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1. Meet Jared Thomas, author of Calypso Summer

Jared Thomas, thanks for talking to Boomerang Books.  Calypso Summer (Magabala Books) gave me a break-through insight into a young Aboriginal man. Calypso is a brilliant character. He tries so hard to make his life, and the lives of those around him, work, but it’s tough. Could you tell us about him and his cousin, Run? Calypso […]

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2. Why I don't want to self-publish again

(Kate Wilson of the wonderful Nosy Crow asked me to write a guest post for her on my experiences of self-publishing as a published author. For your info, she didn't know what those experiences were, so there was no direction or expectation. I have re-posted it here, with permission. Note that this is personal experience, not advice.)

Many writers, previously published or not, talk excitedly about why they enjoy self-publishing. Let me tell you why I don’t.

I’ve self-published (only as ebooks) three of my previously published YA novels and three adult non-fiction titles which hadn’t been published before. From these books I make a welcome income of around £250 a month – a figure that is remarkably constant. So, why have I not enjoyed it and why won’t I do it again?

It’s damned hard to sell fiction! (Over 90% of that £250 is from the non-fiction titles.) Publishers know this. They also know that high sales are not always about “quality”, which is precisely why very good novels can be rejected over and over. Non-fiction is easier because it’s easy to find your readers and for them to find your book. Take my book about writing a synopsis, for example; anyone looking for a book on writing a synopsis will Google “books on writing a synopsis” and, hey presto, Write a Great Synopsis appears. But if someone wants a novel, the chances of finding mine out of the available eleventy million are slim. This despite the fact that they had fab reviews and a few awards from their former lives.

But some novels do sell well. So why don’t mine? Because I do absolutely nothing to sell them. Why not? Well, this is the point. Several points.

First, time. I am too busy with other writing and public-speaking but, even if I weren’t, the necessary marketing takes far too long (for me) and goes on for too long after publication: the very time when I want to be writing another one. This is precisely why publishers tend only to work on publicity for a short while after publication: they have other books to work on. We may moan but it has to be like that – unless a book does phenomenally well at first, you have to keep working at selling it.

Second, I dislike the stuff I’d have to do to sell more books. Now, this is where you start leaping up and down saying, “But published authors have to do that, too!” Yes, and I do, but it’s different. When a publisher has invested money because they believe in your book, you obviously want to help them sell it. But when the only person who has actually committed any money is you, the selling part feels different. It’s a case of “I love my book so much that I published it – now you need to believe in me enough to buy it.” I can’t do it. Maybe I don’t believe in myself enough. Fine. I think books need more than the author believing in them. The author might be right and the book be fabulous, but I tend to be distrustful of strangers telling me they are wonderful so why should I expect others to believe me if I say I am? And I don’t want to spend time on forums just to sell more books.

Third, I love being part of a team. Yes, I’ve had my share of frustrating experiences in the course of 100 or so published books, but I enjoy the teamwork – even though I’m an introvert who loves working alone in a shed; I love the fact that other people put money and time and passion into selling my book. It gives me confidence and support. They won’t make money if they don’t sell my book and I still like and trust that model.

And I especially love that once I’ve written it and done my bit for the publicity machine and done the best I can for my book, I can let it go and write another.

See, I’m a writer, not a publisher. I may love control – the usual reason given for self-publishing – but I mostly want control over my words, not the rest. (That control, by the way, is never lost to a good editor, and I’ve been lucky with genius editors.) So, yes, I am pleased with the money I’ve earned from self-publishing and I love what I’ve learnt about the whole process, but now I’m going back to where I am happy to do battle for real control: my keyboard.

It’s all I want to do.

Nicola Morgan has written about 100 books, with half a dozen "traditional" publishers of various sizes from tiny to huge. She is a former chair of the Society of Authors in Scotland and advises hard-working writers on becoming and staying published, and on the marketing/publicity/events/behaviour that goes along with that.

She has also just created BRAIN STICKS, an original and huuuuuuge set of teaching resources about the brain and mental health.


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3. Friday Feature: Catch Me When I Fall Review


 20826785

Recruited at his death to be a Protector of the Night, seventeen-year-old Daniel Graham has spent two-hundred years fighting Nightmares and guarding humans from the clawed, red-eyed creatures that feed off people’s fears. Each night, he risks his eternal life, having given up his chance at an afterlife when he chose to become a Protector. That doesn’t stop a burnt-out Daniel from risking daring maneuvers during each battle. He’s become one of the best, but he wants nothing more than to stop.

Then he’s given an assignment to watch over sixteen-year-old Kayla Bartlett, a clinically depressed patient in a psychiatric ward. Nightmares love a human with a tortured past. Yet, when they take a deep interest in her, appearing in unprecedented numbers, the job becomes more dangerous than any Daniel’s ever experienced. He fights ruthlessly to keep the Nightmares from overwhelming his team and Kayla. Soon, Daniel finds himself watching over Kayla during the day, drawn to why she’s different, and what it is about her that attracts the Nightmares. And him.

A vicious attack on Kayla forces Daniel to break the first Law and reveal his identity. Driven by his growing feelings for her, he whisks her away to Rome where others like him can keep her safe. Under their roof, the Protectors discover what Kayla is and why someone who can manipulate Nightmares has her in his sights. But before they can make a move, the Protectors are betrayed and Kayla is kidnapped. Daniel will stop at nothing to save her. Even if it means giving up his immortality.


My thoughts:
Vicki is my agency sister, so yeah, I was excited to read this book. First, the cover is awesome, and second the blurb let me know this was my kind of read. Daniel is someone I liked from the start. He's very real and so are his feelings. He felt for Kayla just like I did. The poor girl is in a psychiatric ward and being tortured by nightmares. I loved how the nightmares were physical things. Seriously LOVED that. I could almost feel their hands reaching for me while I was reading. Creepy and awesome!

There's a twist with Kayla that I really enjoyed and didn't see coming. I won't give spoilers though, so I'll just say it was a great addition to the plot. The dynamic between Kayla and Daniel felt very genuine to me. They both are dealing with a lot. Daniel wants out of his job as a Protector, and Kayla has a tortured past. I think this really draws them to each other and gives them common ground.

