginning it all again. Coping with it usually has to do with the subjects I am drawing. It's hard to feel overwhelmed of discouraged when you are drawing a rabbit with a necktie. lol

I understand your work is represented by The Hartline Literary Agency. Was it easy for you to find an agent? What advice would you give to beginner illustrators who are in search of one?

A: Hartline approached me, so I never looked for an agent. It is great to have one. Advice? Send off CDs of your artwork, inquire, be personable. If you work and work ethic is good, you'll secure jobs.

Do you have a website and/or blog where readers may learn more about you and your works?

A: Yes, my website is:
My blog is:

Leave us with some words of wisdom.

A: Don't take everything so seriously. Apply yourself, be committed to what you do, but have some fun. Life is too short, enjoy your time here.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Book Review: I Sea Horses, by Dawn Van Zant

I Sea Horses
From Sky To Sea
Written by Dawn Van Zant
Illustrated by Callan Van Zant
Wild Heart Ranch Books
ISBN: 0-9761768-0-7
Copyright 2004
Children’s picture book

Reviewed by Mayra Calvani

How did sea horses come to exist? Could it be that horses on the land, threatened by men and searching for freedom, escaped to the sea?

I Sea Horses takes a magical glimpse into the origin of sea horses. With beautiful, evocative, dream-like illustrations, this is an imaginative, heart-warming story that will delight young and old alike.

Led by the young stallion Pegasus, and with the helped of a magical star, the herd go to the depths of the sea to find peace, freedom and happiness. In the beginning, however, Pegasus encounters much resistance from the herd, for how is a horse, a creature without gills, to survive under the sea?

But Pegasus “told them his dream of things coming to be/When the land would change and they could no longer run free/He did not know when or even know why/But he felt he must turn to the sea or the sky.”

The story is written in lovely lyrical verses, but the language is pretty straight forward, making it easy for the younger child to understand. The language also has a serene, calming quality while stimulating the child’s imagination at the same time.

At the end of the book there is a section about Project Sea Horse and how people can help the survival of these exotic, fascinating, delicate creatures. Children can interact with this project’s website and even purchase the plush-toy, sea horse characters featured in the story.

A picture book that will enchant lovers of horses and sea horses, I Sea Horses comes highly recommended from this reviewer.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Article: Contacting Bookstores

If you’re a small press author, trying to get your book into brick and mortar stores can be one of the hardest tasks to accomplish. If you’re a POD author, chances are close to impossible unless you deal with independent local bookstores which usually are more flexible and open to helping local authors. But as a rule, big chain stores won’t stock a POD book, mainly because of lack of returnability and the poor (and mostly unfair) reputation of print on demand books.

But, as I said, small independent bookstores are more open and flexible and more willing to take a small risk with a an unknown author. Though it is true that most people (about 52%) shop books at big chain stores, here your book will be lost amidst thousands. In a small bookstore, however, you competition will be less because there are not as many books on the shelves. Of course, most people go shopping for their books at the big chain stores, thus their popularity.

If you want to market your book to bookstores, the first thing you need to do is to locate them. You also need to decide which type to contact. You may want to contact bookstores by genre or geographical are. If you live in Los Angeles and your book is a mystery, for instance, you may want to contact all mystery bookstores in your city first before moving to other geographical areas.

To locate bookstores you may check:

*Yellow Pages Directory in your city.
*Yellow Pages Directory on the Internet.
*The ABA Bookstore Directory:
*The American Booktrade Directory (you may check this at the library).

Another easy way to locate bookstores, but which costs money, is to rent a mailing list. For $40, you may obtain a mailing list of the top 700 independent bookstores at

Once you have a list of the bookstores you wish to contact, there are some guidelines you should keep in mind before getting in touch with their owners:

*Prepare an attractive brochure or media kit, which should contain your contact information, book information, an author’s bio, a book description or blurb, review quotes, and mention of any awards. If you don’t know how to prepare a brochure or media kit, please make sure to do a research on the internet first. Amateurish material will be toss in the trashcan, you can be sure of that.

