Saturday, January 18, 2020

Dreams to Goals to Plans

I have been writing for about nine years. And when I say writing, I fully concede that "writing" is relative. To be honest, I haven't been trying very hard. In that time I have begun and abandoned countless drafts while also completing the first drafts of two middle-grade novels. I have done the bare minimum of revisions and there's only one word for why this is so: lazy.

As I turn 50 this summer, I want to change my habits, because clearly my old habits just aren't working! What will I do differently this decade to move forward? 

I have taken some steps recently to prepare myself for a move to a new genre: the traditional or cozy mystery. They are the types of book I enjoy reading most, and I look forward to the challenge of writing my own.

The first thing I did is purchase Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel Revised and Expanded Edition: The Complete Guide to Mystery, Suspense, and Crime by Hallie Ephron. It was recommended by the very kind, talented, helpful Kellye Garrett, the Agatha Award-winning author of the Detective by Day mystery series (Hollywood Homicide is the first). I love that Ms. Ephron's book guides you step-by-step in the process of planning your mystery - I needed this because, as a novice mystery writer, I was unsure about what to do first. Where do I start? The crime? The suspects? Do I develop my sleuth first? I just love it and find it so helpful. I had the 60+ pages of planning sheets (which come with a purchase of the online edition which I also bought) printed out at my local print shop and had it bound so I can carry my "workbook" with me at all times.

Second, I signed up to attend the Malice Domestic conference. If nothing else, I know that it will be extremely inspiring, and I'm looking forward to meeting some Sisters in Crime members and a few of the mystery authors I know.

The third thing I've been doing is reading traditional and cozy mysteries, and also watching them on the screen. It's really helpful to do this after having read Hallie Ephron's book, because I can see or read her advice "in action". 

So this little space is just to help keep me accountable and to make sure that my dreams are backed by goals and plans. 

Until my next Saturday update, keep reading and keep writing.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Halloween Rehearsal

I am so glad to have stumbled upon Susanna Leonard Hill's 9th Annual Halloweensie Writing Contest. It provided me with a bit of seasonal inspiration and it was a delight to write again.

* * * *

Halloween Rehearsal

Cobweb-woven spider-dreams
Goblins practice silent screams
Potions perk and cauldron steams.
Soon comes Halloween.

Catch a newt and hairy eye.
Train some bats to pierce the sky.
Rattle bones so bare and dry.
Here comes Halloween.

Dragons run their shiny scales
Black cats hunch and quiver tails
Ghosts fan out unfurl like sails
Close to Halloween.

Last glance in the mirror, quick.
Fix your hat and grab your stick
Candy bag should do the trick.
Now it’s Halloween.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Resources for the Debut Writer . . . Over 40!

Today on Twitter K.M. Weiland asked "Writing Question of the Day: What specific criticism do you hear most often from your internal critic?" for her  .

I answered that my internal critic is constantly harping on my age: I'm 47 and for some reason my internal critic keeps telling me that debut authors don't exist after the age of 45, or even 40, for that matter.

My brain knows this is not true. My heart, on the other hand, needs some reassurance. I thought maybe some others might need this sort of reassurance too.

I thought I would start with a few resources specifically geared towards writers over 45. I hope these are helpful!

General Encouragement
Remember I said that my brain knows it's not true that debut authors over 40 don't exist? Here are some current websites that list those over 40-ers.
  • Here's an excellent annotated list by Randy Susan Meyers on her blog Word Love. She updated this list in 2016 "in the interest not of division, but of keeping up the flagging spirits of those who don’t want to be pushed out on the ice floe". LOL.
  • The Prime Writers A website featuring 60 writers who have one thing in common: they published their debut book when over the age of 40.
  • This encouraging article, entitled, The Authors Who Prove It's Never Too Late to Write a Book, was published last February's (2017) on The Telegraph website.
Grants & Awards

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Room with a Review: The Hollow Boy

The Hollow Boy by Jonathan Stroud
Title: The Hollow Boy

Author: Jonathan Stroud

Illustrator: Kate Adams

Month/Year Published:  September 2015

You May Know Him: As the author of the Bartimaeus series, which I've never read, btw!

You May Find Him: On tumblr or on twitter @jonathanastroud

The Delta/Plus: Lockwood & Co. are back in the third installment of creepy ghost hunting: The Hollow Boy. This time, the trio of Lucy, George and Anthony Lockwood are busier than ever thanks to their Agency's moderate successes. So scattered are they, in fact, that Lockwood decides to hire an assistant, Holly Munro, whose uber-efficiency and collectedness is of extreme annoyance to Lucy. When an extreme outbreak occurs in London, necessitating the talents (and rivalries) of multiple agencies, intrapersonal and interpersonal conflicts come to a head adding a rather personal twist to this book in the series.

