Thursday, February 25, 2010

Interview with YA Novelist Lauren Kate, author of FALLEN

My special guest today is Lauren Kate, author of Fallen. Kate grew up in Dallas, sent to school in Atlanta, and started writing in New York. She's also the author of The Betrayal of Natalie Hargrove. She's currently working on the sequel to Fallen, Torment. Kate was kind enough to take time out of her busy schedule to answer my questions.

Thanks so much for the interview, Lauren! Tell us, what was your inspiration for Fallen?

I got the idea for Fallen from a line in Genesis that describes a group of angels who were cast out of heaven for falling in love with mortal women. I started thinking about what it would be like to be a normal girl--suddenly the object of an angel's affection. What kind of baggage would an angel have? What would her very over-protective parents think? From there, this whole world unfurled in my head. Fallen angels, demons, reincarnation, and the war in heaven were all battling for a piece of the action.

I found the atmosphere in the book deliciously dark. How conscious do you have to be of language to create such an effect?

Thank you! It took me until the second draft of Fallen to realize that the setting was really another character in the story. At times, I struggled with those descriptions—like, how many times can I use the word “humid?”—but then, once I started to see how integral Savannah and Sword and Cross were to Luce’s storyline, I started to have more fun with it. Torment is set in an entirely different place, but I like to think the setting is just as relevant and important, and just as much fun.

Did you plot the story in advance or did the story and characters develop as you wrote?

I surprised myself by meticulously plotting out Fallen before I wrote it. Character descriptions, paragraph long synopses for each chapter, “big” endings, the whole deal. The outline (along with a few chapters) was shared with writer-friends, agents and/or editors at very early stages. And because the story was larger and more complicated than I’d first realized, I actually did revisions on the outline. Way more plotting than I’d ever done before.

At the end of plotting, when I was ready to plunge into the story, it was comforting to sit down every day and know I had to write a chapter where x happened, followed by y, and then z. But sometimes, it was also uninspiring. Suddenly, Y bored me, and Z felt really predictable. But it was in the outline, which fit together like a puzzle! What to do? Eventually, I realized there were days when I would have to loosen my leash from my outlines, to let the story adapt and change organically as I went along. This was a very good decision, and I think the book is stronger because of both my plotting and my plot-straying.

Who is your favorite character in the book? Why?

I love Arriane. The crazy ones are always the most fun, aren’t they? She is crazy, but she’s also smart and loyal and funny and will be very important to Luce over the course of the series.

What was the most challenging aspect of writing this novel?

This is the first time I’ve written any kind of series and it was very, very different from my experience writing my first novel, The Betrayal of Natalie Hargrove. Because Luce’s story is so far-reaching and will take so long to tell, the challenge of the first book was doing all the work setting up the world of these characters. There were so many rules to invent, so many back-stories to keep straight, and so many plot twists to withhold from the reader for later books! All of that was a challenge, but I *think* it paid off for me as a writer. Because so much is already in place, Torment has been vastly easier to write than Fallen.

Did you keep a disciplined schedule? How long did it take you to write it?

I’ve become a strange sort of writing machine this year. It’s bizarre. In the past it’s taken me six years to get one draft of a novel out. I wrote Fallen in two months. Then, after my editor looked at it and gave me some suggestions, I spent another month revising it. That’s also been the case for Torment. There’s something about the urgency of Luce’s story that gets into me, and it all sort of tumbles out. It’s clumsy and at times agonizing, uninspiring work, but I do so much work in between the first and second draft that I’ve started to realize it’s okay. I have to get it all out first, and then I go back in later and make everything better—make the story more like what it wants to be.

Please share with my readers a bit about your road to publication. Was it easy or difficult?

Both! At first it was very difficult, and then it got a lot easier. I’ve been writing stories since high school, sending them out with hopes of publication since college. I published a story online here and there, never with much consequence. I moved on to write two novels that do nothing but gather e-dust on my hard drive, and I definitely had moments where I thought it just was never going to happen. Then I started writing The Betrayal of Natalie Hargrove. It was the first time I had a clear idea for a full story arc in my mind before I started writing, and I think that was an important shift for me. Because, um, the book actually went somewhere. After that, I hooked up with my former boss who is now working as an agent and we started talking about Fallen. I wrote about five chapters of the book and he helped me structure a proposal for the rest of the series. I left it in his hands and hoped for the best—and we couldn’t have done any better than the folks we ended up with at Delacorte. They’re a dream team.

What is your greatest challenge as an author?

