Saturday, December 17, 2011

Interview with D.L. Reynolds, author of the YA fantasy, Darla Jade and the Balance of the Universe

Please welcome my special guest, D.L. Reynolds. Reynolds is the author of the YA Christian fantasy, Darla Jade and the Balance of the Universe, the first book in this his new series for fans of fantasy and adventure fiction. I had the pleasure of reviewing his book last week. You can read my review here. I hope you'll enjoy the interview! 

About the author:

"I’m just another guy seeking to follow my dream of creating entertainment! I have been a part-time dabbler over the years in writing, art and acting until now. I am determined to make writing my profession moving forward."

About the book:

Darla Jade and the Balance of the Universe is the first book in the Guardian series. The main characters are a group of teenage Guardian Angels, well, Guardian Angels “in training” led by Darla Jade a feisty thirteen year-old girl. They go on a fantastic journey to retrieve the Sacred Light and the Staff of Calling in order to bring Striker back and stop the evil army being created by Johnny and his Demons intent on destroying all that is good.


Congratulations on the publication of your young adult novel, Darla Jade and the Balance of the Universe. What makes you passionate about writing for children?

The media has swayed too far from good values and moral ethics. Most popular stories today forsake solid values and instead emphasize bad messages and poor choices by dressing them up to look like fun.
In part, the Christian market has brought some of this on themselves by not supplying the stories that kids want to read. Unless we capture their interest, they won’t read our books.

I hope to bridge that gap with the Guardians, by supplying the same type of darkness and fantastic adventures in my stories that are popular today. Then I sprinkle it with the light and goodness as a message that we need to hear.

Let’s work together to bring back good values that our children can carry with them for the rest of their life.
We can make a difference!

Are you a fantasy author or do you also dabble in other genres?

I’m a Jack of all Trades…
• I am an award winning poet.
• I am an award winning writer of short stories and other types.
• I have a children’s picture book in publication that should be on the market early in 2012, (Map Time, book One of the Sidewalk Chalk Series).
• I am a script writer, and actor along with other areas in the film industry.

Tell us something about your protagonist, Darla Jade. What kind of girl is she and why do you think young readers will love her?

Darla is a typical teenager. Even though she’s in Heaven, she’s still the same person she was before. Darla struggles with the same issues every teenage girl faces and feels, like boys and onward. However, in Heaven she doesn’t get away with it, Demerits! She has to accept her sins and make them right or suffer the consequences. This is the get out of jail free card that we all can use. Make things right by doing goodness and facing up to your wrong doing. Then the slate is clean again!

Even though things may seem too scary or undoable at times, Darla Jade has tenacity and faith in herself, her friends and God. Darla Jade and the Guardians are a group of underdogs, who’s capabilities fall substantially short of their needs. But they stick together “no matter what”. The reader will see themselves in this adventure as a Guardian, a personal member of the team. They will face insurmountable obstacles along with the Guardians. In doing so, they will see that the challenges in life can be overcome though hard work, goodness and having faith. Face the challenge with your fellow Guardians, and the mountain becomes a pebble on your path toward victory!

Tell us about the bad guys, too!

There’s some interesting twists on the Bad Guys in this adventure and the upcoming novels. Can you say… I didn’t see that coming!

Johnny was pulled from the grave the same night as Darla Jade and he’s the mastermind behind taking over the Balance of the Universe. As you well know, most Demons are not too smart, but Johnny has brains. He sets up alliances with some very powerful, and some not so powerful Demons and his plan is launched by a team of evil that clashes with the Guardians every chance they get.

What is the most challenging aspect of writing fantasy?

For me the most challenging part is staying focused on finishing a single adventure. I have so many ideas that it’s hard to work on “only one”. However, that has its advantages, 4 of the series novels have been completely outlined. This is important, because it allows me to foreshadow significant plots and twists in future books, while still wrapping up an adventure per novel. There are foreshadows in book one that will play out in the final novel, Darla Jade and the Prophet.

I also have issues finding the time to write and deciding when it’s “good enough” to quit editing.

How long did it take you to write the novel?

About a year, the first draft was 130,000 words. After focus group readings, feedback, and my editing, I ended up with about 85,000 words. Yeap… it was tough to cut a full novel out, but I’d rather have a good story. It’s important to test your work outside your family, and listen to what people suggest.

My novel was stalled for two-years waiting on an editor at Simon and Schuster to publish it. They never came through, so I took it back and went elsewhere. That means this novel has been in the works for nearly four-years.

Do you do school visits? Do you have any events coming up?

My book is hot off the press (Nov 11th), so I’m still setting up a lot of stuff. I will be speaking at schools, churches and other venues. I will be conducting book signings and stocking the book in many bookstores. I also have several friends across the globe, who are going to launch the book in their countries and start word of mouth advertising.

What is your writing schedule like? Are you disciplined?

My schedule is tough. I spend 8 -12 hours a day on a computer for my job and then write after I get off work. This is hard on my eyes… and tiring. However, I work through weekends (when not doing movies), and use vacations to write. In fact, I am on vacation now writing a new novel. However, I could be more disciplined.

What do you do when the words ‘just won’t come out’? Do you stay and force it until something begins happening on the page?

No, I draft outlines and several supporting documents in parallel when I write. I always go back and forth between them and the story, as I write. It’s pretty unusual for me to not find the words. On the rare occasion when that happens, I drop back and edit earlier writing, and then I’m back on track with the story. I am more likely to want to start a new story… and then the old one goes on the back shelf!

Do you have any tips for aspiring children’s authors?

Yes, do your first run through as a draft and resist the urge to edit until you’re done. Stick to your story’s “core concept”, but test it with non-family readers. If several say the same thing, listen to them. I didn’t do everything they suggested, but I did pay more attention, and when several readers said the same thing, then in many cases implemented their suggestions.