I can't wait to see where the story goes in book two.

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4. Poetry Friday: So. Much. Joy.

by Hugh MacLeod at GapingVoid.com


’T IS so much joy! ’T is so much joy!
If I should fail, what poverty!
And yet, as poor as I
Have ventured all upon a throw;
Have gained! Yes! Hesitated so
This side the victory!

Life is but life, and death but death!
Bliss is but bliss, and breath but breath!
And if, indeed, I fail,
At least to know the worst is sweet.
Defeat means nothing but defeat,
No drearier can prevail!

And if I gain,—oh, gun at sea,
Oh, bells that in the steeples be,
At first repeat it slow!
For heaven is a different thing
Conjectured, and waked sudden in,
And might o’erwhelm me so!

by Emily Dickinson

From Bartleby.com (bibliographic record for the poem here)
You can see the poem in Emily's own handwriting here.


Lots of great conversations these first couple of days of school about the importance of struggle, of perseverance, patience, and practice. Growth mindset. We watched Kid President talk about inventing, and we read The Most Magnificent Thing. I think we're ready to dive into the hard work of fifth grade.

I splurged yesterday and bought a little purple Moleskine journal to keep track of my "trout of the day." We're two days in and I'm having a hard time picking one "trout." I'm thinking that bodes well for the year.


We've had a change in the Poetry Friday roundup this week. Irene is taking over for Robyn. Head over to Live Your Poem to leave your link.


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5. The Zone of Interest interest

       There's a new Martin Amis out -- in the UK; US reader will have to wait another five weeks or so -- and it was apparently 'embargoed' in the UK until publication-time (meaning: no reviews could/should be posted). Pathetically, UK reviewers obediently held back until now -- even as reviews went up weeks ago at, for example, Kirkus Reviews ("(A)n indelible and unsentimental exploration of the depths of the human soul") and Publishers Weekly (starred; "An absolute soul-crusher of a book, the brilliant latest from Amis") -- folks, if you're going to 'embargo' in this internet age, then get your act together and make sure you've got things covered abroad, too. .... (Though you shouldn't 'embargo' anyway -- it's a silly policy, and the sooner it dies, the better.)
       So now the first UK (+) reviews are up as well, including at:

  • the Irish Times: Eileen Battersby calls it; "Highly cerebral and innovative, and also human, humane -- even humbling -- this is a brave, inquiring work from a literary maverick whose biggest problem as an artist has been his rampaging talent. He has certainly harnessed it here."

  • The Independent: James Runcie calls it: "a frustratingly memorable read"

  • The Independent: Katy Guest finds: "I read this once thinking it horrifically brilliant, and Amis's best novel for years. (It is, though that's not saying a lot.) I read it a second time asking, but what is the point ?"

  • Asylum, where blogger John Self weighs in
       I haven't seen a copy yet, but I hope to soon; I was disappointed by Koba the Dread -- but greatly admired Time's Arrow (possibly my favorite Amis) -- so I'm not sure what to expect.
       Meanwhile, get your copy at Amazon.co.uk, or pre-order at Amazon.com.

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6. Christmas in August?

I just returned from a trip to a local store and saw aisles of Christmas stuff on display. IT'S AUGUST! What happened to Christmas...AT CHRISTMAS TIME? Is it me or is it way too early to start thinking of Christmas??  Way, way too early!  Oh, wait a minute...

Memoirs of an Elf by Devin Scillian, published by Sleeping Bear Press.

A couple of packages were just delivered to my door. Wow! You'll never believe what was packed in those little boxes.  Advance copies of my newest children's book!

Spark Elf

Texting: "Time to fly..."

Halfway around the world.
It's never too early to think about books.


MERRY CHRISTMAS, EVERYONE!


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7. Madison Beer Interview

Madison Beer

Meet Madison Beer, Internet singing star!

15-year-old Madison Beer got her first big break when Justin Bieber tweeted one of her videos to his millions of followers, and since then she has been working on her first studio album (oh, yeah, and she also recorded “Valentine” with Cody Simpson

. Whaaaaat?!). We chatted with Madison about singing, books, her most embarrassing moment, and more.

Q: What advice would you give to young artists if they wanted to get into the music business?

Madison: Well, I started on YouTube just for fun, really. It was something that I always wanted to do, so it was just me having some fun and messing around. My advice? If a teenager really enjoys singing, like me, I would just go ahead and post stuff on YouTube (only with your parents’ permission). I know that it can be really nerve-racking, especially when you start thinking, “What are my friends going to think? What are my teachers going to think?” You don’t really know how people are going to react. But if you’re confident in the video that you recorded, and if it’s going to make you happy, you should post it.

Q: When did you know that you wanted to perform?
Madison: I think when I started posting videos consistently is when I got really attached to the whole idea of doing it professionally. I’ve always wanted to be a professional singer, but the YouTube stuff made me take it more seriously. I felt, like, compelled to do YouTube videos.

Q: Do you remember the first song you sang as a little girl?
Madison: Yeah. I used to sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” all the time. I used to sing that and “God Bless America” all the time.

Madison Beer

Q: What is your all-time favorite book?
Madison: As a child, The Giving Tree was my favorite book. It showed me the importance of sharing and caring for people and, you know, giving and not always being selfish. And I also loved all the Shel Silverstein books. Everybody knows that I’m clumsy, so they all were just laughing. They were like, “Oh, Madison’s back.” — 
En-Szu, STACKS Staffer

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8. Pole-Caught

The sidewalk menu listed
All the specials of the day,
Inviting every passerby
With time and means to pay.

But one such item on the list
Elicited a grin
And made me wonder ‘bout the tool
That reeled that sucker in…

For “pole-caught tuna” was the dish
On which one might have dined;
Yet Huck or Jim upon their raft
Was what it brought to mind.

The restaurant wasn’t fancy
And I’m sure nobody thought
About the method used
To get that tuna snagged and caught.

If I were writing adjectives
To make that menu shine,
I guarantee that “pole-caught”
Wouldn’t be a choice of mine!