Sometimes staying in a scene long enough to do it justice is a challenge for me. Especially with the Fallen series, when I know so much about the exciting things coming up in later parts of the novel, I’m so eager to get there that I sometimes forget to take my time and really make the most of every moment I’m writing about. My editor and agent are always telling me “Slow down!” “Give up the goods!” This happens a lot with the steamier scenes in the novel. Sometimes I try to skip over them or write around them because I keep thinking about my grandmother reading them or something. But when I force myself to sit down and stay a while, to write about that kiss for three whole pages and really ‘go there,’ it makes all the difference in the world.

What is the single most important tip of advice you’d give new writers?

Live your life as curious person. Try to see the entire world as your muse. Ask questions. Dismiss nothing. Eavesdrop. Always eavesdrop. You’ll have more fun, learn all the time, and when the time comes to sit down and write, you’ll have a whole lineup of stories, just waiting to be told.

What is the best writing advice you have ever received?

“Finish your novel. Just so that you know you can.” It sounds like the most obvious thing to say, but I was about to give up on a bad novel I wrote in college. The friend who gave me this advice said it so gravely that I couldn’t get it out of my head. I wrote the rest of that awful book, and when the time came to start another one, a better one, I already knew I could do it.

When is the second book in the series coming out?

We don’t have an exact date yet, but sometime in October of this year! I’m so excited about this book. I hope it’s worth the wait.

Thanks for the great interview, Lauren, and good luck with the series!

Watch the trailers!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Interview with violinist and YA author Paula Yoo

Please welcome my guest today! Her name is Paula Yoo and she's a violinist and a children's and young adult author. In this interview, Paula talks about her musical background, her books, and the National Picture Book Writing Week, among other things.

Thanks for this interview, Paula. It's not often I get to interview a violinist who's also an author. Why don't you start by telling us a little about Paula, the violinist.

I have wanted to be a writer since I was a little girl. I was inspired after reading "Charlotte's Web" in the first grade - I started writing my own stories after reading that book. My first "novel" was a 75-page handwritten book entitled "The Girl Called Raindrop." (Hey, I was only seven years old at the time!) I actually mailed it in to Harper & Row because they published my favorite series, the "Little House on the Prairie" books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. They wrote a very nice letter back saying I should try out for their children's writing contest. I remember being upset and tearing up the letter because I felt I was not a "child" writer - I was a "real" writer! So I think of that as my first rejection letter! LOL!

Fast forward many years - I was an English major in college, and then received my M.S. in journalism and an MFA in creative writing. I spent the first ten years after college working as a newspaper and magazine journalist. Journalism taught me how to write on deadline - it was a great experience. I then taught for a little bit before switching over to being a full-time TV screenwriter for dramas. During that time, I sold my first two picture books and first YA novel.

Tell us about your books. Are they violin related?

My first two children's picture books are not violin-related, but I still feel the lessons learned in these books are very similar to what a violinist learns. My first picture book was SIXTEEN YEARS IN SIXTEEN SECONDS: THE SAMMY LEE STORY (Lee & Low 2005). It was a biography of the Olympic gold medalist diver Dr. Sammy Lee. My second picture book, SHINING STAR: THE ANNA MAY WONG STORY (Lee & Low 2009), came out in July 2009. It is about the ground-breaking actress and first Asian American female movie star Anna May Wong. In both books, Dr. Lee and Anna May Wong worked hard at perfecting their art (for Dr. Lee, it was mastering difficult dives and for Anna May Wong, it was learning the craft of acting). They also struggled to come to terms with their own artistic dreams versus their parents' dreams for them to have secure lives. Often times, parents want their children to have "regular" jobs and financial security. Pursuing sports or the arts is a very risky dream. I identified with Dr. Lee and Anna May Wong for those same reasons.

My first YA novel, GOOD ENOUGH, was published in 2008 by HarperCollins. This book is based on my own life growing up as a "violin geek." I have often read books about violinists that come off as very "well-researched," but do not have the authenticity and "insider knowledge" that a real violinist would have. I tried to bring that authenticity across in my novel. In addition, although my novel is about a Korean American teenaged girl who pursues her love of music despite her immigrant parents' academic pressure on her, I wanted my novel to strike a universal chord among all teens. So I focused on the universal theme of how teens come of age by learning that sometimes, it's not about being successful. It's about being happy. It's a difficult decision to make, and one that requires a lot of courage for a teenager to make.

How do you divide your time between being a violinist and an author?