*Some owners prefer a brochure, others a sample copy of the book. You should also include a personal letter (not generic!) introducing yourself and your book. Keep it brief and professional—never brag about the magnificent qualities of the book. The book must speak for itself. If you have any rave review quotes of your book, the place for these is on the brochure or media kit. Many bookstore owners like handwritten letters or post-its. The ‘personal’ aspect of this will make you stand out. Of course, it’s always a test, and the reality is most material received by owners ends up in the trash can. But the more personal and professional you are, the better your chances to succeed. Alan Beats, of Borderland Books, says, “Sending a well thought out cover letter with a review copy. The quality of the cover letter is very important. If it's poorly written or has grammatical errors, I won't even look at the book. The letter will get major plus points if it is clear that the person writing it has researched our store and if it's address to me directly.”

Some bookstore owners prefer to be sent sample copies by the publisher itself instead of the author. These people will not consider a publisher legitimate otherwise and will not stock its books.

*Don’t phone. Bookstore owners are too busy and don’t like to be bothered by desperate authors over the phone. “The worse thing to do is to bug us about it after you’ve sent it,” says Del Howison, owner of Dark Delicacies, a bookstore specializing in horror. “We’re not a critiquing service so we’re not going to give you a rundown on what’s good and bad about it. There are plenty of editors out there who will do that for you.” Howison prefers a sample copy of the book instead of a brochure.

*Make sure your book is relevant to the store. If your book is a novel about witches or vampires, you won’t have any luck with a Christian bookstore! Make sure your time and resources are not going to waste.

*Keep a record of your contacts and marketing efforts to use in the future for other books.

Though most marketing experts out there keep insisting that bookstores are not the best places to market your books—and though this may be true—there’s one thing for sure: nothing beats seeing your book in a bookstore shelf!

Good luck!

©2006. Mayra Calvani / All Rights Reserved. This article may not be copied nor printed in any form without permission from the author.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Book Review: Creatures of the Night, by Stephen Brooks

Creatures of the Night
By Stephen Brooks
Illustrated by Rodger Wilson
Purple Sky Publishing
Copyright 2005
Hardcover, $16.95

Has your young child ever wondered about those noises in the night, or about those creatures that come out to play only at night?

Creatures of the Night is a lovely rhyming story about those nocturnal creatures that “Come out to run and play,” like “The sly and wily old raccoon,/With a mask around its eyes,/Sneaks about in search of food/in his ever so clever disguise.”

Other creatures of the night mentioned in the book include the owl, field mice, crickets, frogs, fireflies, coyote, opossum, and muskrats.

The rhymes are delightful and the illustrations beautiful, with a serene, peaceful quality to them, bringing to life the magic of the night and its creatures. It is the kind of book young children will want to listen to in bed at night many times, if only to look at the lovely images of the animals.

A book that both teaches and stimulates young children’s imagination, Creatures of the Night is a keeper, and well-worth its hardcover price.

Reviewed by Mayra Calvani

Friday, April 13, 2007

Book Review: Jeremy and the Dragon, by Anne K. Edwards

Jeremy and the Dragon
By Anne K. Edwards
Illustrated by Lewis A. Francisco
Twilight Times Books
ISBN: 1-9333353-88-0
Copyright 2006
Children’s Picture Book
Ebook, 29 pages

Reviewed by Mayra Calvani

What is it about dragons that children find so fascinating? Could it be their fiery eyes, huge scaly wings, devilish tails and ability to cough fire? Or is it perhaps their legendary quality enveloped in mystery?

Jeremy wants to play in the forest with his brothers, but they refuse, accusing him of being too little. To scare him off, they tell him there’s a child-eating dragon living in the woods. Unsure whether or not to believe them, Jeremy decides to investigate on his own. Imagine his surprise when he meets Elvis—not at all your ordinary kind of dragon. Elvis educates Jeremy into the ‘world’ of dragons and invites him to his cave to meet his wife, Lena. Once there, however, Jeremy realizes the dragon’s intentions are not so friendly after all. Refusing to become tonight’s supper, Jeremy must find a way to outsmart the dragons and escape.