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9. La Mamounia Literary Award finalists

       Marrakesh hotel La Mamounia have an annual literary prize (well, what fine international hotel wouldn't ?) and, as Morocco World News now report, La Mamounia Literary Award Nominates 8 Candidates for its 5th Edition.
       Slightly -- okay, crushingly -- disappointingly it's a Francophone award -- yes, great that they've:

created an essential platform for francophone writers in which they promote their literary works and showcase the Moroccan talents by awarding them basically on the value of their productions.
       But, still ... Morocco, where there are some folks speaking -- and writing ! -- in languages like ... Arabic, Berber, even Spanish .....
       Still, solid literary support, with a prize of MAD 200,000 (yes, that translates into real money) -- though I do have to wonder about the symbolism of the photograph accompanying that article -- empty seats, no one behind the lectern ... easy to read a lot into that ..... Read the rest of this post

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10. The Way to the Zoo by John Burningham

Once again, John Burningham gives us a brilliant picture book that perfectly captures the imagination and internal life of a child. The Way to the Zoo hits the shelves as the 50th anniversary of Chitty Chitty Ban Bang is being celebrated, marking an amazingly long and fruitful career that I hope will continue on. In The Way to the Zoo we meet Sylvie, who, just before she falls asleep,

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11. Russia-born writers in America

       At Russia Beyond the Headlines Diana Bruk considers A long-distance romance: Russia-born writers in the U.S.

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12. sweetness....

©the enchanted easel 2014
sewn together at the seams.

a peek at what's up next on the easel. can you guess who she is?

{hint-she's a red head (yay!). super shy. super sweet. stuffed with fall leaves...and is the female love interest of a certain skeleton by the name of jack.}

video below...just in case you couldn't figure it out. one of my favorite movies of all time! :)


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13. Blowing the Best Bubbles: Part 2

This summer has been a busy one full of fun science programs at my library.  A couple of months ago, I blogged my plans for a preschool bubble lab that I had scheduled in July. I thought I’d write a follow up post about how the program turned out.

IMG_1377

photo by Michelle Willis

A few days before the program, I prepared my bubble solutions according to the recipes I had found. I labeled the jars but decided to add a few drops of food coloring to two of them so each would be a different color.

On the day of the program, we set up each table with a cup of each bubble solution, observation charts for the children, and my volunteers. We were ready to go.  The first snag we ran into was that the combination of it having rained heavily for several days prior to the program and the general excitement over bubbles made for a rather energetic group. It was easy to see that they did not have the patience for a book reading, so I did a very abridged reading of the book I had planned, just covering how and why bubbles form.

We then moved on to our discussion of the day’s activity. When we talked about the various bubble solutions that we were going to test and I tried to elicit observations from the children about the three solutions, we ran into a second snag. What became immediately obvious was that I should have left the solutions the same color. Although the solutions with the glycerine and the corn syrup were slightly more viscous than the detergent solution, the children focused in on the difference in color alone. There was no convincing them that the color did not matter, so we moved on to the next part of the program.

photo by Michelle Willis

photo by Michelle Willis

We divided into groups to test the solutions. This was the moment we were all waiting for and, to my relief, there were no snags. We tested each solution in turn and each child was able to try each one. They drew their observations on their observation charts and we worked as a group to determine which solution we thought was easiest to blow bubbles with and which we thought had bubbles that lasted longest.  When we gathered together again to share our results with the other groups, it was clear that the solutions with the glycerine and the corn syrup worked best. We talked about why this is the case and even hypothesized about how if we added more glycerine or more corn syrup, the bubbles might last even longer.

IMG_1391

Bubble Observations

Judging by how the children were eagerly explaining their observations to their caregivers and how many came back to tell me they made their own bubbles at home, I would call the program a success. The children left with knowledge about bubbles and I left with the knowledge that sometimes programming is like science.  Things may not work out quite as you expect but the end result is still worthwhile.

***************************************************

Michelle Willis works as the Head of Children’s Services at the Scotch Plains Public Library in Scotch Plains, NJ and a member of the Early Childhood Programs and Services committee.

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14. Review – Black Swan Green by David Mitchell

This is an absolutely wonderful coming-of-age novel by a writer who cannot put a foot wrong. David Mitchell doesn’t just get inside the head of a thirteen year old boy but brings teenage adolescence to life like I have never read before. David Mitchell captures the innocence, the naivety, the pain and the joy so […]

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15. Ahhh…

photo 2 (6)

Our insanely busy summer is winding down, and soon we’ll be back to just regular busy. Jane took the week off her internship because she landed a short-term gig at a community college bookstore—the very college at which Rose is now taking a Spanish class, though the store is not on campus. Nearby, though, and Scott’s and my taxi powers have not been, er, overtaxed. (Ba dum bump.) And only three doctor visits in the past two weeks: one long scheduled, one unanticipated, and one follow-up. Considering the records we set earlier in the summer, this tally is positively yawnworthy.

(I just peeked at next week’s calendar, and there are NO. APPOINTMENTS. SCHEDULED. Which means somebody will probably break an arm.)

(Not funny, Lissa.)

With Wonderboy back in school and Rose uttering heretofore unuttered phrases like “Here’s my syllabus if you want to take a look” and “I finished my homework” (!), we find ourselves comfortably returning to our high-tide rhythms—with a few innovations this year. I’ve marked out blocks of time (cleverly called Block 1 and Block 2, which has my inner Anne Shirley rolling her eyes in disgust) to focus on Rose and Beanie (1) or Huck and Rilla (2) with some planning and deliberation. That is, I want to make sure we get to the Fun Stuff and the Important Stuff, and I’ve set aside time for the purpose. Four nice chunks of Block 1 and three of Block 2 each week, tucked into specific corners of the day.

Today’s our third day, and so far I’m tickled pink. Yesterday afternoon ended with Huck and Rilla literally climbing on top of me, chanting “More Block 2! More Block 2!” One excellent development is that Rilla and I now have a dedicated time to work on art projects. She picked this toucan painting to start with, and to my amusement I was not merely expected to facilitate her efforts: I was required to undertake a painting of my own. Our works are coming along nicely. Today we put in the skies.