I love playing my violin and can't give it up! I have found the perfect balance in Los Angeles, where there are many freelance music opportunities for professional musicians. Of course my writing deadlines come first - but I try to always make time for music gigs. I have played with the Torrance Symphony and also given chamber music recitals with my friends. I also specialize in electric rock violin and country fiddle/folk music, so I have also had a chance to play with many cool and diverse groups, from the Scottish Fiddlers of Los Angeles to country singer Buck McCoy to the famous No Doubt! I currently am playing with a King Crimson tribute band called THE GREAT DECEIVERS. Our website is here: We have a gig this Friday Feb. 19th at Paladino's in Tarazana, CA. I love playing this challenging prog rock music - it's like a mix of heavy metal, jazz, rock, classical, and experimental music.

I understand you're the founder of NaPiBoWRiWee (National Picture Book Writing Week). Tell us all about it!

NaPiBoWriWee happened by accident. I was feeling frustrated last year because I hadn't written another picture book in several months and wanted to keep up the moment I had going with two published picture books. So I decided for one week I would imitate the famous NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) contest and write seven picture books in seven days. I know that writing picture books is a very complex and difficult process - so my goal was to at least come up with seven very rough drafts of seven different stories and then I would pick the best one and work on developing it more. It was totally a silly and fun idea I had to motivate myself. I decided to blog about it, and I invited anyone who wanted to participate to join me on my quest. I also wanted to promote my latest picture book, SHINING STAR: THE ANNA MAY WONG STORY, so I also had a contest where I would pick a participant by random in a drawing to win an autographed copy of my book! To my shock, HUNDREDS of people emailed me, saying they wanted to participate! What was supposed to be a fun, intimate silly thing ended up becoming a huge event that inspired people who had never written a picture book before. I had people join SCBWI (Society of Children Book Writers & Illustrators) because of NapiBoWriWee. I was very proud and happy to have helped all these promising writers finally take that first step on their own writing journeys. It was both touching and humbling. So of course I will have another NaPiBoWriWee this May 2010!

How can one register?

There is no official "registration." NaPiBoWriWee participants can either email me at paula at paulayoo dot com to request to be put on the list of names I will be collecting for the end-of-the-week prize random drawings. Or they can register on my website at so they can participate in the comments section and forums during the NaPiBoWriWee week. I also collect the names of everyone who registers on my website to include in the prize drawing.

For more info, go here:

And for info on last year's NaPiBoWriWee, go here:

I will announce the official dates for NaPiBoWriWee 2010 shortly. In
addition, I have a store with NaPiBoWriWee paraphernalia:

Where are your books available?

My books are available at your local bookstore. If they're not in stock, please request them! You can also purchase my books at My YA novel GOOD ENOUGH is also available as an e-Book on Kindle and other e-reader devices. The official website contacts for these books are listed

GOOD ENOUGH (HarperCollins 2008)



Do you have a website and/or blog?

My website is I blog on it regularly. You can also find me at and my music violin page at

What's in the horizon?

I am currently Co-Producer on the SyFy original TV series, EUREKA. My previous TV credits include NBC's THE WEST WING and LIFETIME's SIDE ORDER OF LIFE. Right now I'm swamped with TV work-related deadlines and responsibilities. So whenever I have some precious free time, I spend that working on a couple new novels and picture book ideas I have that are works-in-progress.

Is there anything else you'd like to tell readers?

Thanks for reading my books! :) And if you play the violin - KEEP PRACTICING! :) Thank you so much for this fun interview!

Thanks for the interview, Paula!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Interview with Susanne Dunlap, author of The Musician's Daughter

It is my pleasure to have as my guest today writer Susanna Dunlap. A native of Buffalo, NY, Dunlap is the author of The Musician’s Daughter and several other music-related novels for adults and young adults. In this interview the author talks about her life, her inspiration for The Musician’s Daughter, and writing and publishing, among other things.

Thanks for this interview, Susanne! Please tell us a little about your background in music.

When I was 3 or 4 and people would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said, “Mozart”, I think mainly because I had a wonderful children’s book, Mozart the Wonder Boy. And my mother played the piano, my father loved opera and would play records on weekends.

I started playing the piano at the age of five, and got very serious about it. I went to Smith and majored in music, doing a lot of performing. 13 years after I graduated from Smith I went back to do an MA in musicology, then on to Yale for a PhD in music history. I loved those years. I loved researching in libraries in Europe and touching manuscripts by Handel, Traetta, Salieri and many others.

From music studies, to writing… How did that come about and what was your inspiration for The Musician’s Daugher?

After I finished my studies, circumstances combined to make it difficult for me to get a job teaching. But I had all this wealth of knowledge and a true passion for the stories hidden in the places research couldn’t take you. Plus, I’d been writing all my life anyway—poetry, bad novels, advertising copy (day job).

The Musician’s Daughter, like all my books, came from a “What if?” question. What if a young girl wanted desperately to be a professional musician, but her circumstances or the times wouldn’t permit it? And then, I love a good mystery. Plus I’ve been to Vienna more than once for research purposes, and I loved the idea of setting a novel there.

