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And that's the first thing you need to know about being a Kansan. You and your home state are often the butt of jokes--stale, tired jokes which are told with impunity.
"Where's Auntie Em?"
"Where's [insert any Oz character name here]?
When I worked at a grocery store in high school, one "import" family would shop wearing matching "We're not in Kansas anymore" t-shirts. True story. They'd come in on a weeknight around 9 PM, an hour before close, and wander the aisles in those shirts.
(sic 'em, Toto)
It goes beyond Oz. I've known folks from more populous states/the coasts who really, truly seem to believe we still use Conestoga wagons for transport. Ha ha. Our state is flat as a pancake... a few years ago, one mathematician "proved" Kansas, relatively, was flatter than a pancake. And it's not as if our state government helps us much. We've suffered embarrassing State Board of Education fights over evolution and passed legislation requiring voter ID, because, as you know, massive amounts of illegal immigrants flock to Kansas so they can vote illegally. I hear they're bused in, in fact. "It's all those damn Democrats' doin'!" wails the old man with belly-length beard next to the spittoon.
I say "we," but I never voted for such a thing. Maybe our collective unconscious remembers a time when "illegal" voters did arrive in our fair state (before it was a state). But that, dear friends, was before the American Civil War... back when Kansas meant something progressive and on the edge. Bleeding Kansas. In the years leading to the most deadly conflict in United States history, the first shots were fired here. Legendary terrorists like John Brown murdered in the name of abolition and William Quantrill burned my adopted city, Lawrence, to the ground.
(A Painting Depicting Quantrill's raid from the LJ World)
Our state motto, Ad Astra Per Aspera, reflects on the struggle to join the Union.
To the Stars Through Difficulty.
That's good stuff. That's why I'm proud to be a Kansan despite the jokes and hayseed assumptions. I'm proud to be a Kansan despite our own failings and weaknesses. This is a place where people understand suffering and sacrifice. This is a place of good, hearty people who tell the truth. Honesty is valued here and hard work, too.
Maybe it's because of our position as butt of so many national jokes that Kansans have become so patient. There's intolerance here--unfortunately more than I want to believe at times--but when you meet a Kansan one-on-one, the facades of bigotry often melt away. Not always, but often enough to know something good lies within. We know we have warts. We know we have scars. But, from my experience, we own them. Maybe not every individual... but a collective "we." One cannot have suffered repeated offenses without developing a degree of humility.
A Kansan knows it isn't very humble to speak of one's humility. We know we are broken as much as anyone else, but we are also aware of our humanity. We want good, honest stories more than we need grand lectures from any pulpit--even a secular one.
I work as a guidance counselor in a small, Northeast Kansas high school. Every year, we receive at least one new student from some other portion of the country--California, Florida, Michigan in the last few years--and are charged with the care of this adolescent. We joke that we're supposed to "save" them because we are used to being the brunt of jokes."Send the boy to Kansas. They'll learn him right. And if not... there's nothing to do out there, anyway."
We take this "orphan" in an make him our own. We care for her and teach her how to be good to other people and that she matters. We build relationships. We listen. We try again when we fail because we know--thanks to lessons from our rough climate won by generations of farmers and ranchers--failure is coming.
But so is triumph, little victories of the most mundane, everyday variety.
Go on. Make fun of us. Ask about Toto (the dog not the band). Try and win us with golden tongues and well-formed words. Just be honest. Genuine. Flawed and human. If you are, you just might belong here:
The Flint Hills of Kansas seen from the air (Jim Richardson, National Geographic)
It occurred to me to write a short essay about the word verve by chance. As a general rule, I try to stick to my last and stay away from Romance etymology, even though the logic of research occasionally makes me meddle with it. About two months ago near the street where I live (for a story to win confidence, it usually has to contain a few superfluous references to time, place, and exact numbers), I noticed an ad by a realty called “Verve” and decided that, if not only producers of energy drinks and admirers of female beauty but also real estate agents find it possible to adopt such a pompous name, there would be little harm in devoting a few lines to its use and history in this blog.
Verve goes back to Old French. It surfaced there in the eleven-hundreds, occurred rarely (as a rule, in the plural), and seems to have meant “talk” or perhaps “fantasies” before, in the seventeenth century, it acquired its modern sense “high spirits, animation, enthusiasm.” (More about this word’s original sense will be said below.) Also close to the end of that century verve appeared in English, endowed with an almost technical meaning “special bent, vein, or talent in writing” (OED). “Intellectual vigor, especially as manifest in literary productions; great vivacity of ideas and expression” became common from approximately 1870. In general use the word signifies “energy, vigor, spirit.”
For a long time verve must have been unintelligible to the English public. The OED quotes Ouida, who italicized the word as late as in 1863. But Ouida’s first language was French, and, her bizarre habits and penchant for ostentation notwithstanding, she may have been wary of sounding snobbish. It is certainly a high-flown word. (I am pleased to report that the house was sold in a week. This is what it means for a business to have an appealing name.) Today verve often graces reviews and articles dealing with music and all kinds of performances, and is expected to demonstrate their authors’ mastery of the language.
English lexicographers first treated verve as an intruder. It is absent from the early editions of Webster. The etymologists Mueller and Wedgwood ignored it, and Skeat featured it only in the fourth (last) edition of his dictionary. Sometimes verve appeared marked as an exclamation with a single reference: French. Modern English dictionaries, when they do not copy the “standard” etymology from French sources, often say: “Of dubious (uncertain, unknown) origin,” and indeed, as we will see, some doubts about its derivation remain. In 1886, after all the opinions on this matter had been offered and the best one seemingly agreed upon, August Scheler, an outstanding French etymologist, did not object to the solution rejected by most. In searching for the origin of a difficult word, it pays off to consult more reference works than one.
As usual, some conjectures have no justification. Such is tracing verve to fervor, because the initial consonants do not match. The same holds for such improbable etymons of verve as German werfen (Dutch verpen) “to throw,” Latin vertere “to turn” (here even the meanings are too remote), French vertige “dizziness; vertigo,” and French vertu “courage, valor; virtue.” But the oldest conjecture, though it was wide of the truth, found a curious justification in later scholarship. The first great French linguist of the post-medieval period was Gilles Ménage (1613-1692). He derived verve “enthusiasm” from Verbe Divin “Divine Word,” associated with The Son of God (filius Dei), the second person of the Trinity.