In this her first children’s picture book, talented mystery author Anne K. Edwards has penned an engaging boy-dragon story that will keep young readers glued to the pages all the way to the surprising ending. The attractive illustrations complement the plot and characters perfectly. The unexpected twist at the end invites children to deduce the conclusion. This book is suitable to be read to young children or to be read by older ones on their own. Sometimes funny, sometimes a bit scary, but always exciting, Jeremy and the Dragon will delight readers of all ages.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Illustrator Interview: Meet Sally Bostrom

1.How long have you been working as a freelance artist and illustrator?
I graduated from Ringling School of Art & Design in Sarasota, Florida in 1985, and have been a freelance artist since then. I was offered a starting position with Hallmark as a Line Designer, but turned it down due to the fact that I was starting a family. So, I’ve been freelancing out of my home for 20 years.

2.You started in college as a medical student. When I see your artwork, it’s obvious you were born with an exceptional gift. What compelled you to want to study medicine and later make the switch to art?
The field of medicine has always intrigued me. I began my collegiate studies in pre-med, but found I was unable to maintain a high enough GPA to continue in medicine. What is interesting is that in pre-med, I took the required anatomy/physiology course which when I changed majors and was accepted at Ringling School of Art & Design, gave me a much better understanding of the human body (skeletal and muscular). I found I was able to excel in figure drawing & painting, sculpture and illustration due to my understanding of the human form.

3.Your art is extremely versatile. You do contemporary photo-realism, abstract images, portraits, picture book illustrations, just to name a few. Do you have a favorite medium or style?
I cannot say that I have a “favourite” medium. I find that I get bored…or my art remains stagnant if I don’t switch mediums. I think that my “style” is evident in all my work, even though I am quite versatile. For instance, one week I will use oils and paint photo-realistically on large canvases…when the next week, I will use technical pen with watercolour and dyes…simple, whimsical illustrative drawings on bristol board.

4.Tell us about the time you spent in Paris learning Master Painting Techniques. Is it really different to study art in Paris as opposed to the States?
The difference I found was that in Paris, you are surrounded by so many fabulous museums, which house master painters and their art from all ages. I could take the subway to any gallery I wanted within minutes and view Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Dutch Masters, the Impressionists, etc., etc., etc. To view the diverse amount of Master Works in the United States, one would have to travel by airplane…and then not even be able to see a fraction of the art one is surrounded with in Paris. Also, the United States is so much “newer” and completely different than Europe. Living in Paris alone was an inspiration that greatly influenced my art.

5.What are your sources of inspiration?
Natural beauty. My studio faces out to my garden which is filled with fascinating plants, flowers, trees, butterflies, my seven cats!!! I find great pleasure looking out at God’s creation while painting or drawing. Another tremendous source of inspiration is having a husband who not only supports my art, but gets involved in it. Being happily married…with wonderfully creative children, all add to an inspirational environment.

6.What is the most fascinating part of being an artist? What is the most frustrating?
Watching what I envision in my mind come to fruition on canvas or paper…seeing something “come alive” on the canvas. The most frustrating part is when my vision is not expressed…or when the canvas or paper I am working on seems “flat.”

7.Describe a regular day in Sally Bostrom’s life. Do you follow a disciplined schedule?
I get up at 5:30am every morning and read the Bible with my husband before he goes to work. I like working in my yard…so I do that for a few hours in the morning. After errands are complete, housework, etc., then I will sit down and draw the remainder of the day. I don’t feel it as a “disciplined” schedule…more of a routine that I am in. And it works well for me. If there is an illustration or commissioned piece that needs to be completed, then I generally get started on it first thing in the morning…working on it until it is finished.

8.Besides being an accomplish artist, you also write poetry and children’s books. Please tell us a bit about your writing projects, present and future.
I love to write, and have been writing since I was a little girl. Recently, though, I finished 2 children’s books that are with the same character…and I’d love to do some follow-up stories and have a “series.” Poetry or writing is another avenue I enjoy, and generally illustrate the poetry as well as the children’s books.

9.How would you compare an author’s creative process as opposed to an artist’s? Do you sometimes suffer from artist’s block?
As a writer, one paints pictures with words…having the reader envision what is written. A painter tells a story without words. I believe the creative process is basically the same. I also believe that anyone involved in any form of the arts comes up to “blocks” every now and again. It’s when you continue to persevere and get through the “block” that you feel some sense of satisfaction.