I understand this story is very close to your heart. What is the novel about?

It’s about a young girl whose father, a violinist in Haydn’s orchestra for Prince Esterhazy, is murdered on Christmas Eve. His valuable violin is missing, and he’s wearing a mysterious medallion Theresa (the heroine) has never seen before. With her mother about to give birth and indisposed, Theresa decides she must solve the mystery of her father’s murder, and in the process is able to pursue her music—and find the beginnings of true love.

You may wonder, why a violinist? I have a very good friend who is one of the finest Baroque violinists in the world, now doing a lot of conducting with her own orchestra: Elizabeth Wallfisch. I thought of her a lot when I was writing this—and my old friend Peter Oundjian!

Did you plot in advance?

I always have a sense of where the book is going, but I hate writing to outlines. I let my characters take their twists and turns, and then nudge everything into place and tie up loose ends in the editing process.

How long did it take you to write the book?

That’s a difficult question to answer. Writing the first draft doesn’t always take a lot of time. This one I think took about six weeks. But I worked on it, editing and honing it, for months after that—and that was before the editing process that begins with the publishing house.

How was your schedule like while writing the novel? Do you have another job besides writing?

Yes, I do have another job, as an Associate Creative Director at a small advertising agency in Manhattan. It’s very demanding, so I write whenever I can in my spare time: on the subway, at home in the morning, on weekends.

How was the publishing process like? Did you search for an agent first?

First, you have to write a book! I’ve been with my agent since 2003, when he started working on my first adult book, Emilie’s Voice, which was published by Simon & Schuster in 2005. I would say that anyone looking to be published needs to write the best book they can, get good feedback, and get it as near to perfect as possible, then start looking for an agent. Agents open doors, and also can be very helpful in guiding your career—as my agent has been.

I hear you have another book coming out soon. Tell us all about it!

Anastasia’s Secret will be my fourth book. My first two were adult books (Liszt’s Kiss was the second). Anastasia’s Secret is my imagining of the youngest grand duchess of Russia growing up during the Russian revolution. It’s more a romance than The Musician’s Daughter. It comes out March 2.

Is there anything else you’d like to say to my readers?

Just thank you! Without readers, we novelists would be in deep trouble. I’m so grateful whenever people read my books, and hope that they get some enjoyment and insight from them.

Thank you, Susanne!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Review of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, by Jeff Kinney

Reviewed by Donna McDine

There is no wonder "Diary of a Wimpy Kid," has been nominated for a Kids' Choice Award for Favorite Book. Author, Jeff Kinney immediately immerses you into the thoughts and actions of sixth grader, Greg Heffley. Greg's antics wouldn't be complete without his best friend, Rowley, who at times, Greg can't stand.

Greg finds himself in the sea of middle grade students ranging from the small and ordinary to the ones that have muscles and are growing facial hair. Where is one to fit in?

"If it was up to me, grade levels would be based on height, not age. But then gain, I guess that would mean kids like Chirag Gupta would still be in the first grade."

Greg finds himself writing in his journal about his life as a sixth grader and how to fit in. "Just don't expect me to be all "Dear Diary" this and "Dear Diary" that. That's for girls.

Rowley begins to make strides in popularity and Greg latches on to bring himself popularity, which kicks off a domino affect that tests their friendship in hilarious fashion.

This laugh out loud book is a must read not only for boys but for anyone that has gone through the tribulations of middle school. Jeff Kinney has done a wonderful job in bringing the middle school world to life with true meaning with hilarious results. Don't miss this fantastic book!

Title: Diary of a Wimpy Kid

Written & Illustrated by: Jeff Kinney

Ages: 10-up

Publisher: Amulet Books

ISBN-13: 978-0-8109-9313-6

Publication: April 2007

Donna's publishing credits include Stories for Children Magazine, Stories for Children Newsletter, Kid Magazine Writers, Long Story Short, Institute of Children's Literature Rx for Writers, SCBWI Metro NY Newsletter, and Once Upon A Time. With an acceptance from Boys' Quest magazine to publish her non-fiction children's article entitled, "Fishing Through a Frozen Lake," to be published December 2012. She is also a children's book reviewer for Musing Our Children Group, The National Writing for Children Center, and the Stories for Children Newsletter.

Visit her at: or

Sunday, February 14, 2010

New interview on Pets & Their Authors

My dog Amigo interviews the star of Judi McCoy's mystery series, Rudy.

Read the interview on Pets & Their Authors!