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

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

This isn’t going to be easy, but you can see your book published. More than anything “don’t quit”. You must push hard “at every step in the process”, nobody else is going to do it for you. Don’t accept anything but the best from yourself and everyone who participates in the process.

Some points to remember:
Every writer starts with a first word.
Every writer thinks their writing isn’t good enough.
Every writer thinks the task is too big.

The published writer takes it one word at a time.

Then next thing you know… people are reading your book, and liking it!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Book Review: The Lucky Baseball: My Story in a Japanese-American Internment Camp, by Suzanne Lieurance

The Lucky Baseball is a highly entertaining and educational novel about a young Japanese-American boy whose dream is to become a famous baseball player. Set during the time of the war between the US and Japan, the book teaches about that dark era of our time while proving young readers with a fast-paced, interesting plot and a strong and sympathetic protagonist.

This middle-grade historical novel begins on the eve of the war. Our young hero, 12-year old Harry Yakamoto, lives in Seven Cedars, California with his father and grandparents in an apartment above their restaurant. In spite of the regular prejudice he encounters as a Japanese-American, he lives a reasonably happy life doing what he enjoys most: playing baseball and spending time with his family and friends. His biggest dream is to become a professional baseball player one day, but he has a series of obstacles. For one, his father expects him to run the family restaurant one day, and is not pleased when he sees Harry practicing ball too much. To add to that, he's not able to join the teams in town because a lot of the kids--especially a bully named Tony Rossi--are prejudiced against his background. In spite of all this, Harry tries to make the best of life.

Then his life turns upside down when the US declares war on Japan and he and his family are forced to relocate to a camp 200 miles away in the middle of the desert. There, his living quarters are reduced to a cold and dusty, small room he has to share with his family. Dirty latrines, poor food, rude guards, and another bully are some of his other new problems. But the fire of baseball eternally blazes in his heart and he soon forms a team and becomes the captain. Will Harry live his dream? Will he go back to Seven Cedars and live like a normal American without the evils of prejudice?

I'm not a fan of baseball, but I have to say I loved reading this book. The story and especially the protagonist drew me in from the beginning. Harry is a special character with a distinct voice and personality. He has his flaws, but is brave and pure at heart. He's the kind of young hero readers like to root for. The plot moves fairly quickly without a lot of exposition or description. I felt transported back in time and learned a lot about the camps. The Lucky Baseball offers a glimpse into the evils of war and the injustice of prejudice. What I especially like is that the author doesn't lecture or preach; the message comes through from the action.

The Lucky Baseball is 160 pages and is geared at grades 5 to 7. If you have a middle grader who loves baseball, this is a story he or she will surely enjoy. It is also excellent reading material for classrooms, as it offers many subjects for discussion. Highly recommended.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Book review: Darla Jade and the Balance of the Universe, by D. L. Reynolds

Darla Jade and the Balance of the Universe is part of an exciting YA series for fans of fantasy, adventure and Christian literature.

The story begins in a cemetery when 13-year old Darla Jade's soul is 'raised from her grave' by Striker, the creature that calls the souls at the resurrection before they're to go to either Heaven or Hell. Darla is sent to Heaven while another boy, Johnny, is sent to into the vortex of Hell. Once in Heaven, Darla must attend school for training as a Guardian Angel--or Guardian, for short. There, she makes friends but also has a tough time controlling her temper and rudeness. She keeps getting demerits for bad behavior. However, Darla is brave and good at heart and this is what matters, especially because, as the story develops, it becomes clear that she is 'The One,' the Guardian who will save the world from Evil. In the Heaven academy, Darla learns a lot from famous teachers such as Leonardo DaVinci, Tesla and Benjamin Franklin.

Meantime, down in Hell, Johnny and other demons are planning to tip the Balance of the Universe in the forms of a evil storm on earth. For this to succeed, Darla must be destroyed, for she is the only one who can stop it and bring the Balance back.

I have a lot of good things to say about this YA fantasy: the pace is quick, with lots of dialogue and action scenes; the worlds of Heaven and Hell are rich, intriguing and imaginative. Author D. L. Reynolds certainly has a flair for world building. What I especially like about it is that the world building doesn't come in information dumps that slow down the pace, but instead it's incorporated into the scenes with the action and dialogue. One aspect that got my attention, though--and this is only an observation--is that the first several chapters of the story read more like middle grade (for ages 8-12), and it is only after some time that the plot acquires more 'heavy' elements which are more suitable for the YA audience (13 and up). Overall, I'd say this is a novel for the tween and YA audiences and not for middle graders.

Darla Jade and the Balance of the Universe was a surprisingly interesting and pleasant read and I look forward to the 2nd book in the series.

Visit the author's websites:

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Interview with Kai Strand, author of The Weaver

Kai Strand is a middle grade and young adult author. She lives in Central Oregon with her husband and children. They love to hike and geocache. She reads every story she writes to them. They are amazingly patient and remain appropriately enthusiastic. Kai has had several short stories published online and in print magazines. You can find links to some on her website. To learn more about Kai and her writing, visit

About the book: In the town of The Tales, people communicate through stories. They call themselves word weavers. Mary Wordsmith is the daughter of the most revered word weaver of them all, yet she suffers through her third year of Novice Word Weaving. Mary thinks her troubles are over when she meets a gnome-elf who grants her a wish. But instead of weaving a better story, she's weaving strange yarn charms to accompany her still pathetic tales.

The Weaver is a lyrical tale with a little magic and a lot of storytelling. It is a finalist in the EPIC eBook Awards. Written for children 9 - 12 years old, but enjoyed by people of all ages.

I understand you wrote short fiction for magazines before you started writing full-length novels. How did the transition come about? Were these short stories for children?