A serious exploration of the etymology of verve, as of so many other French words, began with Friedrich Diez, the founder of Romance comparative philology. He cited Latin verva “ram’s head used as an ornament on the wall.” This may have been a so-called popular word, motpopulaire, because it occurred only in an inscription. Readers of Latin prose may remember vervex “wether, castrated ram.” The connection between the animal name and verve was allegedly provided by words like Italian capriccio. Capriccio, caprice, capriole, and in English its abbreviated form caper refer us to Latin caper “goat,” an animal famous for its leaps and “capers.”
To buttress Diez’s conclusion, a clever argument has been offered. “Ram” designated not only the animal but also a siege weapon used to beat down walls, that is, a battering ram. The way from an efficient weapon to force and vigor is short. Diez’s explanation was accepted by some of his illustrious contemporaries, including Littré, the author of a celebrated French dictionary. However, all the words listed above, both French and Italian, have suffixes. A change from an animal name to an abstract noun would be unusual. Verve was also approached from Latin verber (or rather from its more frequent plural verbera) “lash, whip, flogging, blow.” The loss of final -r between Latin and French does not appear troublesome.
Diez also considered another derivation of verve, which he rejected but which despite his rejection ultimately won the day. In Old French, verve meant “talk” (sometimes “insincere talk” or possibly “fantasies”) and “proverb.” Definitive conclusions about its meaning in the medieval period are hard to draw, for Old French verve has been attested in few places, and it was traditionally coupled with serve. In some places, it had no other justification except as being a filler for rhyme. In the other Romance languages, verve has no cognates. Those who paid special attention to “talk” and “proverb” set up Latin verba “words” (the plural of verbum) as the etymon of verve. The sense development was reconstructed approximately so: from “words” to “(empty) talk,” further to “fantasies,” and finally to “animation.”
To accept this reconstruction (and the same holds for verbera), one should account for the change of the group -rb- to -rv- between Latin and French. Such a change occurred, but most rarely. The only credible example is verbena “sacred foliage,” whose Spanish and Portuguese reflex is verbena, but the French name of the plant is verveine; hence Engl. vervain. However, the idea that in Vulgar Latin rb tended to become rv is, in principle, acceptable. Franz Settegast (the scholar mentioned in the post on baron), who set up verbera as the etymon of verve and reconstructed the path from “blow” to “verve,” thought of some metaphor like the lashing of the tongue (his examples are French).
The most authoritative dictionaries of French offer only the verba-verve etymology. If it is correct, Ménage, as mentioned earlier, has been partly vindicated, for he may have pointed to the word that did ultimately yield verve. What then is the end result? It is true that an abstract noun cannot go back to an animal name without some suffixes added to it (sheepish, from sheep, is fine, but sheep for “shyness” is not), so that reference to goats probably misses its target. But the now almost universally accepted etymology does not look like a revelation either. Although verbera is a bit too long to have yielded verve, Settegast’s hypothesis does not look hopeless.
We may perhaps ignore the phonetic difficulty (rb to rv), but the semantic path from “words” to “verve” or, for that matter, from “blow” to “verve,” is not straight, even though “fantasies” provides an intermediate stage and castigate could imply both moral and physical punishment. Yet those who say that verve is “of unknown origin” need not do so. “Unknown” is a strong word. It suggests that no information on the subject is available. With regard to verve this is clearly wrong, and, since in this case English etymologists contributed nothing to the discovery of the truth, it would be fair to reproduce the verdict of the most reliable French dictionaries and add a caveat. Nor should it be recommended to repeat the derivation of verve from verba without a caveat. The main aim of a good etymological dictionary should be discussion rather than perpetuating dogma.
We’ve collected the books debuting on Indiebound’s Indie Bestseller List for the week ending August 24, 2014–a sneak peek at the books everybody will be talking about next month.
(Debuted at #5 in Hardcover Fiction) Adultery by Paulo Coelho: “Linda knows she’s lucky. Yet every morning when she opens her eyes to a so-called new day, she feels like closing them again. Her friends recommend medication. But Linda wants to feel more, not less.” (August 2014)
Peer Pressure Children’s Book, Hockey Agony Earns Story Monster Approval
CHANDLER, AZ (August, 2014) – The judges of the Story Monster Approved program, which recognizes accomplished authors in the field of children's literature have spoken, and Hockey Agony by Donna M. McDine and illustrated by Julie Hammond has earned approval.
About Hockey Agony: Peer Pressure and Honesty many times go hand-in-hand. What is Larry to do when his teammate asks him to cheat when he is given the responsibility to run the clock during the big hockey game? Outwardly, it may seem he will follow suit, but his conscious tells him otherwise at the moment of truth.
About the Author: Donna McDine is a multiple award-winning children's author. She writes and moms from her home in the historical hamlet Tappan, NY. McDine is a member of the SCBWI and Family Reading Partnership. Learn more about McDine’s writing career at www.donnamcdine.comandwww.donna-mcdine.blogspot.com.
The colorful, kid-friendly Story Monster Approved seal attracts the attention of young readers much more than a sticker intended for adult scrutiny. Kids know when they see the Story Monster Approved patch it means children their own age enjoyed the book and are recommending they read it, too. How do they know that? Because after books pass the first round of rigorous judging – which is done by industry experts, the books are then judged by a panel of youth judges who must also endorse the books before they can receive the official seal of approval.
"Who better to judge children’s books than the children who read them?” explains Linda F. Radke, president of Five Star Publications, Inc., the same company that launched the Dragonfly Book Awards program, now in its fourth year. "Judging these books gives children a wonderful sense of importance and responsibility. Some of our judging coordinators have told us that students who usually don’t enjoy reading or have difficulty reading have gotten a much-needed boost due to their judging responsibilities and have requested to serve as judges again."
Authors interested in having their books considered for Story Monster Approved designation should visit www.StoryMonsters.com and download an entry form. Books are divided into the following categories with distinctions made between fiction and nonfiction: Preschool to Kindergarten, Grades 1-3, and Grades 4-6.
Full Media Kit, Headshot, Book Cover Art and more are available upon request.