I first discovered Lockwood & Co. last year when I happened to pick up a copy of the first book in the series, The Screaming Staircase, at our Scholastic book fair. I read it in no time, added it to my school library (K-5) and then snatched up The Whispering Skull (which introduced readers to one of my favorite characters, I should say) immediately. I love the setting of the Lockwood books: a London that is in the past (nah, too much technology), the present or the future? The reader's not quite sure. It's all at once modern and gothic, sleek and bedraggled.

For me The Hollow Boy progressed a bit more slowly the other books, but by the end, I was, as usual, completely creeped out and starting at the tiniest noise in the house. The cliffhanger confirmed my suspicions that The Hollow Boy is not the final book in the series, which leaves me with only one question: how long do we have to wait for book four?

{I purchased this book with my own funds.}

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Room with a Review: The Tiara on the Terrace

 The Tiara on the Terrace

Author: Kristen Kittscher

Illustrator: Marcos Calos

Month/Year Published:  Expected publication date January 2016

You May Know Her: As the author of the first book in the series, The Wig in the Window (reviewed by me here).

You May Find Her: On her blog or on twitter @KKittscher

The Delta/Plus: It's been a long wait, but middle school-aged BFFs Grace Yang and Sophie Young were probably just busy wrapping up their latest mystery before typing up the case notes for their loyal readers. Author Kristen Kittscher does not disappoint with her second adventure featuring the pair. It not only includes secret codes and suspicious emails, but friendships that change and evolve based on time and circumstances. 

There is no shortage of sleuthing and mayhem in The Tiara on the Terrace, but this time Kittscher leaves school behind, setting this mystery on Luna Vista's Winter Sun Festival float route (which resembles a slightly less elaborate version of the Rose Bowl Parade albeit with a twist of murder). When the winter solstice festival organizer Jim Steptoe becomes, well, shall we say, S'Mored, Grace and Sophie cannot resist their passion for solving crimes, becoming embedded detectives in the Float's Royal Court.

In The Wig in the Window tech-expert Trista Bottoms was one of my favorite characters so I was happy to see her get her moment in the Luna Vista Sun...Festival. Grace and Sophie seem to have decided that three heads are better than two when tracking down the killer of the Festival organizer and, in this case, three is not a crowd.

One observation on muuuurder: I felt that The Wig in the Window, due to the circumstances of the suspect' (hashtag no spoilers!), the book was a bit more appropriate for MS-aged students and above.  In the case of The Tiara on the Terrace, I would feel comfortable adding it to my elementary school collection and recommending it to my fourth and fifth graders. And of course we have to ask: will there be a book three, Ms. Kittscher? This reader, for one, is looking forward to more adventures and to learning more details about the lives of Grace, Sophie and Trista (and perhaps Rod?).

{Thank you to the author for providing me with a free ARC of The Wig in the Window, no strings attached.}

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Edge of Their Seats Every Time

Sometimes when I get a little bit anxious about how I'm doing as an elementary school librarian, I pick up an old favorite and sneak a peek at my audience as I'm reading.  Sometimes I see them sitting with their hands over their ears but eyes wide, sometimes they put their fingers over their eyes with just a teeny bit of separation so that they don't miss out entirely, other times it is just a silent group of children, each looking up at the book with their jaws hung slack.  Sometimes I can hardly get through the book...what with the laughter.  Sometimes at the end of the book my students applaud.  Spontaneously.

This is not a movie they're watching.  They are listening to another human being read written words on a page.  It amazes me, sometimes, the power of the read-aloud.  I love when I read a sentence and a child says, "I love how he said that."  Um...that was me saying it that way.  But really I'm just the go-between, the middle-woman if you will.  I will never forget when I had a high school senior with me for two weeks for her high school Senior Experience.  She was from Australia and she read the students Possum Magic.  I was one of those students with my jaw hung slack.  I can never read that book aloud again...I've been spoiled by her reading of it.  For the following read-alouds I rarely stop to ask questions or to check for understanding.  There's plenty of time for that.  I don't want to break the spell.

Here are three books that I read to my first grade students every year.

Epossumondas Saves the Day :: by Coleen Salley :: Illustrated by Janet Stevens
Sure it looks humorous enough except when you get to the Great, Huge, Ugly, Louisiana Snapping Turtle.  Read it to my Firsties every year and I never get tired of it.

My Best Friend :: by Mary Ann Rodman :: Illustrated by E. B. Lewis
There's nothing scary about this book, but my Firsties or Kinders are captivated by it.  They are on pins and needles wondering what's going to happen to Lily.  Will Tamika finally accept her as she is?  Will it take just another bathing suit change or half a popsicle to make them BFFs?  Friendships are so important to these little guys and I use this book whenever I can tell there's a little bit of friendship strife going on in the classroom.