Actually, I did start with novels, or rather a novel. My first novel came out of me and into the computer in an unusually fast pace. In fewer than two months, I created an epic middle grade fantasy of 85,000 words. I realized that might be a bit too long, but cutting all those clever words of mine proved difficult. I turned to short stories 1.) to keep me creating and happy while I edited – not my favorite part of writing and 2.) to learn economy of words. I dabbled in picture books for the same reason, but I’ve given up on picture book text for now. Eventually I trimmed that first novel down to 70,000 words, but it too is shelved for the time being.

Most of my writing is for children, though it used to be personal. For years I created poems or short prose for friends, coworkers or my husband as gifts. I’d print them on pretty paper, frame them and wrap them up fancy. Personalized and handmade gifts are so much fun to create (and receive).

What makes you passionate about writing for children and when did this passion begin?

Writing for children happened because I have four of my own. I don’t think I was very good at being a kid, myself, so when my children came along and showed me how much fun it could be, I learned to appreciate everything “kid.” Then when they started to read, it sort of unlocked my memories of how books helped steer my growth and maturity. I guess I hadn’t realized how important what you read is to your decision making abilities until I started seeing children’s books through my adult eyes. Suddenly I hungered to provide examples of how to have fun, how to play, how to be good at being a kid.

My ultimate goal with my writing is to provide a child an escape hatch from their reality. I want them to climb into someone else’s life where they don’t feel pressured to act nice or choose right from wrong. I want them to just piggyback the main character and imagine what it would be like to experience new and different things.

Congratulations on the publication of your middle-grade novel, The Weaver. What inspired you to write it?

Thank you. The Weaver was inspired by the name of my online critique group, Silver Web. I was sitting in front of my computer one day, casting around inside the cobwebs of my mind for a story idea. I had the main page of my critique group on my screen and we have this awesome web graphic. I thought, “Spiders weave webs like we weave stories. We’re word weavers.” That thought grew into me imagining living in a town where people speak in story.

Tell us something about your protagonist, Mary. What kind of girl is she and why do you think young readers will love her?

Poor Mary is suffering through her third year of Novice Word Weaving. At eleven years old, she stands head and shoulders taller than her eight year old classmates. To make matters worse, her mother is the most revered word weaver in town. When Mary meets a strange little creature that grants her a wish, she thinks her troubles are over. Except instead of weaving a better tale, she is weaving odd little yarn charms to accompany her still pathetic tales.

I wanted to create a character that wasn’t really different from her friends, but felt like she was nonetheless. I suspect that “not fitting in” is one of the number one worries of children (and many adults) so I think they will relate to poor Mary who worries that being an inept storyteller makes her stand out like a sore thumb. And they should really feel her plight when she is suddenly knitting strange yarn charms, which really do make her different.

What about the antagonist?

I want to continue to describe Mary here, but that wouldn’t be right, would it? However, there isn’t a direct antagonist in the story. Mary has two loving parents and very supportive and loyal friends. Even the odd little gnome-elf, Unwanted, tries to help her. She really is her own worst enemy.

Do you have a writing routine or any quirks, such as meditating, listening to music or some other thing?

I suppose I have several ways to circumvent monotony. If I have writer’s block, I read a book on the writing craft, which ALWAYS unsticks me. If I’m struggling with a pathetic lack of creativity, I change my location; tryout a new coffee shop, write at the library or a park if the weather is nice. Sometimes I listen to music, but it has to be instrumental only and preferably something I’m not too familiar with, otherwise I end up losing myself to the notes, the chords, the harmonies, the dissonance. I really love music.

I’d love to hear about the writing process for this novel. How long did it take you to write it? How many times did you edit it, etc.?

Please note that I am blushing while typing this. I can’t answer those questions. I don’t remember when I started this book. I wrote about ¾ of it and then got side tracked. I wrote a whole other novel before coming back to this one. It sat around for maybe a year. Anyway, the irony behind this story is that I stepped away from it when I couldn’t figure out how to bridge from the middle to the end. Eventually, I scolded myself because I had this perfectly good manuscript collecting dust on my hard drive. I told myself, “Just sit down and do the hard work.” In the end, that was the bridge my character needed in her story arc. She needed to sit down and do the hard work.

I don’t even remember how many passes I made during the editing process, but I know it is a very different book from its original form. I don’t use an outline so often my stories will head in a different direction than I originally intended. During editing I decide which I like better and rewrite accordingly.

Do you have any tips for aspiring children’s authors?

Love what you do and remember why you love it. Becoming a published author is difficult and discouraging, but don’t get caught up in that.

Read a lot of books written for the age group you want to write for. Immerse yourself in the text. Read so much you start talking like that or you dream it.

Writing a lot is important, but without good, objective feedback you probably won’t improve much. Find a critique group or partners that understand the genre and age you are writing for and that will point out the good and the bad and make suggestions on how to fix it. Then return the favor. You learn so much when you critique someone else’s work.

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

I’m thrilled to announce the sale of my middle grade novel, Save the Lemmings! to Featherweight Press. When Natalie’s Texty-Talky invention makes her an overnight sensation, the media digs until they find a way to smear her goody-goody image.

Look for publication in 2012.

Please visit my website and like my author page for more writing related news. Thanks for reading!

Thank you, Kai!

Interview with Nancy Stewart, author of Sea Turtle Summer

Nancy is the bestselling author of the four Bella and Britt Series books for children:  One Pelican at a Time (eighteen weeks on Amazon Bestselling List), Sea Turtle Summer, Bella Saves the Beach and Mystery at Manatee Key. All are published by Guardian Angel Publishing.

She and One Pelican at a Time and were featured in the PBS Tampa (WEDU) special, GulfWatch.  Pelican was nominated for a Global eBook Award and has won the Literary Classics Seal of Approval.
Nancy’s travels take her extensively throughout the world, most particularly Africa. She is US chair of a charity in Lamu, Kenya, that places girls in intermediate schools to allow them to further their education. She and her husband live in Tampa and St. Louis.