A Sandy Grave ~ January 2014 ~ Guardian Angel Publishing, Inc. ~ 2014 Purple Dragonfly 1st Place Picture Books 6+, Story Monster Approved, Beach Book Festival Honorable Mention 2014, Reader's Favorite Five Star Review
Powder Monkey ~ May 2013 ~ Guardian Angel Publishing, Inc. ~ Story Monster Approved, Reader's Favorite Five Star Review
Hockey Agony ~ January 2013 ~ Guardian Angel Publishing, Inc. ~ Story Monster Approved Reader's Farvorite Five Star Review
The Golden Pathway ~ August 2010 ~ Guardian Angel Publishing, Inc. ~ Literary Classics Silver Award and Seal of Approval, Readers Favorite 2012 International Book Awards Honorable Mention and Dan Poynter's Global e-Book Awards Finalist
My niece, Miranda Kephart, will soon turn 21. Having made her way to Yale with countless science credits and awards, Miranda soon emerged as a truly stellar ballroom dancer—learning the steps, and the artistry, at lightning speed. This foxtrot was filmed at Yale's 2014 Spring Show, and Miranda's old aunt (that would be me) watches it through teary eyes.
Happy Almost Birthday, Miranda.
And Happy Already Birthday, Owen. (Owen being Miranda's brother, who dazzled the Beth Blog World last year with this amazing Rubik's Cube performance and who is now settled in for his first year of college.)
One of the biggest ironies of the Convention Center expansion’s demise is that this path — the one that has taken six years, cost $10 million and ended in nothing — was considered the least risky. And yet, with one 7-0 vote Tuesday, the San Diego City Council abandoned the effort. The $520 million plan to expand the facility — the biggest construction project on the city’s docket — is now dead. It won’t have to fight off the last environmental litigation from attorney Cory Briggs, who engineered this collapse. It will not pass go.
The Convention Center expansion was a key in San Diego Comic-Con agreeing to stay in San Diego, and signing a multi-year contract to stay. The planned $520 million project was to have been funded by a hotel tax, but his aced many legal challenges, and opposition to the plan won out. Those in favor of the expansion said it would draw other big shows that the current Convention Center can’t handle, but I’m not sure huge trade shows themselves were a big enough growth area to justify the expense:
Councilman David Alvarez, who voted against the financing plan two years ago, said he was pleased that his colleagues decided against pursuing an appeal.
“We have a new opportunity to move forward with a better project, including a potential stadium site, and engage San Diegans in a citywide dialogue about how to build the best facility possible,” Alvarez said. “The people of San Diego should get a say on whether to fund a convention center expansion, and discuss the size, scope and location of the project that best serves the needs of our city.”
Stadium site? Yep, the other problem in downtown is getting a new stadium for the Chargers, and now the idea of a dual use stadium/convention center seems to be dancing in the heads of some—possibly in that big area on the other side of Petco Park. But that would also have to be paid for by someone. And probably not cosplayers.
The move to pursue a naming rights deal is fueled by the center’s growing tab for repairs, most notably the need to replace the fabric structure of the upper level Sails Pavilion.
“The Sails Pavilion is 25 years old, and its useful life is 20 years, so it’s rotting and likely to fail anytime soon,” said center spokesman Steve Johnson.
In addition, the center no longer has the funds to maintain an operating reserve, a concern raised repeatedly by the city’s independent budget analyst. The center is largely self-supporting through the revenues it gets from leasing the bayfront facility, although it does receive an annual city subsidy of $3.4 million, $1.9 million of which goes to the Tourism Authority staffing for booking large conventions.
So now what?
As I’ve covered the convention center story for the last few years the Chargers dilemma has always been bubbling under the surface—Qualcomm Stadium (formerly Jack Murphy Stadium) was built in 1967 and it’s about what you would expect from that era, without any nostalgic value to keep it around. While I’m not an expert in the local politics surrounding this, I’d suspect getting a new stadium will become the new #1 dream project.
As for Comic-Con International, it’s current deal is to stay in San Diego throughout 2016. When the extension was originally signed in 2010, it was based on the planned expansion. IN the intervening four years, the big show seems to have taken many steps to deal with its constrained facilities. For a long time, the biggest problem facing the con was finding a way to increase revenue with ticket sales at a finite level. They seem to have found ways to grow with more sponsorships and spreading out to the nearby hotels.
I never got around to writing my SDCC 2014 final report, but it was obvious to me that things had been scaled back this year, some things internally, some things externally. I don’t think the expansion plan failing was unforeseen by anyone involved with Comic-Con. And like Mark Evanier, I can’t see San Diego not being in San Diego. 130,000 people it will be. Only so many people can go to the Super Bowl or the Oscars of the Westminster Dog Show. There can be endless crowds milling around the Gaslamp district, but even that seemed to lose a bit of luster what with the Zombie Walk hit and run. It’s likely that we’ve just reached the size that things are going to be for the foreseeable future.
In some ways, I’m glad to hear the expansion won’t go through. The outdoorsy area behind whe center added a nice natural seaside feeling, and as shown by this years Simpsons display and Gotham zipline, it can still be put to very good use.
In the meantime, perhaps that decaying roof is our new ticking time bomb.
This summer, ALA’s Office for Information Technology Policy and Office for Intellectual Freedom released a policy brief marking a decade of school and public libraries limiting patrons’ access to online information due to the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA).
Since 2003, those schools and public libraries that accept federal funding to purchase internet access have been required by CIPA to use filtering software on all of their internet-enabled computers. This filtering software must block access to images classified as “obscene,” “child pornography,” or “harmful to minors.” Any adult wishing to access material blocked under the auspices of “harmful to minors” is backed in his/her quest for content by the First Amendment and CIPA, which requires that the material be unblocked by the school or library. The first two categories (“obscene” and “child pornography” images) are not similarly protected under the First Amendment, so schools and libraries are not required to unblock those materials.
In theory, CIPA is fairly unobjectionable: none of us want to provide materials harmful to minors, child pornography, or obscenity. In practice, however, schools and libraries have applied CIPA in a draconian fashion: over-filtering for fear of patrons finding objectionable materials and for fear of losing federal funding. Going above and beyond CIPA’s filtering guidelines has resulted in egregious bans on social media, gaming, and emerging sites; nursing exams and other health information being blocked; embarrassment and confusion for patrons; and a negative public perception of technology at the library. Furthermore, as Fencing Out Knowledge states, over-filtering does a disservice to our 21st century learners, is contrary to ALA’s Bill of Rights, and disproportionately affects the economically disadvantaged.