10.Let's talk about the artist's temperament. In Kate Chopin's classic The Awakening, Emma is told that an artist must possess "the courageous soul... the brave soul... the soul that dares and defies." Do you think this is true?
Yes, and no. There have been times in my life where I have had to be courageous…and brave…finding myself defiant…just in an effort to prove other’s wrong. I cannot say that this defines an « artist’s » temperament, though. What drives one to paint or write as they do ? ? ? It may not be courage or bravery…but pain and tremendous hardship. Some artisans, I have found, try to create a sense of contraversy with their art…they try to stir up other’s emotions…but not necessarily for the « good » of others. What really matters with the arts…of any form…is that other’s are moved to feel…and maybe, to change. Art is creativity…and creativity fuels thought. If one’s creative processes cause negative reaction, than their creative process is worth nothing more than the refuse we have removed from our homes. If one’s creative process promotes a positive result…be it thought, mind, word, paint or played…than it is, in essence…a creation. It causes what is old…what is stagnant…to become new…to become refreshed. This is the courageous soul…the brave one……….one who knows the Truth and is strong enough to stand up for it…regardless.

11.How may those individuals interested in book cover artwork, portraits, or illustrations contact you or see samples of your work?
My website is: . Anyone can contact me through my website.

12.What advice would you give to aspiring freelance artists?
Never give up. Always carry a sketch pad and pencil or pen with you at all times and DRAW. The more one draws, the easier and more natural it becomes. If one door shuts, there’s always another waiting to be opened. And, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. If someone doesn’t find your work to be interesting, someone else will.

Thank you, Sally. It was a pleasure!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Author Interview: Meet Shari Lyle-Soffe

1. How long have you been a writer?

I received my first rejection in 1998. I sold my first magazine piece in 1999, it was a puzzle.

2. Tell us about your children’s picture books featuring Rooter and Snuffles, the two raccoon brothers. What inspired you to create such characters?

As a little girl I lived in the Redwoods in Northern California. Every night a pair of raccoons visited the garbage cans on our back porch. We would stand on the inside in the dark and watch them. They were so cute and funny. I just had to write about them.

3. Where are the books available?

"The Misadventures of Rooter and Snuffle" is available at . "On the Go With Rooter and Snuffle" is available at .

4. How is collaborating with an illustrator like?

In our case there wasn't any collaborating really. I wrote the stories and sent them to Kevin Scott Collier, he did the rest. He is so talented and certainly didn't need me to tell him what to do.

5. Did you have a lot of control over the artwork?

No, but I'm sure if I had asked for changes Kevin probably would have listened.

6. What do you find most rewarding about writing for children?

Feedback from children and their parents, and grandparents. Nothing could be better than to hear how much enjoyment your book gave some child or to receive a thank you note in a child's scrawl.

7. Would you offer some marketing tips?

Book reviews are a must. Readings at schools and other appropriate venues are wonderful, and great fun.

8. What seems to work for you when marketing your children’s books?

Word of mouth, and having the books on hand has worked the best for me.

8. Would you like to share with our readers any of your present of future projects?

I have a picture book I have been working on and plan to submit soon. I am starting a possible third Rooter and Snuffle, and I have been asked to write a book for children to be given out at our local food pantry.

9. Do you have a website and /or blog where readers may find out more about you and your work?

I have a blog on children's writing with a link to my book page.

10. What words of advice would you give aspiring children’s authors when searching for a publisher?

Keep an open mind. The biggest publisher may not be the most open to new writers. Don't take rejection personally.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Article: Audio Interviews and the Shy Writer

Audio interviews are in rising popularity as a tool of book promotion among authors. After all, all you need are a phone, a witty personality, and a talent for public speaking. The first one is easy—everybody has a phone these days. The second is a gift you may be born with if you’re lucky. The third is a skill that can be learned, improved and perfected with the right tools.

Since there aren’t magical drugs on how to become more witty (sorry, you’re stuck with those genes), in this article I’ll be focusing on how to help authors improve their chances to succeed at audio interviews.