I understand you were a university professor teaching classes about children’s and young adult literature before you started writing. How did the leap from teacher to author come about? 

I thought fleetingly about writing for children through my years as an academic, but it never seemed the right time.  After teaching children’s and young adult literature, though, the idea crystallized.  The day after my granddaughter, Leah, was born, I wrote my first children’s book, I Held You on the Day You Were Born.  Since then I’ve never looked back, and those pent-up books flow faster than I would ever have expected.  So, in a real way, Leah (who is now five) is the true catalyst behind my writing.

What makes you passionate about writing for children? 

My entire academic career has been about children, from teaching young kids to teaching pre-service teachers.  It was, I think, a natural segue to begin writing for them.  The combination of my love of all things books and the real joy I feel about children and their growing awareness of new ideas led me to this passion.

Congratulations on the publication of your latest children’s picture book, Sea Turtle Summer. What was your inspiration for this story? 

My morning walks on Clearwater Beach provide me with so many ideas, particularly for the Bella and Britt Series.  With Sea Turtle Summer, I walked by a cordoned off area of the beach that contained a sea turtle nest.  The orange tape and the affixed state seal warning about the serious consequences of tampering began the process in my mind.

Clearwater Beach, always voted one of the three best beaches in the world, is a sea turtle’s nightmare if she happens to lay her eggs there.  There is so very much activity—from sun worshiping, to volleyball games, to kids’ digging sandcastles (hatchlings cannot get over them), the problem became defined. The tension was set up. All we needed was a sea turtle laying her eggs in an unfortunate place, and Bella and Britt were back on the job!

Tell us something about your protagonist, Bella. What kind of girl is she and why do you think young readers will love her?

Bella is a go-to girl.  She thinks on her feet, is self-assured and makes things happen.  Bella sees a problem and spares no time in trying to solve it.  She, in fact, will not take no for an answer.  This attitude can be tricky and fraught for a child dealing with an adult world, but Bella perseveres.  She is an empowered kid and as such, I hope she’s a model for other kids who need that assurance.

What is the message of your book? Why do you think parents and educators should buy it for their children/students? 

The message is two-fold.  It is, of course, an ecology book for children.  It will, I hope, help make children aware of the natural world and the responsibility they have for it.  It also, as I mentioned above, is a book about empowerment.  There are times when children do have the best answers, and navigating an adult milieu can be a sensitive issue.  I hope that giving children permission to empower themselves will not stop with ecology but will help them stay safe and make good choices.

I understand you get up at dawn everyday and by 6am are already pounding away at your keyboard on the balcony of your beautiful, gulf-view Clearwater apartment. Tell us more about your writing schedule and writing process, especially for Sea Turtle Summer. 

It is true that I’m at my computer around six each morning and has become a joke with friends who always look at the time I send or answer emails!  I do find that time to be more productive for me than any other.
 I’ve learned to parcel my days into bunches of hours, each bunch dealing with one area.  For instance, my best creative writing is early in the morning.  About mid-morning, I turn to marketing and do that several hours.  Later in the day, I go back to writing, many times on a different manuscript.  I tend to finish about 5 PM, but my computer is sometimes on my lap in the evening as well.

My blog does take some time almost daily.  I publish new posts three times a week. I try to write them in groups and usually have seven or eight ready to go. I enjoy blogging and find writing for adults helps keep my mind focused in a different way.  In that regard, it’s a worthwhile exercise. 

What do you do when the words ‘just won’t come out’? Do you stay and force it until something begins happening on the page?

Free Association is the name of that game for me.  I don’t fight writer’s block anymore.  Rather, exercise or running errands or doing anything not related to writing helps greatly.  When I’m disengaged from writing is usually when engagement happens.  An idea, a notion, a nugget of a thought will pop into my consciousness and, as if by magic, the block is finished.

Do you have any tips for aspiring children’s authors? 

Yes!  Don’t write in a vacuum!  Join a writer’s group—immediately.  It is the best thing you can do for yourself.  The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) is beyond valuable for the new writer, and local groups are everywhere.

 Realize you have to promote your own book, and you must do it constantly.  The days of sitting back and letting your publishing house do it are over!  I have a friend whose name you’d recognize here.  She’s had thirty two books children’s books published. Recently she told me that she still gives one day a month to marketing.

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

I’d be delighted to share my web and blog addresses and tell them where my books can be purchased.
Web site:
Blog site:
The books are sold at:  Guardian Angel Publishing,, barnes &, Fictionwise and my web and blog sites, where you can obtain a personalized, autographed copy.

Thank you, Nancy!

Thank you so much, Mayra, for hosting me.  I enjoyed being with you and your guests.

Listen to an audio interview with Nancy:

Friday, December 2, 2011

Teach your kids English, Spanish and French at the same time

Here's a holiday gift idea for your little girl or girls: My Sister is My Best Friend, by Nicole Weaver.

My Sister is My Best Friend is a children's picture book for ages 2 to 7 written in three languages: English, Spanish and French.

In this simple story, talented author Nicole Weaver takes us through the days of two twin sisters who are inseparable and do everything together: together they play, go to the park, chase after butterflies, help their mother, go to town, and eat ice-cream, among other activities. For each simple expression in English there's the equivalent in Spanish and French.

My Sister is My Best Friend is an upbeat, inspirational book for girls, especially sisters! The kind that will put a smile on their faces. The illustrations are bright and cheerful, a splash of color on the pages. Best of all, it's also educational because it teaches other languages. How can you go wrong?

The book has an Amazon rating of 5 stars (out of 11 reviews).

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Winter Wonderland Giveaway: Win a Kindle Touch or $50 Amazon Gift Card!