Also chalked in on the schedule is a regular park visit, an extremely important addition in the eyes of my younger children. Huck and Rilla anticipated today’s outing all week long. Finally the appointed hour arrived—and thirty seconds after hitting the playground, all three of us melted into puddles from the fierce heat. Cue general despondency. In times like this, there’s only one thing to be done: find a shady nook under the fringe of pine trees and build ourselves a Roxaboxen. We each made our own little round houses with a nice path connecting them. We’re all in suspense to see what will be left of our realm next week.

roxaboxen

 

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16. Book Blogger Hop - 8/22 - 8/28

 Question of the Week:

Do you reply to comments on your blog or do you figure folks won't be stopping back to read your reply so you don't bother?

My Answer:

Oh...I definitely reply to all comments whether I think the person will stop back or not.

It is simply the courteous thing to do.  If a fellow blogger took the time to write something, they deserve the courtesy returned with a reply.

**There is a giveaway for WE ARE NOT OURSELVES here until August 28.**

What do you do about replying to blog comments? 






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17. David Yates to Direct "Fantastic Beast" Films

Director of the last four Harry Potter movies, David Yates, has officially taken on the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them trilogy. As reported previously, J.K. Rowling will be working (along side Yates), writing the screenplays for the films, ensuring the film series spin off stays true to the Potter Universe. The first film is set to hit theaters November 2016, and no production schedule or cast list has been set. Variety reports:


According to sources, the studio had always wanted to approach a person who was familiar with the “Harry Potter” landscape and Yates, director of the last four films in the franchise, was a no brainer for WB. The move draws comparisons to other filmmakers like Peter Jackson returning for “The Hobbit” and Sam Mendes on “James Bond,” who, after insisting they were done with a certain franchise, ultimately came back to a piece of material they were comfortable tackling again.

More of Variety's exclusive article can be read here.

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18. Poetry Friday - A review of On the Wing

Douglas Florian is a poet and artist who has created poetry picture books that explore a wide variety of subjects. Over the years I have greatly enjoyed reading these books, and it is interesting to see how he applies his considerable talent to take on a new topic that interests him.

Douglas Florian
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 6 to 8
Harcourt, 1996, 978-0152023669
Birds truly are remarkable animals. They come in a dazzling array of colors, live on every continent, and make their homes in all kinds of places. In this wonderful picture book Douglas Florian pairs short poems with his artwork to give readers a true celebration of birds.
   Over the millennia birds have evolved to suit many kinds of environments. Some birds, like the egret, sail on water and then rest on the beach making it seem as if there is a “feathered hat” lying on the sand. Dippers love to dip and dive in waterfalls. They are so aquatic that one wonders if they would be happy to “trade / Their oily wings for flippers.” They are such good swimmers that it is possible that the little birds might “think that they are fish.”
   Birds come in all shapes and sizes. The spoonbill is tall and thin with a beak that does indeed look like a long-handled spoon. In his poem about this rather odd looking species, Douglas Florian wonders if the spoonbill uses its bill “for stirring tea” or does it “use it as a scoop / For eating peas and drinking soup.”
   The stork has a bill that is perfectly suited for the environment it lives in. Wading through shallow water, the bird uses it rapier like bill to stab frogs and other creatures. Woodpeckers also have beaks that are perfectly adapted so that they can get to their chosen food - insects that live in wood and sap that runs through wood. Not only are these beaks perfect for creating holes, but woodpeckers also use them to communicate.
   With clever touches of humor and insightful descriptions, this collection of poems will give young readers a colorful picture of twenty-one bird speci

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19. Player Profile: James Carol, author of Watch Me

James Carol, author of Watch Me Tell us about your latest creation: The next book in the Jefferson Winter series is WATCH ME. This time Winter is heading to northern Louisiana to investigate the murder of lawyer, Sam Galloway. All he has to go on is a video of Galloway being burnt alive… Where are you from / where […]

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20. Book Review: Unmarked by Kami Garcia

Kennedy Waters lives in a world where vengeance spirits kill, ghosts keep secrets, and a demon walks among us-a demon she accidentally set free. Now Kennedy and the other Legion members-Alara, Priest, Lukas, and Jared-have to hunt him down. As they learn more about the history of the Legion and the Illuminati, Kennedy realizes that the greatest mystery of all does not belong to any secret

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21. #640 – Jackpot: An Aldo Zelnick Comic Novel (#10) by Karla Oceanak & Kendra Spanjer

coverx

Jackpot: An Aldo Zelnick Comic Novel (#10)

Written by Karla Oceanak
Illustrated by Kendra Spanjer
Bailiwick Press                   6/10/2014
978-1-934649-49-7
Age 7+           160 pages
x
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“Finding a dinosaur bone is like hitting the jackpot, right? Dino fossils are worth millions! Plus you get to b famous! You’re minding your own kid business when bam!—out of the mud pop fortune and glory. Ka-ching! That’s how I thought it would go, anyway, after my best friend, Jack, and I found a fossil in our neighborhood ditch. But as usual, grown-up rules made things way too complicated.”

Opening

“I wish we could play outside. This morning, I said that. I mean, I actually heard my own voice speak those exact words. Me. Aldo Zelnick.”

The Story

Aldo and his best friend, Jack, actually did go outside to play. It was cold and muddy causing the boys to slip and slid right into a neighborhood ditch. This is when Jack finds a big rock that, when cleaned, is much better than a rock. It is a fossil—a dinosaur fossil, right from their own backyard.

Aldo believes the fossil is worth millions of dollars and holds this hope out to the very end. Jack is thinking only of fame. A famous paleontologist, a famous middle grade paleontologist, would be cool, he thought. Jack holds out this hope to the very end. This is the only contention between Aldo and Jack: fame or fortune, but why not both!

The boys head to the natural history museum to find out what kind of fossil they found and, for Aldo, how much it is worth. Aldo thinks the museum will pay him on the spot—they do not. But, it is a dinosaur bone and the ditch might just have more bones. Now the boys must get the neighborhood to consent to digging up the ditch, and then find the rest of the dinosaur. Once done, Aldo and Jack will go on tour with their fame and fortunes. If only they can keep everyone out of the ditch until excavation day.