The prospect of doing an audio interview is a source of stress, anxiety and even panic for many authors—especially the shy ones. Let’s face it, many things could go wrong. A technical problem might arise or the author might freeze at a question and start stuttering. Most often the problems are technical, or the interviewer is faced with an author who talks very little or is unable to stop talking.

To beat the odds, there are practical steps an author can take.

Andrea Sisco of Armchair Interviews ( offers the following advice:

* Be prepared. Ask the interviewer what types of questions are likely to be asked.

*Practice: Have a friend interview you (to avoid the ummm, ahs, silences). It's an art form and I learned this early on when I worked in tv and as my husband is a professional speaker.

*Have something to say: Tell us something unique about the book/story. If you're able to use humor appropriately, do so (people love it).

*Don't talk more than 90 seconds (in answering a question). In audio, people lose interest if you drone on and on. There needs to be a discussion between the author and interviewer, otherwise it's a lecture.

* If there is a topic you don't want to discuss, tell the interviewer, otherwise you could be caught on tape and not know what to do.

* Speak up. Audio's are touchy (since you're not in a sound studio). Also, make sure you turn off call waiting so we don't hear beeps. Put the dog in another room (children also) and make sure the windows and doors are closed so we don't hear outside noise that can be distracting.

* Have a pen/paper handy to make note of anything you think of that you want to discuss. Also take note of any directions given by the interviewer.

* Keep your voice well modulated. People don't want to listen to someone that drones, sounds flat, etc.

* If you're directed to call the interviewer (or receive a call) be there and be on time. Twice I've had no shows. They didn't write the time/date down. You could lose an interview that way. It certainly isn't professional.

Interviews with Armchair Interviews are fee-based and open to self-published authors, as well as those from small and big publishing houses.

Francine Silverman, who has her own Internet radio show, advices authors to practice in front of a mirror. “I have had some authors who do not contribute much - they wait until I ask a question. This makes it difficult for me since I can only formulate so many questions. Authors should practice talking about their books in front of a mirror and write down what they plan to say. If they are asked to provide questions beforehand, they have an idea what will be asked. Also, in my opinion, the best guests are those who promote their appearance to their mailing lists,” she says.

Francine’s radio show is called Marketing with Fran and is on Achieve Radio, on Tuesdays, at 2 p.m., EST., and lasts one hour. “The shows are archived ten minutes after each show,” she adds, “and can be accessed by visiting the site and clicking "Hosts" on the left and scrolling down to my show. There is no charge to guests, who are mainly authors, publicists and publishers. Yes, I would say all authors are welcome, providing they are comfortable speaking and are cooperative in providing me with the tools I need for a good interview, i.e., a list of questions, copy of the book, bio.” If you’re interested, you may contact Francine at

More useful tips:

* Join a local speaker’s club.

* Listen to many audio interviews to have a clear idea of what is expected, paying special attention to the author’s voice, tempo, and manner in answering questions. One great show I’d love to recommend is Barbara DeMarco-Barret’s Writers On Writing ( where she regularly interviews authors, agents, and editors.

Though it is difficult to measure the level of effectiveness audio interviews have in actually selling books, it is undeniable that any promotion is better that no promotion at all. I have gone straight to Amazon and purchased books after listening to audio interviews. One thing that is very important to increase effectiveness is to announce the interview beforehand to as many people as possible—friends, relatives, colleagues, clubs, online groups, lists, forums, etc..

Finally, don’t forget that audio interviews are like murders—the more you do them, the easier they get.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Book Review: On the Go with Rooter & Snuffle, by Shari Lyle-Soffe

On the Go with Rooter & Snuffle
By Shari Lyle-Soffe
Illustrated by Kevin Scott Collier
Guardian Angel Publishing
ISBN: 1-933090-51-0
Copyright 2007
Children’s Picture Ebook, 24 pages

Reviewed by Mayra Calvani

On the Go with Rooter & Snuffle is a delightful children’s picture ebook featuring the adventures of two very cute raccoon brothers.
The book contains three short stories.