Welcome to the Winter Wonderland Giveaway Event. We have partnered up with lots of different and wonderful bloggers to bring you some fabulous prizes, just in time for the Holiday Season!

Giveaway starts December 2nd at 12:01 AM EST to December 15th at 12:01 AM EST. Giveaway winners will be announced through the Rafflecopter widget and notified by email by the end of the day on December 17th, 2011. Winners must reply to email notification within 48 hours of delivery, or a new winner will be chosen.
Participating Blogs that made these giveaways possible:
Pink Dandy Chatter
Outnumbered Mama
PS Mom Reviews
Pawsitive Living
Spilled Milkshake
Thrifty Divas
Indiana Coupon Savings
Social Studies Momma 
The Frugal Mom
Debs Dealz 
Mamalou's Gems 
Magical Mouse Schoolhouse
Disney Contests and Sweepstakes
$uper $avin' Momma 
Personalized Sketches and Sentiments
Half-Pint House Handouts
Chitown Cheapskate 
Get Outta My Head Please 
Capturing Magical Memories
Finger Click Saver
Tenuous Thoughts of Candy
Reading Teen
Sober Julie Doing Life
One Busy Moma
All In One Mom
Luv Saving Money
Jenny At Dapperhouse
My Secret Home
Black, Divorced and Virtuous
A Gal Needs...
Sweeping The USA
Between The Lines
Mommies and Beyond
Crunchy Beach Mama
Savin' It Up 
Mayra's Secret Bookcase
The Working Writer's Club
Counting My Kisses 
Lily's Laundry 
Thrifty Mommas Tips 
Yummy Boy Mummy
* Winner will receive one Wi-Fi, 6" E Ink Display Kindle Touch

*This giveaway is open to the US Only
*There will be 1 winner chosen to win this giveaway

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Meet Nicole Weaver, author of trilingual (English, French and Spanish) books for children

Nicole Weaver  speaks four languages fluently: English, Creole, French and Spanish.  She teaches high school French and Spanish. She is the author of three trilingual books: Marie and Her Friend the Sea Turtle (2009), My Sister Is My Best Friend (November 2011), and My Brother Is My Best Friend (currently under contract).

Her book of short stories titled, My Birthday Is September Eleven and Other Short Stories was an Amazon bestseller top 100 for three weeks. For more information about Nicole please visit her sites: My Sister Is My Best Friend, My Birthday Is September Eleven, and Marie and her Friend the Sea Turtle.

Thanks for this interview, Nicole. Tell us, did you always want to be a writer?

No, I did want to be a writer.  I had my heart set on being a translator and interpreter for the United Nations. I grew to like languages after learning English as a third language and later learning Spanish.  I ended up taking Spanish my final year of high school because I wanted to drop a physics class.  My guidance counselor gave me two choices: Stay in physics or replace it with another class. Well, lucky for me, the only class offered during physics was Spanish two honors.  Even though I had never studied Spanish before, I took a gamble and switched to Spanish. Thus, began my true love affair with learning languages. Twenty-five years later, that decision has served me well.  As a polyglot, I teach high school French and Spanish.  Now, I have branched out by writing trilingual children books.

Congratulations on the release of your latest picture book, My Sister Is My Best Friend. What was your inspiration for it? 

My newly published book: My Sister Is My Is My Best Friend is a trilingual story about two twin sisters who do everything together.  I got inspired to write the story after meeting my half-sister Rachelle in 2008 for the first time.

I was very happy to have met her and sad that we did not grow up together.  Since I have a vivid imagination, I began daydreaming about what it would have been liked to grow up with Rachelle.  I had a blast writing the book because it helped me sort through some emotional situations.  I do believe writing is great therapy for the soul. 

Tell us about your children's books. 

I have written three trilingual children’s picture book. My first book titled: Marie and Her Friend the Sea Turtle, My Sister Is My Best Friend, and a third book currently under contract with Guardian Angel Publishing titled My Brother Is My Best Friend.

M y first book is about Marie, a Haitian little girl who lives near the beach.  The story tells the struggles Marie had as she helped the sea turtle back out to sea.

My Brother Is My Best Friend is similar to my newly released book My Sister Is My Best Friend.  The book is about two twin brothers, who do everything together.

I have also written and published a book of short stories for middle school students titled: My Birthday Is September Eleven and Other Short Stories.

I am happy to announce that the book stayed on Amazon top 100 best-selling books for three weeks.  The ebook version remained on the top bestselling list the weekend of nine eleven.  Here is a review of the book: As a licensed psychologist with a specialty in children, parents often ask me to direct them to a book that they can read with their children. I have no problem sending parents to My Birthday is September Eleven and Other Short Stories. In this book, you will find stories about children with real-life struggles and how they find ways to cope with those problems. These stories present opportunities for parents and children to talk about what is happening in their own lives and possible solutions, while strengthening parent-child communication.

Some writers go on long walks; others keep a journal, write at a café, or listen to music. What do you do for inspiration and unleashing your creativity?

I do a variety of things.  I listen to French and Spanish music.  I like listening to Edith Piaf, Mirielle Mathieu, Charles Aznavour, Jacques Brel and Georges Moustaki.

My favorite Spanish singer is Julio Iglesias; I listen to him a lot. I also love classical music. Every so often, I do not mind listening to Italian operas.

Listening to the different genre of music evoke certain emotions that help bring my creativity to the surface.
Other times, I go to the library and read a zillion books.

What are you working on now?

I am currently working on a book for teens titled: Beauty and Other Traps.

I hope to publish it by December 1st in time for the holidays. Here is the synopsis:

Meet Marie, a high school senior trapped in her mother’s web. She’s facing troubling changes. You will relate to her as Marie deals with her mother, step-dad, peers, and the prospect of graduating high school. Does hope lie ahead? Join her and find out. 

I am also working on a chapter book titled: There’s Nothing Wrong with Being Smart.