Saturday, February 13, 2010

Reading: Can it be fun and educational at the same time?" by Elysabeth Eldering

"Reading: Can it be fun and educational at the same time?"

by Elysabeth Eldering

Have you ever picked up a book that was said to be educational and found it to be boring? Have you ever read an educational book that you thought could be fun for the youngsters in the schools? If you've read an educational book that you thought was boring, what would make it more fun and still keep the educational component to it?

In my series, the Junior Geography Detective Squad (JGDS), 50-state, mystery, trivia series, I've found a way to appeal to both the fun and educational side of books. My goal was to be entertaining and informative without forcing the learning aspect.

How does one go about finding the happy median to be both educational and fun? Find a topic that interests you. Find the most appealing and fun, sometimes quirky, information about that topic. Educational does not have to mean boring. Write as if you are a child experiencing the material for the first time. What would your reaction be to a silly law clue like "In this state, it is illegal to give another citizen a box of candy weighing more than fifty pounds."?

After all your information is gathered, find a way to convey the topic in a less traditional way that is fun. My series uses a handheld game that is a cross between a PSP and Nintendo DS or any number of other devices like that. Taking all the facts that I've gathered, I made the game the star. The characters playing the game become the "geography squad" and they have to guess the state based on clues thrown out at them. As they discuss the clues, the readers are learning through the eyes of the characters. It's a balance of reaction and personalities coming through on the pages. Use your gut reactions and base your characters' reactions in a similar way. Dialogue will carry through in situations like this.

Educational topics do not have to be boring any more when you find the right balance of fun and out-of-the-ordinary topics to write about.

Elysabeth lives in upper state South Carolina and is the author of the Junior Geography Detective Squad, 50-state mystery trivia series. She enjoys reading, writing, cross stitching, crocheting and being a band mom. On weekends in the fall, she can be found at band competitions. If she's not working or writing, she's attending Sisters in Crime meetings or SCWW writing meetings.

Visit the authors' links at:

Friday, February 12, 2010

"Making the Most of an Online Writing Buddy," by Suzanne Lieurance

If you need someone to hold you accountable for sticking to your marketing plan AND getting a little writing done every week, try to find an online writing buddy.

An online writing buddy is simply another writer who also wants to be held accountable and knows the challenges all writers go through in staying focused and motivated from time to time.

You and your online writing buddy don't need to live in the same town. You don't even need to write at the same time. Generally, though, if you follow these tips, you'll make the most of working with an online writing buddy:

1. Make sure your writing buddy is motivated to stay on track each week and wants you to help him do that, too. You don't want a writing buddy who just wants to socialize. That would take even MORE time away from your writing.

2. Swap marketing plans via email with your buddy every Sunday night or Monday morning, so you can see what you both have planned for the week. Try to give your buddy a few suggestions if it looks like there is WAY too much stuff on his plan and he is setting himself up for disappointment at the end of the week. But if there isn't much on your buddy's marketing plan or writing schedule for the coming week, encourage your buddy to add things to his plan to challenge himself a bit more.

3. Decide on definite check points with each other during the week. For example, you might email and suggest that you check in with each other every Wednesday with a short progress report. That way, if the writing isn't going too well for one or either of you, you both have time to offer each other a few tips and encouraging words before the week is over.

4. At least once a month, set aside an hour or so when you can both agree to work on something you love AT THE SAME TIME. This might be your current novel in progress or a short story you want to submit to a contest. Then, agree on the specific time that you will both write and make sure you DO write during that time. At the end of that time, email your buddy with a report of how the writing went.

5. At the end of the week, check in with your buddy with an end-of-the-week progress report. Once you've had time to review your buddy's progress report and vice versa, encourage each other to celebrate your successes (however small or large they might be) of the current week.

6. Try to stick to a schedule of progress reports and other check-ins with your writing buddy so your emails to each other won't become overwhelming. Remember, you want a writing buddy so you can start making the most of your time, not just so you have someone to socialize with online.

Setting up a regular routine like this with your writing buddy will help you both stay on track with your writing. You'll also find that you look forward to checking in with your buddy during the week and celebrating together as you start the weekend.

Try it!

For more writing tips and other resources to help you build your freelance business, subscribe to the free twice weekly newsletter, Build Your Business Write at

Suzanne Lieurance is a full time freelance writer, the author of 22 (at last count) published books, and the Working Writer's Coach.

Suzanne Lieurance - EzineArticles Expert Author

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Picture Book Reading Marathon

I don't read as many picture books as I should be reading, so I decided to do a picture book reading marathon on my own at the local English library this last Tuesday morning. I read 30 picture books and picture story books in 2 1/2 hours. It was great and I learned a few things.