In “Why Our School Stinks,” Rooter’s little brother Snuffle has just started school. Rooter, who used to love school, now hates it. It isn’t fair that Snuffle is getting all the attention! But when Bully Bear starts bothering Snuffle, Rooter comes to the realization that love is more powerful than jealousy.

In “Follow a Star,” set on Christmas Day, the two raccoons venture into the winter forest to bring presents to Grandpa, promising their mother to come home before dark. However, once at Grandpa’s house, they forget about the time while listening to his stories. On their way back home they get lost in the dark woods. How will they find their way back? Could they maybe follow the star just like the shepherds did on the first Christmas?

In “Something is Fishy,” Rooter and Snuffle, all ready with backpacks and gear, go ice fishing for their mother’s birthday dinner. On the frozen pond they meet a friend, Fritter, who joins them in the fun. However, Fritter isn’t happy when the two raccoon brothers get lucky catching all the fish, so he decides to steal… and it’s up to Rooter and Snuffle to make him realize that with a little faith, there’s no need to steal at all.

These fun, heart-warming stories will be enjoyed by children and adults alike. This is a great book for early readers to read by themselves, or for parents to read to youngsters at bedtime. The illustrations are attractive and colorful and well represent the characters and settings in the story. My only complain is that I would have liked to see more of Scott Collier’s illustrations! This ebook is available in flip format, which gives the feeling of a real book as the pages are flipped over with only a touch from your keyboard or the click of a mouse. A fun, delightful way to introduce your young ones to the computer while stimulating their imaginations and improving their reading skills.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Book Review: Baby Dog Beans Comes Home, by Jennie Hale Book

Baby Dog Beans Comes Home
A Paul and Beans Adventure
by Jennie Hale Book
Pictures by Jennie Hale Book
Abbott Avenue Press
ISBN: 0-9767514-2-9
Copyright 2005
Hardcover, 24 pages, $13.95
Children’s, 2 and up

What is it about golden retrievers that makes a dog lover, young or old, go wild?

In Baby Dog Beans Comes Home, author Jennie Hale captures the sweet “magic” of these gentle, devoted, intelligent dogs while offering young children an important message they can identify with.

The story is seen from the perspective of Paul, the older dog who until now has been the only “child” in the family, and Beans, the new baby brother. More than anything, Beans wishes to be accepted by his older brother, but Paul is not ready to be friends, play catch, or share any of his toys. As a matter of fact, Paul liked it a lot better when it was just him. All this changes when Beans runs into serious trouble and Paul rescues him.

As Paul realizes in the end, “It’s not always easy when a new brother or sister comes into the family. But even if you’re not best friends right away… give them a chance and you’ll have someone who’ll be there for you your whole life. And that’s pretty great.”

This is a book that can be read to a very young child, and one that early readers will relish on their own. The large, adorable photographs are sure to delight people of all ages.

Reviewed by Mayra Calvani

*This review originally appeared in The Bloomsbury Review

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Welcome and Introduction

Dear Visitor,

Welcome to my blog!

My name is Mayra Calvani and I'm an author of horror, dark paranormal, contemporary literary fantasy, satire, and nonfiction. This blog, however, is devoted to my forthcoming YA and children's books.

CRASH! and THE MAGIC VIOLIN, both picture books, will soon be published by Guardian Angel Publishing.

THE DOLL VIOLINIST is another picture book, but this one I plan to self publish. Currently it is being illustrated by artist extraordinaire Amy Moreno ( Last year this story won an Honorable Mention Award at the 75th Annual Writer's Digest Writing Competition under the Children's Fiction category. I also entered it last month in the ABC Children's Book Competition. I'm keeping my fingers crossed. Ten finalists will be announced in May.

As for my young adult novel, THE LUTHIER'S APPRENTICE, it is in search of an agent/publisher at the moment.

I love the violin and this is a big influence in my work, as you can guess from the titles of my books.

In this blog I will also post author and illustrator interviews, as well as articles related to the writing life, the craft of writing, and the business of children's book publishing and promotion. I'll be posting book reviews as well.

I hope you'll stop by often to read my posts. For information about my other books, please visit

Best wishes,