The book is historical fiction based on the struggles of African American back in the 1960’s.

Where are your books available? 

Link to purchase My Sister Is My Best Friend:
Marie and Her Friend the Sea Turtle:
My Birthday Is September Eleven and Other Short Stories:

For more information about Nicole, you can visit her sites:

Mayra, thank you so much for interviewing me.

Thank you, Nicole! Best of luck with your books!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Two great chapter books for your children this Christmas

If you’re looking for some great children’s books for your 6-9 year olds as part of their holiday gifts, I have two great suggestions for you: My Pet Show Panic by Betty G. Birney and SWITCH: Spider Stampede by Ross Colins, both from WHSmith’s Richard and Judy Collection.

Humphrey is a cute little hamster who lives in a classroom (Room 26) of Longfellow School. He gets to go home with a different student each weekend. His cage, however, has a ‘lock that doesn’t lock’ and so he’s able to sneak in and out in search of adventure. Of course, sometimes too much adventure can get you into trouble!

In this the first book in the Humphrey’s Tiny Tales series, our little hamster goes home with A.J., who has planned to take him to the Pet Show and is set on winning a prize. In the pet show, Humphrey notices that a box next to him seems to be getting a lot of attention. He tries to see what’s inside it, to no avail, so he decides to sneak out of his cage and take a look. Unfortunately, Clem the stinky dog is running around free and chases after him. Suddenly, Humphrey doesn’t care about winning a prize anymore—he’d much rather stay alive!

This is an absolutely adorable chapter book for kids ages 6 to 8. Humphrey is a character to fall in love with. Told in simple language for early and/or reluctant readers, the story is full of action and fun twists and turns that will keep kids turning pages. There’s a lot of lively, fun language and Humphrey’s distinct personality shines through. The simple line drawings are really cute and perfectly complement the text. At the end of the book there are plenty of activities to keep children entertained: word searches and grids, puzzles, games and jokes. This is a children’s book sure to get some new fans, so don’t be surprised if your child asks for more books in the series.

SWITCH: Spider Stampede by Ross Colins is also a chapter book but I’d say it is geared at kids who are more proficient in reading. It has more text than Humphrey’s Tiny Tales and will especially appeal to boys, if only because both protagonists are boys. It is certainly filled with the stuff that boy readers like most: nonstop action, spying and adventure, not to mention giant creepy crawlers and chemical potions with amazing capabilities.

Our protagonists are 8-year olds Danny and Josh, two brothers who live next door to a strange old woman—if we can call it an old women, for she happens to be a brilliant ‘mad’ scientist with a secret underground laboratory. One day, searching for their little dog Piddle, the two brothers accidentally end up in the lab doused in a weird yellow substance that later transform them into spiders… and so the real adventure begins as they try to stay alive against predators, figure out what happened to them and how to turn back into their human form.

SWITCH: Spider Stampede is sure to delight young readers ages 6 to 9. The lively line drawings will further get their attention. If you’re looking for a new chapter book series to hook your child with this holiday season, be sure to check this one out!

Monday, November 21, 2011

"Children's Literature Programs in the United States," by Emily Matthews

Children’s literature sets the tone for a child’s future enjoyment of reading. Though a degree in children’s literature by no means is the gold standard by which writers should be judged, anyone who has pursued their craft in their higher education will tell you that intensive study can absolutely change the way you look at the world as your work. If you’re interested in learning more about masters degree programs in children’s literature, read on!

MA in Children's Literature at Simmons College

The Simmon's College Master's in Children's Literature offers an intense, interdisciplinary approach to the art. Students take a critical and historical approach to children's literature, and are asked for a wide range of interpretations such as feminist, marxist, and post-colonial. Classes include Contemporary Realistic Fiction, Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Folk and Fairy Tales, just to name a few.

Some students choose to finish the program in one year, but most decide to take five or six semesters to finish. At Simmons, students can also enroll in the "dual degree program," in which they can complete their masters degree in Children's Literature in addition to an MFA in Children's Literature, a Teaching Certification, or a degree from the Graduate School of Library and Information Science

MFA and MA in Children's Literature at Hollins University

Hollins University offers a creative program designed to make your work publishable and unique. The program always has a writer-in-residence. For 2012, Nancy Willard will take the position. She is the author of William Blake's Inn, as well as many other works. The program also provides students with a lecture series and visiting writers to stimulate creative work and productive discussion.

For the Hollins MFA, students must take ten courses, each of which are worth four credits. The MA students must take eight courses, also worth four credits each. For the final thesis project, MFA students will present an original work of fiction, poetry or drama. MA students must produce an extended work of critical analysis.

MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College

The Vermont College MFA brings students to the picturesque forests outside Montpelier, Vermont. Most of the program consists in independent study projects, in which students work with faculty outside class. This is possible because there is a small student-to-faculty ratio (5:1). The college's writer-in-residence program is vibrant; this year they will have David Macaulay.

At Vermont College, students can complete their Children's Literature degree at the same time as an MFA in Writing degree. Additionally, the program publishes a literary journal, "Hunger Mountain," to provide professional experience in the publishing world.

Those interested in pursuing children’s literature at the graduate level have ever more choices than those above. Keep researching, and you’re bound to find a program that fits all your needs perfectly.

Emily Matthews is currently applying to master’s degree programs across the U.S., and loves to read about new research into health care, gender issues, and literature. She lives and writes in Seattle, Washington.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Does your little girl or someone you know play the violin?

Please consider my newly released picture book, The Doll Violinist, as a gift for her this Christmas!

Here's a short blurb:

Five days before Christmas, Emma is captivated by a doll in a shop window. Each day, she sneaks out of the orphanage to check if it’s been sold, but the shop owner, Madame Dubois, sends her away. Will the magic of Christmas bring Emma, Madame Dubois, and the doll violinist together?