Fortunately, the report includes four recommendations for ALA to take action on this CIPA-originating issue of over-filtering. The recommendations are:
Increase awareness of the spectrum of filtering choices.
Develop a toolkit for school leaders.
Establish a digital repository of internet filtering studies.
Conduct research to explore the educational use of social media platforms and assess the impact of filtering in schools.
While ALA tackles those items at a national level, in your own community you can advocate for young adults’ broad access to the internet by becoming familiar with CIPA’s requirements; educating yourself on the harms of over-filtering; and advocating for digital policies that best fit your school or library mission and your teenagers’ 21st century needs. Don’t wait for ALA to finish their action items! Start the new school year by coming to the table now. Read the report as soon as possible, and become a consistent, professional voice at your school or library’s Technology Committee.
You can email her directly for information about her online writing workshops at Madmoon55@aol.com
Thank you, Carol, for sharing one of your 167 ways for our TeachingAuthors readers to find their voice and tell their stories.
Finding Your Voice
In addition to writing and teaching workshops, I also consult with private clients on their various writing projects.Recently, one of them, a woman in her late 70s who is writing a series of family stories, sent me a remembrance of her beloved grandmother to read and critique.
In the piece, Joan writes about her many experiences with her grandmother from when she was a young girl.As I read it, I realized that I didn’t really understand what was so special about “Gram,” though I knew Joan felt there were many things, else why commit this woman to paper?
And so after marking up the draft—mostly with questions—I summed up my comments at the end, including suggestions for the next revision, then sent it back to Joan along with this note.
I definitely like this idea for a family story; it’s important for future generations to know the people who went before them.
I hope my notes, especially on the last page, will help in your revision. The major thing when starting to revise is to list for yourself those 2-4 most important characteristics/personality traits of your grandmother, as you experienced them.
ou don’t necessarily have to then list these traits in the actual revision, but you want the story—the specific experiences/details/scenes—to illustrate those. In other words, here’s the evidence that supports why you believe Gram is someone worth writing about.
I also referred Joan to my book, particularly Chapter Two, “Four Really Helpful Writing Techniques.”The fourth technique, the Character Sketch, describes how I came to write one particular memory of a high school teacher, including the process by which that memory emerged on the blank page.
I felt this might be helpful to Joan as she attempted to more specifically capture what was essential about her grandmother.
Following is that technique, which I have copied directly from my book’s initial manuscript.I hope it will serve as a good reminder for all of us—new and practicing writers alike—when we come to write about the very special people in our own lives.
4.Character Sketch:When you use the character sketch technique, you do more than simply describe someone physically.That’s important of course as s/he will come more alive on the page the better that you—and your intended reader—can see what that person looks like, sounds like, moves like.
But a character sketch becomes more interesting when you add the person’s relevant personality traits and significant biographical information.
For instance, if I were to do a character sketch of one of my favorite high school teachers, I’d include her height (short), athletic skill (she was our phys ed teacher), and coloring (her small, olive-dark face).I’d also mention how young she was, and how demanding she was of us.I’d describe how she looked while bouncing down the school halls (even when not wearing tennis shoes), gesticulating wildly alongside her friend and colleague, a much taller, paler, and mellower teacher.Oh, and I guess I would mention that she was a nun who dressed in the black and white habit of her religious community—both in the gym and out.
I’d include relevant biographical information—a matter of keen interest among her former students, especially her decision to leave the convent after 20 years, marry a much younger man, sail around the world with him for a year, then return home and open a pizza parlor.
As I sit here now and write about the former Sister Joseph, more images of her come to mind, each small detail leading to another, and another, and then finally to a specific scene:
It is 1958 and our girls volleyball team has gathered in the gym after school for volleyball practice.As we fumble our way around the court, Sr. Joe paces up and down the sidelines, barking orders at us, her black veil tied behind her back with a fat rubber band, the dour nun shoes exchanged for bright white tennies.Her diminishing patience at our ineptitude now exhausted, she charges onto the court and to the spike position of my team.Pushing aside Loretta, our best player, she yells “Set me up!” to the quaking girl next to her.The rest of us stand there still as stones, and watch as Sr. Joe rises like some fiery rocket and hammers that ball over the net.
Not long after my book was published in July 2008, I received a very surprising email from one of its readers.Here’s how it begins:
Dear Ms. LaChapelle,
I am the "much younger man" to whom you refer on page 33 of your new book who married your former volleyball coach. I want to tell you that I (and she) nearly fell on the floor reading that recollection. While some of the details were slightly off, the essence of Sr. Joseph was right on.
In 1974, Ronald DeFeo Junior killed all six members of his family in their home in Amityville, New York. A year later, another family moved into that home only to move out 28 days later, saying they were terrorized by something paranormal in the house. Their story was captured in a book by Jay Anson, then subsequently retold in various films and other adaptations.
In Micol Ostow's new novel Amity, we meet two teenagers who live in Amityville at two different times. This is not time travel; instead, they alternate narrative duties, weaving their stories together chapter by chapter. Inspired by the real story but wholly fictional, this YA book is now available for late night reading. But I promise, this interview is not scary, and neither is Micol.
Do you recall the first time you heard about the Amityville Horror?
The first time I heard about the Amityville Horror was when reading Stephen King's Danse Macabre, where he talks about the components of an effective horror movie. In fact, I didn't realize it was based on a true story (and that there was a bestselling book about the original crime!) until much later. Once I became interested in a riff on Amityville as a possible subject for a novel, I went back and read the original book by Jay Anson, as well as High Hopes, the book written specifically about the DeFeo family (as opposed to the Lutzes, who moved in after the DeFeos' murders and claim to have experienced hauntings within).
When did the seed for your novel Amity firmly plant itself in your brain?
Around Halloween, 2011. My novel Family had come out in April and I was tossing around ideas for the next book under contract. My husband was out of town and I was indulging in my favorite guilty pleasure: horror movies and Red Vines. The Amityville 2005 remake was on, and something clicked. But it wasn't until several months later that I had a pitch to show my agent, and it was a few months after that before we put something together for my editor. I went back and forth a lot trying to decide whether I wanted to tell the Lutz family's story, or the DeFeos' story. Both concepts – the "possessed," murderous son, and the beleaguered, haunted successors to the house – were equally compelling to me. Ultimately that's what led me to tell two alternate narratives, set ten years apart. That way I didn't have to choose!
When you started writing the book, did you know the ending? (Readers, don't worry - we kept this answer spoiler free!)