Of the 30 books, only two--Pumpkins, by Mary Lyn Ray, and Corduroy, by Don Freeman--were memorable. Ironically, both of these titles broke important 'rules' of picture book writing.

In Pumpkins, the protagonist is not a child or an animal but a grown man. In fact, he's the only character in the story (if you don't count the pumpkins). Also, the story begins with "Once upon a time..."--definitely not the most original opening for a story. Finally, I found it strange that the author used the words 'democracies' and 'congresses' in the book. They seemed out of place in there and I keep asking myself the reason the editor decided to leave them. But Pumpkins is definitely an original, beautiful story, which, by the way, also uses a lot of narration.

In Corduroy, a little girl comes and saves the day at the end for the bear, who's the protagonist. One keeps hearing that when writing children's books, the protagonist must solve his or her own problem, but this isn't the case here. Still, a lovely story!

In some of these books, there was generous use of the verb 'to be' (was, were) and even the passive voice.

Some of the books, which, by the way, I picked at random, are based on nursery rhymes, fairy tales and folktales.

Several had lots of narration in them. I'm not against narration. In fact, I love the old-fashioned feel of this type of stories... but I thought that nowadays editors didn't particularly want them.

One subject which kept coming again and again was the idea of the protagonist not having enough money to buy something he or she wants. So the subject is one widely used by writers, but it's the special angle what makes them stand out from the rest (as in the case of Pumpkins).

A lot of the books were linear and didn't have a beginning, middle and end as far as the story was concerned.

Finally, several of the books were well over 1,000 words.

These observations are not criticisms. I felt reassured when I read all those 'was' and 'were'. I truly believe these are words meant to be used--they're part of the language, after all--and I believe sometimes writers get carried away by the idea that they have to avoid them at all costs.

These are the books I read in the order I read them and my comments about some of them:

1. Being Friends, by Karen Beaumont (Dial)
This PB mixes rhyme with no rhyme--interesting! I had heard that this couldn't be done.

2. Little Lion and Papa, by Toni Brizzeo (Dial)

3. Trick-or-Treat Smell My Feet, by Lisa Desimini (Scholastic)
This book has narration and lots of back story ('telling') until page 5, when the first dialogue starts. Lots of passive sentences, like "doors were slammed". Lots of 'was' and 'were'.

4. Emily Goes to the Market, by Sophy Williams (Random House)

5. Snow Day, Lynn Plourde (Simon & Schuster)
Very cute, very tight writing! Lots of specific action verbs.

6. The Squeak Door, by Margaret MacDonald (Harper Collins)
This was one of my favorites too, with adorable, humorous illustrations. It is based on a Puerto Rican folk song. Lots of action and dialogue. Example of a great 'formula' story, where a scene is repeated again and again but with certain variations.

7. Pumpkins, by Mary Lyn Ray (Harcourt)
Loved it, as you already read above.

8. Bubble Gum, Bubble Gum, by Lisa Wheeler (Hachette)
Plays with the language.

9. My Father's Hands, by Joanne Ryder (Morrow Junior Books)
Stunning 'serious' artwork.

10. Hush, Little Dragon, by Boni Ashburn (Abrams Books for Young Readers)
I was so pleased to find this book in the library! The author used to belong to a critique group I was a member of a few years ago and I remember when she shared the news of this book's acceptance with the group. It's based on a nursery rhyme. Lovely.

11. Three Little Kittens, by Marilyn Janovitz (Cheshire Studio Books)
Adorable little book about kittens who lost their mittens! This one was also one of my favorites.

12. My Cat Copies Me, by Yoon-duck Kwon (Kane Miller)
Lots of telling, lots of narrative.

13. Hugs and Kisses, by Eve Tharlet
Original and adorable! This story uses repetition.

14. The Wise Doll, by retold by Hiawyn Oram (Andersen Press)
I don't know why an editor would publish this as a picture book. It's a dark and creepy story with dark and creepy artwork. No thanks!

15. I Don't Want to Go to Bed, by Julie Sykes (Little Tiger Press)
Another 'don't want to go to bed' story--the shelves were full of them. Also, someone else at the end comes and saves the day for little tiger.

16. Grumpy Bed, by Jeremy Tankard (Scholastic)

17. The Gingerbread Boy, Richard Egrielsky (Harper Collins)
Structured fairytale.

18. Would They Love a Lion, by Kady MacDonald (Kingfisher)
A little girl and the power of imagination.

19. The Little Red Hen and the Ear of Wheat, by Mary Finch (Barefoot Books)

20. Diary of a Wombat, by Jackie French (Harper Collins)
Liked the idea of a wombat but the text and the way it was portrayed was disappointing.