*ABC's Children's Picture Book Finalist!
*Honorable Mention Award in the 75th Annual Writers Digest Writing Competition!

The book is available in paperback, hardcover, ebook and soon as an Apple app with audio!

The publisher's link is:



Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Book Review: The Adventures of Zeppi: New Friends (book 1)

The Adventures of Zeppi: New Friends (book 1)

By C.K. Omillin

Children’s picture book, 24 pages, $15.55

In the middle of the night, a mysterious red truck races down Happy Town. Its cargo? Cages filled with penguins on their way to be shipped to another country. Suddenly the doors fling open and one cage rolls down the street and lands in a garden. From it, a little penguin steps out fearfully, awed at the world around him. Up until now, he has only known the constraints of the zoo.

In the morning, a boy named Alesdor discovers him and decides to keep him. Naturally, they immediately click and become the best of friends. Though the little penguin, Zeppi, is heartbroken from being separated from the rest of his family, he finds warmth and affection in Alesdor, who is as anxious for a friend as his new companion.

This children’s book by first-time Belgian author C.K. Omillin put a smile on my face throughout; not only because it’s about a penguin (and who doesn’t love penguins?), but because the story is sweet and weaves elements of friendship, family and ecological, planet-friendly values. This is the first instalment in The Adventures of Zeppi series and the beginning of their escapades. The adorable illustrations in soft pastel colors complement the story perfectly. This isn’t the standard picture book for 3-7 year olds that has short text and includes artwork on almost every page, but rather a picture book for slighter older kids (ages 6-9), who can handle longer stories. Still, there are 13 illustrations in this book, many of them spot illustrations.

I’m really looking forward to reading the next book in the series. The Adventures of Zeppi is sure to become a favourite of children, especially those who love penguins. C.K. Omillin is definitely an author to keep your eye on.

Find out more at

Read my interview with author C.K. Omillin on Blogcritics.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

How to Get Started as a Picture Book Author

10 Tips on How to Get Started as a Picture Book Author

By Mayra Calvani

I love writing picture books. They’re like quick candy. I love the rush of finishing a complete first draft in one sitting. For this reason, I’m always writing new picture books while I work on a long novel. However, writing picture books and getting them published take a lot of hard work, persistence and determination. It isn’t only about talent—though that is important, too.

In this article, I’ll give you ten tips on how to get started as a picture book author.

1. Dream big.

It starts with a dream. When you dream, you set your intention. This makes the wheel of the universe start turning in your direction.

Imagine yourself receiving the call from an agent or editor. Imagine yourself signing your first contract, your hand trembling with excitement over the page. Imagine yourself as a published author, doing a signing at your local Barnes & Noble, the line of fans reaching all the way out to the street. Imagine yourself accepting a prestigious literary award in front of a huge, clapping audience.

Never stop dreaming.

2. Read critically.

A lot. I’m not talking about 2 or 3 picture books a month. I’m talking about going to the library each week and reading at least a dozen books. I’m talking about planning a 2-3 hour reading marathon each month and gobbling up 30 books in one sitting. How much do you want to become a published author? That’s how much you’ll have to read.

Pay special attention to the techniques and formats of published picture book authors. What is the point of view of the story? How soon is the conflict introduced? How bad does it get for the character? What strong verbs does the author use? How does the character solve the problem? How is the message or theme of the story presented to the reader? Is there a twist at the end?

Great writing is always great writing, but keep in mind that styles and trends change and this applies to picture books. Older picture books written twenty or thirty years ago will usually have a lot more ‘telling’ and exposition than what is accepted today. If you want to know what editors want these days, focus on those books written within the last five years or so.

3. Study the craft.

Writing great picture books isn’t only a skill. It’s an art form. How do you expect to write a publishable story if you don’t know its elements, if you’ve never studied the craft? Can you drive a car blindfolded? Can you pass a calculus exam if you’ve never studied the subject? Just being a mother or grandmother doesn’t qualify you as a children’s writer.

· Study books on the subject. Writing Picture Books, Ann Whitford Paul, and Picture Writing, by Anastasia Suen, are two books you should thoroughly dissect and keep on your shelf. There are others, but in my opinion, these two are the best.

· Take an online class or a course. Anastasia Suen, author of over 100 children’s books, offers an intensive picture book workshop on her website, Another great place to check out for courses is the Institute of Children’s Literature at

The art of writing picture books, or any type of books, for that matter, is an ongoing process. Be prepared to keep learning, improving and evolving as a writer all your life.

4. Write.

Preferably everyday, but if that’s not possible, strive for a minimum of 2-3 writing sessions a week. Make a habit. The more you write, the easier it becomes and the better it gets. Can a violinist get better at playing by practicing only a few times a year? Can a runner win the gold medal by running only a few miles a month? (And yes, getting published by a top NY house IS like winning a gold medal!)

Writing isn’t any different. Don’t obsess over one single story. I’ve known aspiring authors who’ve been working on the same story for years without writing any new ones. Editing is essential, but so is producing new work if you want to succeed as a published author. Besides, editors and agents don’t like one-work authors. If an editor or agent becomes interested in your manuscript, then asks “So what else do you have,” what are you going to say: “Hmm, nothing” or “I have completed and polished 5 other stories.”

5. Edit.

We all know the saying, “Great work isn’t written. It’s rewritten.” It’s absolutely true. After writing a first draft, put it aside for a while (at least 3 weeks) so you can distant yourself from it. Then go back to it and edit it.

As a writer, you’re your own worst editor, which is why it is so important to have a set of objective eyes look over your manuscript—but, please, not your mother or sister or best friend (unless they’re published authors and knowledgeable in the craft). Join a critique group especially for picture books. A middle-grade or YA writer may not be familiar with the elements that make a great picture book (more about critique groups below).