I one hundred percent knew the ending, and it didn't change one bit, strangely. Maybe a hint of clarification here and there. Some of the supernatural bits tend to read more straightforward in my brain than on a first-draft page. But it was an interesting process as compared specifically to Family, my first book with Egmont. The ending to Family changed three times, as did my feelings about where the protagonist needed to be, emotionally, by the story's end. This one was much more clear-cut. The two narratives needed to converge and I could only really see one way for that to happen.
Have you ever been to Amityville, New York?
We have family out on Long Island and therefore drive past the Amityville exit on the LIE several times a year, at least. I always point it out, like a huge dork. But I've never visited the house and to be honest, at this point, I probably wouldn't. It's been renovated heavily so specifically, those iconic half-moon “eye” windows are gone. And more to the point, there's also the fact that 1) it's a little icky to make a spectacle of a place where a family was murdered and 2) it's actually a private home, where people live. Personally, I prefer the make-believe versions of the Amityville story and am happier to spend my time there.
You've written for a number of different audiences - kids, teens, adults, fantasy, comedy, mixed media. Do you consciously try to mix it up?
I really don't try to mix it up, believe it or not! It just seems to work out that way! I was fortunate enough to come into publishing through the back door, in that I worked as an editor in the work-for-hire realm. So some of my earlier contracts were the results of editors seeking me out and offering me the chance to work with them. (Note: this is not the typical author's path to publication and I am very, very lucky. Trust me, I know!) The Bradford Novels were the product of an editor's original concept, and Emily Goldberg Learns to Salsa came from a publishing friend suggesting I mine some of my own adolescent experiences and pitch her a story. Even So Punk Rock was actually originally conceived of by my brother, David Ostow, who worked with me on the story and illustrated the book.
Family was the first novel I sat down to write, as they say, "on spec." And because it wasn't under contract and was coming purely from me, I was free to experiment. I had no idea when I sat down to my computer that what would come out was going to be such a massive departure from my previous work. But once it was published, it was treated as a sort of literary debut. So for Amity, I was much more conscious of trying to write something that would match Family in tone and audience.
What genre or audiences would you like to write for that you haven't yet?
As far as what's coming down the pike that's different, I have a chapter book series releasing this spring called Louise Trapeze, about a little girl in a circus family who wants to learn to fly on the trapeze but is afraid of heights. Talk about a departure!
Have you always been drawn to the horror genre?
Yes! My mother is a huge horror buff and always had the TV set to old B-movies, and scary-covered novels on her nightstand. They completely terrified me but obviously burrowed into my subconscious.
I've known people who can watch horror movies but can't read horror novels, and I've known people who can read horror but can't watch it. Do you lean more towards one than the other?
Love them both! Although in general, I watch a broader range of horror movies than I read horror novels. The only category of horror I really stay away from is the straight-up torture. The extreme gore really doesn't do it for me. With the books I tend to lean more heavily toward literary horror or dark thrillers as opposed to paranormal... and basically anything in the Stephen King cannon.
QUICK DRAW! Time for simple questions:
First horror story that gave you goosebumps: The Dollhouse Murders by Betty Ren Wright (Little Willow adds: I liked that book, too!)
First scary film that gave you nightmares: Frankenstein
Horror movie or book that you love but can only watch or read in the daylight:It by Stephen King
Favorite funny spooky story:Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion
Favorite funny spooky movie: Shaun of the Dead
Favorite horror authors: Stephen King, Joe Hill, Shirley Jackson, Daniel Krause, Sarah Waters for purer horror. Adele Griffin (Tighter), Barry Lyga (I Hunt Killers), Libba Bray (The Diviners), Nova Ren Suma (Imaginary Girls), Mariana Baer (Frost), Thomas Harris (The Silence of the Lambs) for creepy psychological thriller/suspense-y stories. Robert Bloch's original Psycho was great. But that's really just the tip of the iceberg.
Favorite season of American Horror Story: Season One, Murder House, was amazing for just flinging all the fundamental tropes at the wall, and doing something different – and genuinely scary! – on TV. And I absolutely loved that finale.
Favorite Halloween costume you've worn: I'm super boring on Halloween! I love celebrating and decorating and eating treats and watching movies, but I rarely dress up. I'm kind of a party pooper that way. Last year I wore my “Overlook Hotel” tee-shirt and called it a day. But my daughter usually cycles through at least three costumes over the course of the festivities so I think that evens us out.
Ouija board: Wouldn't touch it with a ten-foot pole or bring it on? I'm a little superstitious. I'd rather not tempt fate.
Ghosts and/or haunted houses: Believe, don't believe, or open-minded? I have not had any paranormal experiences myself, but as per the above and being slightly superstitious – I do believe, actually. Kind of. Let's call it open-minded. That works.
What's your favorite ghost story? EGMONT USA is giving away a signed copy of the finished book to one lucky USA/Canada resident. Leave a comment below with the title of a book, movie, or play that chills you -- or even a personal story! -- along with your email address. You may mask the address, like myname (at) eeemail (dot) com - but we must be able to reach you to get your mailing information. The first comment with the proper info will get the signed book!
A client sends a gift of blank notebooks in the wake of a job I gladly did (so many jobs, through so many years, I've done—but this gift, so unexpected). An author for whom I read and blurbed a debut novel sends a beautiful card and gift—wholly lovely thoughtfulness. The weather unfolded, magnificently. I wrote the first two pages of a book.
All of that was enough and then, end of day, an email from the impeccable Elly P. of Alaska-trip fame arrives. The world's top National Geo Junior Explorer who has a travel pedigree that outshines most, wears a camera around her neck like a pro, jumps into frigid bay water with nary a blink, and kept me company on a glorious boat with stories about herself and at least one fantastical story that she made up on the spot, while spreading Nutella across her breakfast toast.
Elly P. Elly P. All these weeks later, she writes to me.
Elly, you may have taken a bunch of photos of the crazy author lady with the untamed Alaska hair, but I've got pictures of you being your glorious intelligent, determined, clever, funny self. I've got these.
New York Times culture reporter Dave Itzkoff has landed a deal with Henry Holt and Company to pen a biography about the lateRobin Williams. Williams (pictured, via) had passed on in early August 2014.
Executive editor Paul Golob negotiated the deal with Daniel Greenberg of the Levine Greenberg Rostan Literary Agency. Golob will edit the manuscript. The publisher has not scheduled a release date for the untitled book.