Jackpot_AldoZelnick_Denver_Museum

Review

When we last read about Aldo he was skiing in Ignoramus. Since then, Aldo and Jack have changed only incrementally, as they normally would. I like that the authors are not maturing the characters quickly. Of course, with twenty-six books, they have lots of room to let the characters blossom slowly. Still, Aldo may be in college by the time “Z” hits the shelves. Aldo is still using his diary to write about his life and then—oh, I meant his journal, so sorry. Sometimes a good character just sticks with you and Aldo is one of those characters. He also wants you to know he is an artist and draws some terrific scenes that help readers visualize his stories.

In “J,” for Jackpot, Aldo and his best friend Jack finally go outside to play. They do not pick the best day, as it is cold and the ground is muddy and slippery. Aldo and Jack slip and slide into a neighborhood ditch. In the ditch Jack loosens a great looking rock. The rock turns out to be a dinosaur bone and more could be in that ditch. Aldo thinks this is great fortune, as in money. Jack thinks this is fortunate, as in fame. He would love a dinosaur named after him. Aldo would probably like a bank, or at least the largest vault, named after him. They have hit the JACKPOT!

As in books A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, and I, J (for Jackpot) is crazy and funny with loads of mishaps, misunderstandings, and a girl interfering—or trying to—with Aldo and his journals. Jackpot is not a graphic novel. It contains enough text to keep the story on track and moving, but not so much as to crowd out the wonderful illustrations meant to be from Aldo. I love the detailed illustrations that greatly enhance the story. Aldo and Jack both sport Indiana Jones hats (fedoras). Kids will love the black and white “doodles” Aldo draws on nearly every page.

spread 1

I enjoyed Jackpot, reading it in one sitting. Middle grade kids—especially reluctant readers—will love this series. The characters are believable, multi-dimensional, likable and in many ways familiar to everyday life. Reluctant readers will appreciate the story staying on track and the short chapters. Kids can stop reading at any point, and when ready, easily reemerge back into the story. This is most terrific for reluctant readers who are at a distinct disadvantage with continuing a book midway through.

As far as the actual writing is concerned, the story stays on point even when Aldo goes off on a tangent. Aldo’s tangential thoughts are about money. In several illustrations, Aldo has made long lists of numbers needing added to project his coming wealth. The characters, especially Aldo and Jack, are easy to care about as the story progresses. If you have been reading the alphabet series known as Aldo Zelnick, you already care about Aldo and Jack, but the author makes no assumptions and brings new readers into the fan club.

Jackpot is the tenth book in Aldo’s series. I like that each of these books introduces new words that begin with that book’s letter. Jackpot, then, has words beginning with the letter “J.” Examples include jabbering, jack squat, jicama, and several French words like Joie de vivre and jugo de naranja. There is a glossary in the back, which defines each “J” word. In the text, the highlighted words are marked with an asterisk (*).

Jackpot_AldoZelnick_BaconBoy_IndianaJones

The Aldo Zelnick series is similar to The Wimpy Kid except that Jackpot, and every book thus far, have better defined illustrations. I like the “J” words in Jackpot. The glossary defines each of these words. I also like reading the comic Bacon Boy by Aldo Zelnick. How often do you get two books in one and both books are terrific? Aldo and Bacon Boy have a lot in common. I think Bacon Boy is Aldo and a safe, funny way for Aldo to document his childhood. Kids will laugh their hinnies off, no external exercise needed.

JACKPOT: AN ALDO ZELNICK COMIC NOVEL (#10). Text copyright © 2014 by by Karla Oceanak. Illustrations copyright © 2014 by Kendra Spanjer. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Bailiwick Press, Fort Collins, CO.

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Purchase Jackpot at AmazonB&NBook DepositoryBailiwick PressYour Favorite Bookstore.

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Learn more about Jackpot HERE.

Meet the author, Karla Oceanak, at her website:  http://www.karlaoceanak.com/

Meet the illustrator, Kendra Spanjer, at her website:   http://www.kendraspanjer.com/

Find more Aldo Zelnick books at the Bailiwick Press website:   http://www.bailiwickpress.com/

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Also by Karla Oceanak & Kendra Spanjer

Ignoramus:  An Aldo Zelnick Comic Novel (#9)

Ignoramus #9

Hotdogger  (#8)

Hotdogger (#8)

Read Hotdogger Review HERE.

Read Ignoramus Review HERE.

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jackpot

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Copyright © 2014 by Sue Morris/Kid Lit Reviews


Filed under: 5stars, Books for Boys, Favorites, Library Donated Books, Middle Grade, Reluctant Readers, Series Tagged: Aldo Zelnick, Bailiwick Press, children's book reviews, comics, Karla Oceanak, Kendra Soanjer, middle grade books

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22. Ode to Rodney King. Review of Richard Blanco's Memoir.

This time I'm proud to present two pieces from two generous and esteemed guest contributors.  One is a poem written by acclaimed author and educator Gloria L. Velásquez. Sadly, her commemoration of yet another racially-motivated killing of a young man in the United States by officers sworn to "serve and protect" is repeated for the third time. 

The second piece is a review written by La Bloga's friend Thelma T. Reyna of a memoir by the poet Richard Blanco. The Inaugural Poet explains how he came to celebrate a diverse United States with all of its contradictions, promises, and aspirations.

Two sides of the same coin, presented by poets, as is appropriate. 

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Ode to Rodney King

“Has anybody here seen my old friend, John?
Can you tell me where he’s gone?
He’s freed a lot of people but it seems
the good they die young
I just looked around and he’s gone.”

“Has anybody here seen my old friend, Martin?
Can you tell me where he’s gone?
He’s freed a lot of people but it seems
the good they die young
I just looked around and he’s gone.”

Michael Brown
He shot and killed you.
He murdered you
for being African-American.
No justice for young Black men
in Sundown Towns like Ferguson
where military police tactics rule.

“Has anybody here seen my old friend, Bobby?
Can you tell me where he’s gone?
He’s freed a lot of people but it seems
the good they die young
I just looked around and he’s gone.”

“Has anybody here seen my old friend, Michael?
Can you tell me where he’s gone?
He’s freed a lot of people but it seems
the good they die young
I just looked around and he’s gone.”