21. Corduroy, Don Freeman (Viking)
Loved it! Told in author omniscient POV. YET, as mentioned before, a little girl comes and saves the day for the bear.

22. Mr. Wolf's Pancakes, by Jan Fearnby (Egmont)
This was delightful, with charming, funny illustrations and surprised me with the most unexpected twist at the end! The story uses various fairytale characters.

23. One Green Apple, by Even Hunting (Clarion)
This author has written over 200 books. Story told in first person POV, mostly narrative.

24. The Story of the Kind Wolf, by Peter Nickl (Noth-South Books)
Old fashioned feeling, mostly narration.

25. The Moon Rooster, by David Phillips (Marshall Cavendish)

26. Cool Daddy Rat, by Kristyn Crow (G.P. Putnam's)
Didn't like the erratic illustrations.

27. Hurry Granny Annie, by Arlene Alda (Tricycle Press)

28. Little Brown Bear and the Bundle of Joy, by Jane Dyer (Litle Brown & Co)
Charming, sweet story!

29. Giraffes Can't Dance, by Giles Andrede (Orchard)
Uses rhyme.

30. A New Coat for Anna, by Harriet Ziefert (Knopf)
Lots of narration.

There you have it.

I'll try to do this marathon at least once a month. It's definitely a learning experience!

Have you read any of these books?

Sunday, February 7, 2010

My interview at NY Latino Community Examiner

Hi all,

I was recently interviewed by Clarisel Gonzalez from the NY Latino Community Examiner and the Puerto Rico Sun.

You may read the interview HERE.


Friday, February 5, 2010

My books travel far!

Hi all,

I recently received an email from a writer friend telling me that the children's books (my books, The Magic Violin and Crash) I had sent her a couple of years ago are now being enjoyed by children in Angkor Wat, Cambodia! Imagine my surprise! I was so happy and touched to know that my books had traveled so far.

Since my friend's nieces and nephews grew older, she decided to donate the books to a floating school of Vietnamese children in Tonle Sap (Great Lake) during her trip to that part of the world last year.

It was emotionally for me to actually see the pictures of the teachers holding my books... which you can see now for yourselves. The young kids learn in Vietnamese but they also learn English a few hours a week, like the Cambodian children in general.

Pretty neat, huh?

As I mentioned before, I'm participating in a blog chain originating at the National Writing for Children Center, so be sure to visit the next blogger in the chain, Karen Cioffi.


Thursday, February 4, 2010

Review: How to Write Fast Under Pressure, by Philip Vassallo

How to Write Fast Under Pressure

By Philip Vassallo

American Management Association

ISBN: 0814414850

Paperback, 185 pages, $18.95

Although this book is meant primarily for business people who have to write reports on a regular basis, I asked for a review copy because the title intrigued me. As an author, I’m always interested in writing advice, especially when it’s related to writing fast and, as the title states, under pressure. As it turned out, I was able to gather a lot of motivational and helpful tips from this book.

As a writer, sometimes it’s hard to focus when you’re working on various projects simultaneously and even more so when you’re under a deadline. I don’t know about you, but I tend to freeze when I have many projects unless I have a clear-cut plan worked out in advance. There are various ways you can trick your brain into focusing on your writing. Vassallo’s book teaches some techniques on how to write effectively, consistently and, most important, quickly.

The author’s approach is based on DASH, the four critical components needed when working under pressure: Direction, Acceleration, Strength, and Health. These elements are fully demonstrated and explained in the book, but to give you a quick idea of what to expect:

Direction: Tips for organizing your thoughts.

Acceleration: Tips for writing on the fly with a ‘beat the clock’ mindset.

Strength: Tips on how to use a quality control system and creating a productive environment.

Health: Tips on prioritizing work and minimizing future pressures.

I found the book well structured and the writing straight forward and enjoyable. Vassallo uses clear examples and metaphors to demonstrate his ideas and techniques. It is a quick read, too. If you work in business and have to write fast under deadlines, I prompt you to get a copy of this book. But How to Write Fast isn’t only for business people and most writers will benefit from this method.

I'm also participating in a blog chain originating at the National Writing for Children Center, so be sure to visit the next blogger in the chain, Karen Cioffi.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

New magazine for kids: Guardian Angel Kids

Hi all,

I'm trilled to announce that my publisher, Guardian Angel Publishing, has just launched a new, interactive magazine for kids:


Click on the link to see the first issue and to learn about their submission guidelines! They're a paying market!