Award-winning, multi-genre author Susan Whitfield is the author of five published mysteries and Killer Recipes, a real cookbook with mysterious names featuring recipes from mystery writers across the country. Her first women’s fiction novel, Slightly Cracked, was published in 2012.
Please tell everyone a little about yourself, Susan.
Susan: A life-long native of North Carolina, I’ve lived in both the eastern and western parts of the state. I taught high school English for thirteen years before moving in high school administration for the remainder of my career. I retired and began my second career, writing. I have five published mystery novels: Genesis Beach, set along NC’s Crystal Coast; Just North of Luck, set in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Hell Swamp, set along Black River in Pender County, Sin Creek in Wilmington, and Sticking Point in Beaufort. I’m a member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, Coastal Carolina Mystery Writers, and North Carolina Writers Network. My husband and I live in Wayne County just a few miles from our two sons and their families.
Briefly tell us about your latest book. Is it part of a series or stand-alone?
Susan: I’ve been writing the Logan Hunter Mysteries, publishing the first novel back in 2007. As much as I have loved Logan, I knew as an author I wanted to write other stories and perhaps other genres. When I wrote Slightly Cracked, women’s fiction, I knew I wanted to write more in that genre, so I ended the Logan Hunter Mysteries with Sticking Point, published in February of this year. I think I left Logan in a good place after putting her through some horrible ordeals in Genesis Beach, Just North of Luck, Hell Swamp, and especially Sin Creek. While I did enjoy the series, I also have a fondness for stand-alones like Slightly Cracked. I am currently trying my hand at historical fiction. More on that later.
What’s the hook for the book?
Susan: Tying this into the last question, in Sticking Point, Logan investigates the death of a fifteen-year-old bully whose death was ruled natural causes.
Who’s the most unusual/most likeable character?
Susan: In Sticking Point, Logan must work with another investigator whom she thinks she despises. They are uncomfortable and it shows, but as the investigations rolls along, they begin to understand and appreciate how the tragic past has affected each of them. My favorite character in this book is the bed and breakfast owner, a British lady with strict rules and secrets of her own, but the novel moves from a mystery into a love story that I’m quite proud to have written.
Do you have specific techniques to help you maintain the course of the plot?
Susan: I hate outlines so I start without one and then at some point I reach a roadblock and build an outline to get me straightened out. As much as I hate them, I have to admit they’ve fixed a multitude of problems for me.
Do you have a specific writing style? Preferred POV?
Susan: I call my own writing “elementary” because I don’t use big words. It’s just easy everyday writing. I prefer first person but I wrote the women’s fiction in third person because it’s important for the reader to get into the heads of four characters.
How does your environment/upbringing color your writing?
Susan: I grew up in North Carolina and have lived here all my life. It makes sense to set the books here. While I don’t exaggerate my Southern background, I try to use local and regional dialects and showcase different areas of the state. Setting is almost always a feature in my books.
Share the best review (or a portion) that you’ve ever had.
“Sin Creek by Susan Whitfield, is an eye-opener and a heart-breaker, but with the sweetest redeeming ending.
Having had a long-standing friendship with a detective, when reading Sin Creek, I felt a sense of déjà vu about events I know to be true. These foul crimes do exist and are proliferating all over the world, both promoted by and brought to law enforcement attention by the Internet. Whitfield portrays the underpinnings of one man’s vile world of pornography with researched accuracy.
Though this story is fiction, the very same types of exploitation continue to happen and escalate. If you never understood how lewd and dangerous the world of porn is, read Sin Creek. It’s fiction but true to life. It’ll make you shudder.”
What are your current projects?
Susan: I am currently writing an historical mystery, titled Sprig of Broom, about an ancestor who was a Knight of the Bath. This is by far the most challenging project I’ve ever done because I’m traveling back to medieval times. Research is on-going and I want to represent my ancestor as accurately as possible while filling in the gaps with fiction that seems to be true. It’s a slow process and I anticipate a lengthy amount of time before it’s complete.
Where can folks learn more about your books and events?
In response to the ever-increasing number of requests regarding the appropriate use of social media from conscientious award committee members wishing to respect the code of confidentiality that has sustained the stature of these venerable awards well, the ALSC Board of Directors established a task force (TF) to examine the current policies and bring forth recommendations. The TF was intentionally designed to include a range of member and stakeholder thinking, and consisted of a representative from the publishing profession and four past or current award committee chairs; one of whom is a reviewer and blogger of national reputation, another of whom has served as consultant to the award committees for the past three years and has grappled with the queries and concerns from circumspect members and chairs. The issue of confidentiality within the changing landscape of electronic communication and social media was carefully considered. Many colleagues, including children’s librarians and publishers beyond those who actually served on the TF, were surveyed and consulted.
The TF and the ALSC Board absolutely acknowledge and respect the role that social media play in the professional responsibilities of librarians. We recognize their benefits and power in accessing, assessing, and promoting books and information to our colleagues and to our clientele. We value the dynamic discussion that they facilitate amongst passionate professionals. We appreciate the possibilities for enriching our service and our lives. However, we recognize that there are pitfalls as well. As former Horn Book editor Paul Heins observed in a School Library Journal letter to the editor from May 1972, “Twentieth Century life has become overorganized and overcomplex,” and that was over forty years and several eons ago.
Privacy is a price one may pay for public dissemination of information and opinion. As information professionals we have always worked to balance the public’s right to know with the individual’s right to privacy. ALSC award committee members value the confidentiality that guards the privacy of all committee discussion and fosters an environment of candor, honesty, and flexibility. Indeed, the preservation of this policy has kept the awards, as noted in your editorial, “admirably if boringly scandal-free.” Committee members are free to speak frankly, ask questions, and change their minds without worry that their comments will be repeated or even implied beyond that meeting room. If these confidences are compromised, and the effects compounded through global dissemination by electronic means, it could have a chilling result. This courtesy also extends to authors and illustrators whose work is under consideration. Many have heard Lauren Myracle speak of her public embarrassment when Shine was mistakenly announced as being on the short list for the National Book Award. When committee conjecture or inside information is released, it travels far and fast and can never be fully retrieved, much like the old folktale of gossip and feathers in the wind. Such a situation would undermine both the process and the perception of these prestigious awards. Committees of the present and future deserve the same protections and considerations as committees of the past.