Coraje
Anger today
Shame
Pura vergüenza
Tristeza
And in Solidarity con mi gente
Around the world
I join the Uprising with HANDS UP
Maldiciendo the Michael Brown shooting.

Written on August 16, 2014, San Luis Obispo
By Gloria L. Velásquez

Gloria wrote a different version of this poem at the time of the Trayvon Martin killing. At that time she explained, "The first two stanzas are from the famous song, Abraham, Martin and John, recorded by Dion in reference to the assassinations of President Abraham Lincoln, President John F. Kennedy, Senator Robert Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I first wrote "Ode to Rodney King" when Oscar Grant was murdered at an Oakland Bart station by officers. I was so horrified by what happened to Trayvon that I wanted to use the same point, thus emphasizing how this has gone on time and time again and just as I simply replaced Oscar Grant's name with Trayvon's, this emphasizes how our justice system has time and time again treated Black men in the same way with injustice, racial profiling and white privilege attitudes."



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Review of For All Of Us, One Today






For All of Us, One Today: An Inaugural Poet's Journey
Richard Blanco

Review by Thelma T. Reyna
 

When Richard Blanco stepped to the podium on January 21, 2013 at the inauguration of President Barack Obama, I rose from my sofa in the living room and stood enthralled as I watched the TV screen. Along with hundreds of thousands of people in the Washington DC mall that day and millions watching this special event around the world, I witnessed history in the making--and this history was made by a poet!
 

Richard Blanco became the fifth Inaugural Poet in our nation's long history, joining the ranks of such literary greats as Robert Frost and Maya Angelou, two prior Inaugural Poets. But Blanco was more historic than even these venerable giants. He was:
•    America's first-ever Latino Inaugural Poet.
•    The first immigrant.
•    The first openly gay poet.
•    The youngest ever, at the age of 45.
 

His memoir, For All of Us, One Today: An Inaugural Poet’s Journey (Beacon Press, 2013), gives us a behind-the-scenes look at the impact that being brought out of relative literary obscurity (nothing new for poets anywhere in America!) has on an author and how bestowal of a high honor can change a life in the proverbial blink of an eye. But Blanco’s memoir does more than this: it shows us the character and passion of an American rising star against the backdrop of inauspicious beginnings.
 

Reflection and Introspection
 

Blanco's memoir captures in a mere 112 pages the roller-coaster ride of being selected by the President to address the nation and the world as a poet, and of his preparation for this momentous honor. We learn of Blanco’s disbelief and joy when he receives a phone call on December 12, 2013, from the Presidential Inaugural Committee notifying him of his selection. To this day, Blanco does not know how or why. The important thing he recalls from that life-changing call is that he has three weeks in which to write and submit three new poems to the Committee, one of which will be chosen by the President to be read at the inauguration.

In the memoir, Blanco details the doubts and false starts he has as he creates his poems. Part of this stems from his lifelong struggle concerning his place in America and what it truly means to "be an American." He refers to it in his memoir as "sorting out my cultural contradictions and yearnings" (p. 25). Conceived in Cuba, his parents' homeland, Blanco was born in Spain as an immigrant. He emigrated to the U.S. as an infant and grew up in Florida. He now lives in Bethel, Maine. Blanco's love of country was never in doubt, but what exactly America represents to the huge diversity of people calling it home is a conundrum he's often dissected, and now he is forced to dig even more deeply within himself to find answers.

"Do I truly love America?" he asks (p. 31). "It was a question I had to answer honestly if I was going to write an honest poem. I began thinking of my relationship with America and how it had evolved through different phases, just as my consciousness of love had evolved....I saw parallels between a loving human relationship and the love we hold for our country."

Blanco's Story of His Cultural Roots

In the memoir, Blanco cycles back and forth between his feelings and reflections in writing the three inaugural poems; and memories of his family life: his childhood, his parents' sacrifices for him and his brother, his experiences growing up in two cultures. Blanco describes how his personal life story sometimes parallels that of President Obama: navigating two worlds on a daily basis as a person of color, and overcoming tremendous odds to be successful. He believes these similarities may have resonated with the President and affected his selection of Blanco.

Blanco’s immigrant parents left their loved ones in Cuba to start a new life with no resources other than their determination and hard work. They purchased a modest home in Florida in a Cuban-American neighborhood after years of labor and thrift. Though Blanco never lived in Cuba, he was surrounded most of his life by neighbors and friends who had, and who blended their new life in America with memories, rituals, foods, and festivities rooted in their native land.

Blanco's image of what it means to be American came from re-runs of popular television shows from his childhood--sitcoms like "Leave It to Beaver," "My Three Sons," "The Brady Bunch"--and the standard history lessons in school about Pilgrims, Washington's cherry tree, and patriotic songs: all packaged, glossy representations. It is not until Blanco is selected as Inaugural Poet that his soul-searching enables him to authentically articulate what America--the only country he has ever known and loved--means to him and to the world.

As the days pass, Blanco decides to weave his personal story only briefly in his new poems because he feels that an autobiographical poem, or a political one, is not appropriate for the occasion. He states: "I came to understand my role--the historical role of the inaugural poet--as visionary, and the poem as a vision of what could be..., reaching for our highest aspirations as a country and a people" (p. 27). The thrust of his message to the world needed to be: "What do I love about America?" (p. 60). "My initial answer was simply the spirit of its people."

Speaking To America About Love Of Country

For three weeks, Blanco reads favorite poets, meditates, writes and rewrites, working  long into the night. He carefully reads the Inaugural Poems of his predecessors. He seeks feedback on his three poems from poets he knows personally, including his professor and mentor at Florida International University, Campbell McGrath; Sandra Cisneros; Julia Alvarez; Nikki Moustaki. As he states in his book: "Most writers I know rely on someone they can trust with their work, which essentially implies someone we can also trust with our lives" (p. 57). This, says Blanco, is also how his career as a poet has been: not as an "all artists work alone" (p. 57) phenomenon, but as "teamwork, ...a reflection of unity and togetherness" (p. 58).