As I already mentioned, I'm participating in a blog chain for the next few days... If you have the time, please check out the next blog in the chain: Terri Forehand. She has a great review of Nancy Sander's latest book, America's Black Founders.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Mini Interview with Nancy I. Sanders, author of America's Black Founders

It's a real treat to have as my guest award-winning and extraordinarily prolific (she's written over 75 books, after all!) author Nancy I. Sanders. To promote the release of her latest children's book, America’s Black Founders, Nancy will be touring the blogosphere this week. On this the second day of her tour, Nancy talks about her book, her inspiration for it, the publishing process and her writing habits. I hope you'll enjoy the interview!

Hi, Nancy. It's great to have you here. I see you write a lot of nonfiction children's books about the African American culture? Can you tell us when and how your passion for this subject started?

The first book I wrote on the African American culture was A Kid’s Guide to African American History. It covers the entire history from the glorious kingdoms in Africa during the Middle Ages up to current events. After I was done with that book, I realized I was in a very unique position. I knew a vast amount of university-level information on this topic AND I was a children’s writer. I therefore made it my goal to share the info I had learned in as many formats and genre as I could to reach as many kids as possible. I wanted to share my discoveries with the world! So far I’ve had a trade picture book, a book of readers theatre plays for middle grade students, and a nonfiction activity book published, along with my current title America’s Black Founders. This spring will also see the release of my first middle grade novel and a nonfiction book of primary sources—all on the topic of African American history for kids.

Your latest book is AMERICA'S BLACK FOUNDERS. In a nutshell, what does the book offer kids, educators, librarians and parents?

My goal and desire with this book is to show today’s generation the faces of the amazing men and women who helped found our nation. My book is filled with portraits of America’s Black Founders, many of which were difficult to find and not commonly seen in a children’s book. Through my book, I hope today’s generation will discover heroes by learning about Black Patriots and early African American leaders. My book features many biographies of America’s Black Founders. By telling their stories in my book, I want to inspire today’s generation to make a stand for the freedoms and rights of each individual, and to make a difference in our world. My book is filled with powerful accounts of individuals and groups of African Americans who rose up against tremendous odds and influenced history in amazing ways. Through this book, I want to offer kids, educators, librarians, and parents, role models for today’s generation to shape our nation’s future in positive ways.

Give us a timeline for this book, from coming up with the idea to its publication.

· April, 2005: I first got the idea to write this book. I let the idea germinate and grow inside me until I felt it was strong enough to share.

· March, 2006: I pitched the idea for this book over the phone to Chicago Review Press, the publisher of A Kid’s Guide to African American History, and the publisher requested a proposal.

· October, 2006: I submitted the proposal to the publisher.

· November, 2007: Editor Jerry Pohlen called me on the phone and offered me a contract. We set a one-year deadline. Wahoo!

· January through December 2008: I wrote the book.

· December, 2008: I finished the book and submitted it for my deadline.

· January, 2010: America’s Black Founders hit the market, already racking up presales of over 1700 books.

From the time I first got the idea for this book in April, 2005 until I signed the contract in December, 2007, I worked on other book deadlines. Then I cleared my plate of most other deadlines so that for an entire year, I could devote my energies and focus on the intense research needed to write this book. It was a very challenging, yet very very rewarding journey to take.

I love reading about the writing habits of other writers. Can you talk a little about the way you work once you have been offered a contract for a book that's not yet written? Do you have any writing quirks?

When I’m ready to start writing a book that’s under contract, I take a mini-writer’s retreat and set aside 3-4 hours by myself to really get connected with my current book project. Because I line book deadlines up like ducks in a row, it may have been 6 months or so since I signed the contract and I might have been working on 1 or 2 other deadlines in between. Then, when I feel totally connected with my new book, I launch off on the exciting adventure!

One of my writing quirks is that I tend to change location frequently when I write. I have different spots in my house where I complete different writing tasks. I set up a research center on my card table or at a small desk where I do my research. I sit in my office at my main desk to type my manuscript. I sit on a chair looking out at my birdfeeders to read manuscripts out loud. (Children’s authors should always take time to read their manuscripts aloud. Smile.) Then I put my feet up in my reclining sofa for editing and brainstorming sessions. Plus, I take frequent breaks throughout my day to do manual tasks such as ironing and washing the dishes and gardening, while I plot the next scene in my head or think through a problem area of my manuscript. Not only does all this moving around give me fresh perspectives on my writing, it minimizes stiffness, helps avoid carpal tunnel syndrome, and reduces eye strain.

Thanks, Nancy, and good luck with the tour!

Nancy will continue her virtual book tour all this week, so be sure to visit her other stops. To her complete schedule, visit her BLOG.

I'm also participating in a blog chain originating at the National Writing for Children Center, so be sure to visit the next blogger in the chain, Karen Cioffi.