A receptive atmosphere is also cultivated when members enter into the discussions with an open mind and without taking an official, public position on any title prior to discussion. Such a stance, whether endorsement or indictment, does have an influence on the ensuing deliberations, where every title should begin on level ground. While committee members are encouraged to discuss their opinions verbally (despite the title of the editorial), when commending or condemning an eligible title in writing via blog post, tweet, email, or signed review, a member is establishing a viewpoint from which the rest of the committee must then work. Readers of blogs and recipients of email are not under a confidentiality agreement and not constrained from forwarding on a committee member’s opinion, thus increasing the influence exponentially. As Miss Cary exhorts Benji in Christopher Paul Curtis’s novel The Madman of Piney Woods, “The written word is different. Once you commit something to print, you are, in effect, chained to it. It is always available to be looked at again and traced back to you.” That is true more than ever these days.
Despite the assertions of your editorial, librarians (and editors of review journals) who serve on award committees are still “able to promote good books” and fulfill their professional responsibilities (and pleasures) in many ways:
• Members of all committees may write and publish unsigned reviews of any book.
• Members of all committees (except the Batchelder) may write signed reviews or discuss via social media any book previously published in other countries, or by an author or illustrator who is not an American citizen or resident.
• The Batchelder committee members may write signed reviews or discuss via social media any book that has not been translated.
• Books with no illustration provide a wide field for members of the Caldecott committee.
• Books with no text are available for Newbery committee members (and seeing that all three Caldecott Honor Books qualified for that category this year, it would seem a rich field).
• The Belpré committee members are welcome to write signed reviews or discuss via social media any books by non-Latino authors and illustrators.
• Members of the Sibert committee may write signed reviews or discuss via social media all works of fiction.
• Geisel committee members may write signed reviews or discuss via social media any books beyond the scope of a beginning reader.
• The wide and wonderful world of YA literature is available to all of us who value and evaluate literature for older youth.
The editorial calls for “more fresh air” in the awards program. Luckily, there is a plethora of blogs and discussion lists offering ample opportunity to follow the thoughts and insights of well-read colleagues who are not serving on award committees and to engage in communal speculation and promotion of worthy titles — combining electronic communication and professional expertise for the best possible advantage and allowing us to participate vicariously without jeopardizing the purity of the process and dissipating the distinction of the awards, as with the editorial’s example of the Children’s Choice Book Award, where too many voices can crescendo into cacophony.
I confess that I am perplexed by the comment that impugns the integrity of members who contribute unsigned reviews “and remain free to revel in the attentions of publishers eager to wine and dine them.” The implication is that attending a publisher’s event without making a public declaration about a book is somehow unethical. I know of no member, reviewer, or editor of a review journal, whether penning an opinion or not, who would be influenced in such a manner. While some committees and individual committee members occasionally do decide to forego such invitations, that is their prerogative.
I am indebted to award committee members for their dedication to service and for requesting clarifications that have led to examination of the policy. I honor their concern and commitment to maintaining the ethical standards that underpin the eminence of these awards, and their understanding that awards of distinction (e.g., the National Book Award, The New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Books, etc.) carry a commitment to a certain level of comportment. They have our complete trust and confidence.
I am proud to be a member of this passionate profession and am grateful to all those who have added their voice to this discussion. Even when we may differ in opinion on process, I know that ultimately we all agree in principle — we want the very best for children. I invite any interested parties to peruse the official documents.
After hearing that I spent a few days at a comics and medicine conference, an ordinarily taciturn patient with autism spectrum disorder revealed that he enjoyed Japanese manga comics. It was unexpected to see him smile or show such enthusiasm, although I wondered if manga’s many sexually exploitative themes kindled his intrigue. Discussing comics in session seemed like a good way to open closed doors and circumvent his limited communications skills.
A transgendered patient seemed equally thrilled to tell me of her affection for artist/author Alison Bechdel. In one day, I felt confident that I had stumbled upon an unexplored but promising clinical tool. A few mental health–related graphic novels left in the waiting room can accomplish a lot, especially when dwindling appointment times leave less and less time for psychotherapy.
ONI HARTSTEIN: I think the biggest lesson is that we all know each other much better than in the first year. The five-year point is when the staff really starts to gel with events, and that’s exactly what happened here. The quality of the event is higher than ever.
§ Huh well how do you like that: Marvel Has No Plans To Release Any Comics Based On ‘Big Hero 6′. This is the Disney animated movie based on Marvel Comics, but the subject matter has been thoroughly transformed. Straight out Disney kiddie comics are still a tough sell in the continental United States. And look at those characters. Who could possibly make comics about this gang!
A minor character who has been blown out of all proportion as these companies tend to do. I'd sooner read used toilet paper than anything with Deadpool in it.
Keep that to yourself, Terry. Just get on with it.
Okay, 75th Anniversary of Marvel and the celebrate with the feckin worse shit covers possible. Ahh, you say, but "photo-bombing is popular"....PHOTO bombing. Not sticking a third rate comic character as centre piece of a cover -photo-bombers are in the BACKGROUND YOU DUMB-ASSED MORONS.
Anyway, this is what Disney has released.
This October, Marvel celebrates its milestone 75th Anniversary – commemorating three quarters of a century of the best stories, the most iconic characters and one of the biggest legacies in entertainment. Oh, and Deadpool. The Merc With a Mouth is invading Marvel’s milestone anniversary for a series of special Deadpool 75th Anniversary Variants – as some of the best and brightest in the industry recreate famous covers from the past 75 years guest-starring the regeneratin’ degenerate.
Remember that time Deadpool fought the original Human Torch? Or the time he helped form the New Avengers? No? Well, that’s what these awesome variant covers are for! Be there when Deadpool makes his Marvel for these can’t miss variant covers!
“We really wanted to do something fun for our 75th Anniversary,” says Marvel SVP Sales & Marketing David Gabriel. “Seeing all these wonderful artists turn in these hilarious covers has been a blast and we can’t wait for fans to get their hands on them!”
Marvel urges retailers to check their orders on these hotly anticipated variant covers as they hit comic shelves through the month of October. No fan will want to miss the chance to see the Merc With a Mouth invade the Marvel Universe in a whole new way when Deadpool 75th Anniversary Variants come to your favorite Marvel comics in October!