It is this spirit of collaboration and unity that expresses itself robustly in the poem ultimately selected by the Presidential Inaugural Committee, and by the President, as Blanco’s Inaugural Poem: One Today (pp. 87-91). This poem, says Blanco, was born of his personal life experiences watching people helping one another, in good times and bad, always focused on community. Blanco’s love of country, it turns out, is one that "demands effort, asks us to give and take and forgive and constantly examine promises spoken and unspoken" (p. 32). One Today acknowledges this.

Standing at the podium on that chilly day in January 2013, facing an endless sea of humanity silent and waiting, and with the most powerful leaders of America seated onstage behind him, Richard Blanco feels that what he is about to read is his “ gift to America." The purpose of his Inaugural Poem, he states, is to "transcend politics and envision a new relationship between all Americans....I wanted America to embrace itself and...feel how we are all an essential part of one whole."

He succeeds, as thousands of letters show him in the days and months to come, and people's reactions at his subsequent readings, signings, interviews, and travels demonstrate. His message in One Today resonated across the land.

A New Mission: Poetry As A Force In Society

Blanco realizes after the inauguration that his life will never be the same again. "The days ahead proved to be abruptly life changing," he writes (p. 75), "filled with unexpected experiences and realizations that were...unique parts of my journey as inaugural poet."  Always concerned that poetry in America is not "part of our cultural lives and conversations; part of our popular folklore as with film, music, and novels" (p. 101), Blanco fondly recalls children's elation at his poetic readings throughout years of sharing his poetry with them. He must build on this.

Touched deeply by people’s reaction to One Today, Blanco relishes the publicity and nationwide exposure that envelops him, sensing a mandate from the people. He states: "The messages from my country speak clearly to me of the great potential and hope for poetry in America... to keep connecting America with poetry and reshape how we think about it....to explore how I can empower educators to teach contemporary poetry and foster a new generation of poetry readers" (p. 102).

On Blanco’s return trip home, he felt "a responsibility to dare and dream up a new chapter that will rekindle poetry into a continuing American folklore--a folklore that would include the stories of gay America, Latino America, and immigrant America--everyone's America" (p. 108). He envisions a resurgence of poetry as a magnificent vehicle "to continue writing together until we are not just one today, but one every day" (p. 108).

If anyone can do this, Richard Blanco can. With his keen intelligence, egalitarian heart, boundless love for his fellow human beings, and a disciplined, devoted poetic soul—all of which gently suffuse his memoir -- Blanco shows us that he has the gifts to do this. It's not immodesty on his part that has convinced us, but rather his modesty and commitment to digging for truth and authenticity. Let us hope his journey promoting poetry for the sake of enriching our lives is long and successful.

[Blanco’s two other poems submitted for consideration were What We Know of Country and Mother Country. These are both included in his memoir.]    


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23. Artist of the Day: Mindy Lee

Today we look at the work of Mindy Lee, Cartoon Brew's Artist of the Day!

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24. Free Fall Friday – Holly McGhee/Hallie Durand

Holly November 2013

A new book titled, CATCH THE COOKIE has hit the bookshelves written by Hallie Durand, a.k.a. Agent Holly McGhee and illustrated by David Small. I have the book and can truthfully say it is a very fun picture book. I scanned in a few interior shots and Holly sent a picture of the real Marshall to add to the interview questions. I also added a quick blurb to whet your appetite:

Marshall knows one thing for sure, despite what all the stories say: Gingerbread men cannot run. Cookies are for eating, and he can’t wait to eat his after spending all morning baking them with his class. But when it’s time to take the gingerbread men out of the oven . . . they’re gone! Now, to find those rogue cookies, Marshall and his class have to solve a series of rhyming clues. And Marshall just might have to rethink his stance on magic. Catch That Cookie! is an imaginative mystery, deliciously illustrated by Caldecott Medal winner David Small. It’s sure to inspire a new classroom tradition . . . and maybe even a few new believers!

I wanted to know more about the book and Holly, so below is the interview I had with her. If you want to read more about David Small and read about the process of creating the book cover for CATCH THE COOKIE, he was featured this past Saturday on Illustrator Saturday - definitely worth reading. Here’s Hallie/Holly:

Most people know you as Holly McGhee. Why did you decide to write under another name?

A: On that first submission especially, I needed to know whether my writing could speak for itself, in no way connected to me as an agent—could I get published just because an editor and publisher believed in my work? I’ve kept with a pen name to separate my writing from agenting, though at this point it’s not a secret that I’m Holly McGhee & Hallie Durand.

When did you start writing your latest book, Catch That Cookie!? 

A: I started Catch That Cookie! in earnest over the Christmas holidays of 2011. My son Marshall had been a preschool student of Mrs. Gray’s (the teacher in my book) in the fall of 2009, and he had gone on a gingerbread hunt at school. He’d come home with a recipe for gingerbread men, and he was obsessed with making the cookies. He kept nagging me, and so I finally borrowed the cookie cutters from Mrs. Gray and we made them for our class picnic in June of 2010, in ninety-degree heat. We put them in the van to bring to the picnic, and then Marshall started locking the van doors. I realized he thought the cookies would escape, ha ha ha ha! I knew there was a story there, and I wanted to know what Mrs. Gray had done in class to make Marshall believe those G-men could escape. So I interviewed Mrs. Gray and that inspired my picture book.

Marsh with his G-Man August 2014

How did it find a home at Dial?

A: When I finally had a draft that I liked, I shared it with my agent, Elena Giovinazzo, who sent it out to editors. Lauri Hornik and Kate Harrison at Dial made an offer.

Catch That Cookie!, with ribbon

Were you the one who chose David Small to illustrate the book?

A: No, that was my editor, Kate Harrison, and the art director Lily Malcom. I couldn’t be happier about the choice—not only is David my client but he is one of my very close friends. (I was nervous he would turn it down though, and thrilled that he liked it—he’s picky!)

cookieinterior74

How long did it take David to do the illustrations?

A: He started early in 2013 and finished that fall. I sent him a picture of Mrs. Gray to inspire him and also pictures of Marshall, Avery, and Henry, who all appear in the book (they were Marshall’s classmates).

cookieinterior75
Do you plan any book signings or other marketing things now that the book is sold?