Each Kindness :: Jacqueline Woodson :: Illustrated by E. B. Lewis
Hmmm...okay, another book illustrated by E. B. Lewis.  Not intentional but there is no doubt that illustrations add to the allure of these picture books.  I read Each Kindness to each of my three first grade classes last year.  The reaction was literally stunned silence.  And if you know Firsties you know how monumental this is!  Then chatter.  "Maybe she came back."  "Maybe the author will write a second book."  Lots of hoping and wishing when this read-aloud was finished.  Sometimes you don't get second chances and I think this book made that a little bit more real for my compassionate Firsties.  Afterwards we wrote our acts of kindness on paper pebbles and set them on a paper pond, imagining the ripple effect.

What captivating tales do you read to your first graders every year?

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Interview with Robin Stevens - Murder Is Bad Manners

The US cover of Murder is Bad Manners
Dear Robin, 

Amy B: Welcome to the U.S.!
Robin Stevens: Thank you! It’s lovely to be here at last!
AB: I discovered your book "Murder Most Unladylike" when it first came out in the UK and I had to order it from the UK to read.  Now it's here in the U.S. with its new title "Murder is Bad Manners". You're originally from the U.S. yourself, although you moved when you were quite young.  Do you think Americans read mysteries differently from UK readers?
RS: I am! I was born in California, and still hold an American passport. I’m proud of belonging to both countries, and actually, Daisy and Hazel are as much influenced by Nancy Drew and Encyclopedia Brown as they are by Poirot and the Famous Five. I think that we all bring our own cultural experience to the books we read, so I’m very pleased that you guys are going to see my heroines in the context of all of the American mysteries I grew up on – stuff that my British readers miss!
AB: Wells & Wong could easily have been Wells & Wagner or Wells & Watkins.  What made you decide that Hazel Wong's family was from Hong Kong.  Did you plan that or did you discover she was from Hong Kong as you wrote your book?
RS: Hazel’s nationality was one of the first things I knew about the book, actually. Most of my own friends at school were Hong Kong Chinese, so I grew up hearing their stories about their home lives, and the differences they noticed between England and Hong Kong. I think I connected to them because we were all from non-traditional English boarding school backgrounds: none of us fit in, and all of us slightly felt as though we were intruding on something. And, as a kid who read a lot of boarding school stories, I noticed that people who thought like us – and looked like them – didn’t feature at all. That made me cross, and I decided that when I wrote my own boarding school stories, I’d do something to redress the balance.
AB: I would imagine that a mystery writer has to be more of a plotter than a pantser.  Is this true?  What types of things surprised you even after you nailed your plot down?
RS: After a very painful redraft of Murder is Bad Manners when I first signed with my agent, I decided that I needed to learn how to be a plotter. I’m now fanatical about nailing down the exact events around each one of my murders – I do a huge spreadsheet with each character’s actions filled in in five or ten minute slots, to make sure that everyone’s alibis check out, and the right people see each other at the right time. Other than that, though, I’m looser – I have a basic idea of where I’m going and how I want to get there, but I like to leave room for my characters to breathe. I have to keep myself interested as I write – it’s a story I’m telling myself, so I’ve got to want to keep going!
AB: As an elementary school librarian I find that my students are always up for a good mystery. What is it about mysteries, do you think, that are so captivating for children?
RS: I think it’s partly the puzzle, and partly the rush of a pacy, exciting story – but I think the pull for kids also has a lot to do with the fact that they’re seeing people like them, totally in control of the story. Child detectives aren’t just the heroes, they’re driving the entire plot, and at the end of the day they get to outsmart the adults. That is so exciting to see when you’re nine and you spend your real life being ordered around by the grown-ups in your life.
AB: "Bunbreaks" seem to be an integral part of life in a 1930s boarding school and Murder Is Bad Manners.  Please describe for our American readers what exactly this entails.
RS: Bunbreak is a very exciting and important concept that I learned when I was at school. It’s really just another word for morning break – we would pause lessons at 11am and eat some cookies or a slice of cake – but it was the highlight of the day for us, as it is for Hazel and Daisy. I’ve slightly broadened the concept of bunbreak to mean any moment when you stop what you’re doing to enjoy a sweet treat, and it’s caught on hugely over here. A lot of my readers have taken pictures of themselves having a bunbreak with the book, and I hope Americans will embrace it in the same way.
AB: And finally, if readers wanted to sound particularly 1930s British, what expression would you have us add to our vocabulary?  

RB: Ooh! I do like spiffing (fantastic) for everyday use. I’m also a fan of words like waxy (angry) and pax (peace) – some of them have made it into the book, but some had to be cut. I read a lot of 1930s books and I love soaking up the language in them.

AB: Thank you Robin for taking time to answer my questions. I can't wait to see what Wells & Wong are up to next.

To discover more about Robin Stevens and about Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong, visit her website or follow her on twitter.

Read more about Murder is Bad Manners at Simon and Schuster or Kirkus Reviews {starred review!}


All books by Robin Stevens were purchased on my own - well worth giving up my bun break fund.
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