Unoriginal. Brown stains in a pair of tramps(hobo) old knickers. Greed Greed Greed and STUPIDITY STUPIDITY STUPIDITY as every comic geek chic fool buys ALL the books "because its got Deadpool on it".
If you're experimenting with watercolor for the first time, a good way to get some practice is to do a study in sepia.
Here's a sketchbook page I did while waiting for a train in Italy about 20 years ago.
Parco della Montagnola, Bologna, Italy. Sculpture by Diego Sarti
By painting monochromatically, you remove the variables of chroma and hue. That lets you concentrate on the basics of the dampness of the paper, the amount of pigment on the brush, and the wetness of the brush. That's enough to think about.
Most subjects will call out for a variety of handling, including: 1. Large flat areas, such as the background of this painting. (I did that to simplify, or I would have missed my train) 2. Wet into wet blends, such as the shadow in the lower right, 3. Drybrush, such as along the cat's shoulder and the rock platform. (I missed my train anyway.)
Here are three tips: 1. Do a fairly careful graphite pencil drawing first. It's especially hard in watercolor to correct mistakes in the initial drawing. 2. If you need to erase, test the effect of the eraser on the paper on another page by rubbing the eraser on a patch and running a flat wash over that area. Some erasers leave behind a little oil or grease that can affect a wash. You can erase after the painting is fully dry and avoid this problem. 3. When you're ready to paint, make sure you have both a big brush and a little brush, and make sure your watercolor set has a mixing well in case you need to mix a large amount of wash. You don't want to have to stop in the middle of a big wash to mix more.
In Arthur Guptill's classic 1935 book Color in Sketching and Rendering, he demonstrates a few examples of commonplace objects painted in a monochrome watercolor wash. He recommends choosing an object that's white or relatively colorless, like this wooden basket. Painting it in actual sunlight, he noticed the darkness and sharpness of the shadow edge from C to B, the absolute dark accent at A, and the closeness of value at the plane change at (e) inside the basket.
This white china cup is an ideal subject because its faceted sides make the stepwise transitions from light to shadow abundantly clear. All these steps can be carefully modulated with the washes, and the process is immensely faster than charcoal. Plus the tones are smoother and purer. But it takes practice to do such an accomplished study, since you have to lay down the tone and leave it: you can't scrub on it or tweak it forever.
People through history seem to be conflicted about whether to call such a study a drawing or a painting, so they're often referred to as a "wash drawing." I love the fact that it's on the boundary line between drawing and painting.
Instead of sepia, you can use lampblack, ivory black, burnt umber, or Payne's grey, each of which has a slightly different character.
Other people’s lives are our business, as writers.
Tamsyn Murray wrote a lovely and important post a few days ago, about how vital empathy is for writers, readers, and the world. I agree with her entirely. When we stop imagining, and stop trying to understand the way other people (and cats!) think and feel and live, we start wars.
Here are some photographs I’ve come across in the last few months, from other people’s lives. A doorway to imagination, to empathy. What are the stories behind these pictures? Who and what did these people love, hate, fear, desire?
I know some of the stories. Others, I’ll never know. But if all of us can imagine, and do our best to empathise, maybe some of these stories will never be repeated.
Crimean Tatar girls in national costume, Crimea, 1930s
Ukrainian village women in national costume, central Ukraine, 1950s
Crimean Tatars in exile. Those who managed to take a sewing machine with them when they were deported from Crimea could make a living. Uzbekistan, 1950s
Photos retrieved by rescue workers from a bombed residential building in Nikolayevka, East Ukraine. Nearly two months later, no one has collected them from the grass outside
Kiss of Deception. (The Remnant Chronicles #1) Mary E. Pearson. 2014. Henry Holt. 489 pages. [Source: Library]
Kiss of Deception was an excellent fantasy. It is probably one of the best fantasies I've read all year. From start to finish, it held my attention. I really enjoyed the mystery aspect of it that held up for three-quarters of the book. The mystery being who is who.
Kiss of Deception has multiple narrators. Princess Lia is our heroine, our runaway bride. Some chapters are narrated by "The Prince," and other chapters are narrated by "The Assassin." To add to the delight OR possibly add to the confusion, there are chapters narrated by Rafe and Kaden. Readers know that Rafe could be the Prince OR the Assassin. Likewise, readers know that Kaden could be either the Prince or the Assassin. The first third of the novel focuses more on all three being on the go. The Princess has runaway, taking her maid Pauline with her. The Prince is chasing after her. The Assassin is chasing after her too. Of course, he has been hired by someone to kill her. And the Prince's motivations are vague. What happens when these two men find her hiding in a small country town? What happens when she begins to get to know these two men, Rafe and Kaden, over the course of a week or two?
Kiss of Deception was definitely suspenseful in places. There's a bit of an intrigue mixed dangerously OR delightfully with romance. Readers learn that there is so much to learn about the world in which this novel is set. There is a hint of depth to it. I wanted more--in a good way. It wasn't that this novel was inadequate, it was that what we know is so small in comparison to what we don't know. And there's this wanting to see more, know more. If fantasy worlds feel fake, then, the wanting is completely different. It isn't curiosity but frustration.
I felt this novel was well-written. I enjoyed the world-building. I enjoyed the characterization.
This year at the Decatur Book Festival I'll be speaking on a panel of mid-grade authors with the illustrious Deborah Wiles (REVOLUTION) and Tommy Hays (WHAT I CAME TO TELL YOU). (I'll share A BIRD ON WATER STREET, of course.) We'll be on the Children's Stage at 3:45 on Sunday. Our panel is called "Southern Drawl" (because we're all Southern writers) and it will be moderated by my friend, Vicky Alvear Shecter! But that's not all!! I'll also be moderating a panel myself on Saturday at 11:30am called "All in the Family." I'll interview two creative couples - James and Kimberly Dean of 'Pete the Cat' fame, and Frank Morrison and Connie Schofield-Morrison of I GOT THE RHYTHM. So please come Saturday or Sunday or both and I look forward to seeing you there!
Wasn’t yesterday awesome?! I hope you’ve been spending time in our forums. I can’t stress it enough — that’s where most of the WriteOnCon magic happens. Even if you don’t get your work commented on by an agent, you can learn a lot from the comments they leave for others.
We also hope you got a lot of information yesterday on what makes a good pitch. We have several more pitch events today, so we’re hoping to get through more of the HUNDREDS of pitches that have been submitted via our Google form.