A: Yes, David and I are doing a little mini tour to celebrate both the book and our friendship. I am going out to Kalamazoo, Michigan on September 10 and we are doing one appearance for adults at the Kalamazoo Library and one for kids at the Book Bug, and then he’s coming back with me to Maplewood, NJ. We’ll have a big gingerbread hunt with Mrs. Gray at the Maplewood Library on September 13, and an event for writers and artists (together with Anna Kang and Chris Weyant of You Are (Not) Small and Richard Morris of This Is a Moose) on the 14th. We’re going to talk about collaboration. Then we’ll have an appearance at our local bookstore on the 15th as well as a private event for the preschool four year olds (all at Words, Maplewood). David will share some of his drawing secrets. I’ll have more details for you soon.

When did you write your first book and what was the title?

A: In 2007 I wrote my first chapter book / novel, Dessert First, and I wrote two more books in that series. Dessert First was published in 2009, Just Desserts in 2010, and No Room for Dessert in 2011, all illustrated by the amazing French artist Christine Davenier.

dessertfirst

Were you an editor at that time?

A: Nope, I had been an agent for nine years already (though I’ve never stopped being an editor really—as an agent I’m often the first set of eyes on a manuscript, helping polish it enough to be acquired).

How did the idea come to you?

A: It started at a dinner with one of my best friends at the River Run Café in NYC. We ordered dessert to share, and as always I angled the plate so that the best part of the dessert “happened” to be directly in front of me. My friend had had enough of my bad behavior and she said, “WHY DO YOU ALWAYS TAKE THE BEST PART OF THE DESSERT?” And I, with nowhere to hide, said, “Because I thought I was getting away with it.” That honesty marked a turning point in our friendship. A few years later, we were sharing a slice of Iced Lemon Cake at lunch, reminiscing about our fateful evening at the River Run. And that very evening, on NJ Transit, Dessert Schneider barged into my life and wouldn’t be quiet till I wrote her story. I’d never experienced anything like that—she was really bossy!

How did that book get published?

A: It was multiply submitted, under my pen name, and was acquired in a two-book deal.

dessertsJust

It looks like most of your books have a food element. Is that because you like to bake?

A: Funny you bring this up, because it hasn’t been intentional. Food has been a continuing thread throughout my life, and as a kid I always went grocery shopping with my dad (we still like to go together when we can); we like to see what new products there are on the shelves and what’s on sale. I was the New York State 4-H Bread champion (not kidding!) as a seventeen year old—baking bread was something to do in an otherwise pretty boring summer in farm country, so I went for it, baking bread every day for the entire two months that school was out. Cooking and baking are relaxing for me like nothing else, and when I’m not writing, I’m usually in the kitchen. I even like chopping leeks, just as thin as I can get them without slicing off my thumb in the process . . .

Headless G-Man

Do you feel that writing your own books helps you relate better with your writer clients?

A: I think my writers and artists appreciate that I understand what they’re thinking and how they’re feeling in a way that you only know if you are a writer or artist yourself. We talk . . . a lot.

cookie riser

When I heard David Small and Kate DiCamillo speak at SCBWI conferences, it sounded like you were not only a great agent, but a great critique partner for them.

Over the years, there’s a trust that builds, and with David and Kate and most of my clients, I’m a gatekeeper; they can share work with me before anybody else sees it, and they know that if I’m willing to share it with the world, I believe in it.

cookieend

Why did you decide to leave HarperCollins to open a literary agency?

A: I’d been an executive editor for six years, and I had developed my own taste in books. I’d begun to believe that if I loved reading a book, maybe somebody else in the world would too. And so I was ready to set out of my own after a time, especially when some of the projects I tried to acquire were rejected by an acquisitions board. I wanted to succeed or fail based on my own taste.

What was your biggest success as a literary agent?

A: Biggest successes can run the gamut. There are the seven-figure deals with film rights and foreign licenses sold simultaneously, and there are the original books by new authors that become franchises, with television and live-stage deals coming along the way. But there are also the smaller deals that come with huge personal satisfaction, such as bringing a beloved book back into print decades after first publication, or placing that book I’ve always believed in, months after first submission. I think the biggest fun is finding an editor who loves a book, acquires it, and publishes it well, whether it’s snapped up in a pre-empt an hour after submission or acquired after months of waiting. They all matter.

On top of that, the feeling of comraderie I have with my colleagues is one I cherish–we root for each other and have a fabulous time together. That matters too.

Hallie, catching a cookie NYC August 2014

Do you have any words of wisdom for writers from an author’s point–of-view?

~Be discerning but don’t be precious about your work.

~Take your work as far as you can on your own before showing it; your agent only gets a first read once.

~Let your work speak for itself—no need to tell your agent how much your neighbors and other writer friends love it first; that can set unrealistic expectations before that first read.

~Go to your laptop or drawing board every day. It’s easier to stay with the story you’re trying to write or illustrate than it is to reintroduce yourself after an absence.

~Think about a problem you are having with your book right before you go to sleep, and keep a pencil and notepad by your bedside table; you might get an answer during the night or first thing in the morning (it happens!).

~Don’t worry about how many books you have published / are publishing; Robert McCloskey did seven in his lifetime.

~Don’t get obsessed with Amazon rankings, etc. The secret is that a bad ranking will make you feel worse and a good ranking or review won’t make you feel much better.

~As long as you can say to yourself, when you’re looking back at your work, I did the best I was capable of at that time in my life, you’ll be a bit more impervious to negative comments. But make sure you can say that before your book goes out into the world.

Would you answer differently with your agent’s hat on?

A: No, but some of these things I only know from being a writer, inside information J.

Holly, thanks for answering the interview questions. I will remind people when they might be able to see you in September. It was such great fun to share the picture of your son with everyone. It looks like David really captured his looks and personality.

Best of Luck with the book!

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy

PS: Remember to check back next Friday to read the four first pages critiqued by Holly.


Filed under: Advice, Agent, Book Tour, Editor & Agent Info, Interview, Picture Book Tagged: Agent Holly McGhee, Author Hallie Durand, Catch the Cookie, Illustrator David Small

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25. Walkies My Butt


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