Always strive for great. Don’t settle for good or very good. That’s not enough in the competitive field of picture book publishing.

6. Submit.

If you don’t submit, your manuscript will never see publication. Don’t be afraid of rejection. Most published writers get a lot of rejections. I’ve probably gotten 1,000 rejections in the last ten years. Let rejections empower you and make you stronger as a writer. Use rejections as a motivational tool and let them infuse you with positive anger. Every time you get a rejection, slam your fist on the table and say, “I’ll show them!”

7. Plan.

Okay, so you have set your goal: to become a picture book author. Now, work out a plan to make it work and stick to it. Design what your writing, editing and submitting schedule will be like. Having a plan will help keep you focused. Start your writing week without having a clear picture of what you’ll be working on and you’ll find yourself wasting precious time and wondering about the million other things you should be doing instead of writing.

Not planning ahead is the perfect ingredient for low productivity, procrastination and writer’s block. I write on weekdays and take a break on weekends, so every Sunday I plan in advance what I’ll be doing that week. When Monday morning arrives, I know exactly where to start. I don’t have to waste time wondering about it.

8. Cut Off the Internet.

The Internet (including emailing) is one of the most—of not the most—distracting things for an author. Be sure to switch it off during your writing sessions. Use the Internet as a reward, after you’ve finished working. How do you expect to focus if you go online or check emails every few minutes while you write?

9. Join a support group.

· Join a club such as the Children’s Writers Coaching Club, You’ll not only profit from weekly critiques and audio classes, but also from a vastly supportive group of fellow children’s writers.

· Join children’s writing groups such as Childrens-Writers. You can interact with other children’s writers, share information and resources, and ask questions about the industry and all aspects of writing for children. Check it out here:

· Join a critique group that specializes in picture books. A picture book has its own set of ‘rules’ that writers of young adult or middle-grade fiction may not know about. These writers may give you the wrong advice and even hurt your writing. Also, if possible, try to find a critique group that has both beginners and more experience writers. Chances are you won’t get great feedback from total beginners because you’re all in the same boat, whereas more experienced writers will know exactly what to look for in your manuscript. If you join Childrens-Writers (see previous paragraph), you can post a message to the group asking if there are any critique group openings.

· Join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). This is the organization to join if you’re serious about becoming a children’s writer.

Benefits include local chapters and critique groups, conferences, an online forum, and The Bulletin, which comes out every two months and is packed with articles and submission information, among other things. Check it out here:

10. Subscribe to Newsletters.

There are two newsletters worth subscribing to. One is Children’s Writer,, put out by the Institute of Children’s Literature. The other one is Children’s Book Insider,

These publications will keep you up to date about the world of children’s publishing, current trends, submission calls, as well as offer writing tips.

Yes, it takes a lot of hard work to become a children’s picture book author, but the rewards are immense. If you’re committed enough and determined enough, you can do it.

15 Benefits of Reviewing for Aspiring Children’s Authors

If you’re an aspiring children’s author, the benefits of reviewing children’s books are enormous. If you already review books, you know how true this is.

When you review books…

1. You learn about the craft of writing because you get to identify both the weaknesses and strengths of a book. You learn what works and what doesn’t, and eventually you become more apt in avoiding amateurish mistakes when you write your own books. You can do this because you’re able to look at someone else’s book objectively, something that it’s hard to do with your own writing. In this sense, reviewing can make you a better writer and a better judge of literature.

2. Your writing becomes easier and better. Reviewing is writing, after all, and the more you write, the better it gets. Reviewing helps to hone your skills as a word builder. 

3. Your thinking skills become sharper because you have to ponder and reflect on why you liked or disliked a book. This sometimes takes keen perception.

4. You become familiar with publishers and the type of books they publish. This is especially helpful if you review in the genre that you write in and if you’re looking for places to submit your work. 

5. You become familiar with agents and the type of books they like to represent. How do you know this? Most authors thank their agents in the acknowledgements page. 

6. You network with other authors who in the future might help you promote your book. Authors are very thankful to reviewers for taking the time to review their books, especially if the reviews are positive.

7. You develop an online presence, a platform. If you have an attractive blog where you post honest, intelligently written reviews, eventually you’ll build a good reputation as a serious reviewer and readers, publishers, authors and publicists will want to become your followers. Having lots of followers will instantly make you more attractive in the eyes of a publisher when you submit your book for consideration.

8. You develop an identity as an expert, especially if you review in the same genre you write in. For example, if you review only young adult novels, and you write reviews often enough, soon you’ll acquire a thorough knowledge of the genre and what’s new out there, and your reviews will become more insightful because you’ll be able to compare works by different authors who write in the same genre. It’s difficult to become an expert in all genres, but this is doable in one genre if you’re dedicated enough. 

9. You may land a contract with a publisher. This happened recently to one of the reviewers at one of the sites I review for. Her reviews were so well and thoughtfully written, they caught the eye of a publisher. They asked if by any chance she had a manuscript around. Well, she did and the publisher ended up offering her a contract!

10. You can build yourself a pretty nice library if you’re one of those reviewers who read and review quickly. I know some reviewers who review several books a week.

11. You’ll discover authors you didn’t even know existed. Review blogs are especially attractive to small press authors and publishers because they usually have trouble getting reviewed by the big publications.

12. You build relationships with publicists who work at major publishing houses. Once they’ve come to trust you as a serious reviewer, you can request those books you’re most interested in. 

13. You get to feed your addiction—for free!

14. You can build a resume with publishing credits. They will come very handy when you start sending out those queries to agents and publishers.

15. You can eventually get paid by submitting your reviews to those sites and publications that pay their contributors.

As you can see, book reviewing can be extremely beneficial for aspiring authors. What are you waiting for? Take out your book, pen and paper, and start reviewing. All you need is a love of books and a passion for words!