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1. Cover Revealed for New Rhiannon Thomas Book

Kingdom of Ashes (GalleyCat)

The cover has been unveiled for Rhiannon Thomas’s young adult novel, Kingdom of Ashes. We’ve embedded the full image for the jacket design above—what do you think?

According to EpicReads.com, Jenna R. Stempel served as the designer for this project. This book, the sequel to A Wicked Thing, will be released on February 23, 2016.

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2. Is It Time for a Book Coach?

Many aspiring authors turn to book coaches when they’ve gotten stuck deep in the process of writing a manuscript; however, book coaches can also be helpful for those who haven’t yet typed a single character.

If you’ve always wanted to write a book but can’t seem to consolidate your ideas into a solid vision or need someone to help you get organized enough to make it through the writing process, it may be time for a coach.

The idea stage is when [Liz] Alexander contacted her book coach, Lisa Cron. They currently meet twice a month over Skype, and content is due before they talk. Regular deadlines help keep Alexander accountable, but the process unfolded differently than she expected. “I imagined at first I’d be like Stephen King — you know, get the first draft out in three months and then go back [to revise it].” Instead, Cron had Alexander write several scenes, and the two of them dissected the scenes over a call. “Lisa kept saying, ‘You haven’t gotten the emotion piece down yet,'” Alexander recalls. Alexander wrote the scenes over. And over. Her characters still came across as bloodless. When Cron coached Alexander through a mini breakdown, Alexander realized she was feeling the exact same emotion her character was experiencing, and she was able to draw on those feelings and express them on the page. She’s grateful now that Cron held her back from rushing forward with her story too quickly. To nail down the emotion and psychology of her characters made moving forward easier in the long run.

For more, including what book coaches say are the secrets to a book’s success, read: Why You Should Hire a Book Coach

The full version of this article is exclusively available to Mediabistro AvantGuild subscribers. If you’re not a member yet, register now for as little as $55 a year for access to hundreds of articles like this one, discounts on Mediabistro seminars and workshops, and all sorts of other bonuses.

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3. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara



Wrenching.

I don't know a better word for Hanya Yanagihara's novel A Little Life, published earlier this year by Doubleday.

Heart-wrenching, yes. But more than that. Not just the heart. The brain, the stomach, all the organs and muscles. It is a full-body-wrenching experience, this book.

It's too early to say whether this is a Great Novel, whether it is a novel for the ages, a novel that will bear numerous re-readings and critical dissections and late-night litchat conversations; whether it will burn long or be a blip on the literary landscape. Who knows. It's not for me to say. What I can say, though, is that working through (sometimes rushing through) its 700 pages was one of the most powerful reading experiences of my life.

There are passages and situations in this book that many readers will not want to live with, will not want in their minds' eyes, and I can sympathize with that. Yanagihara's own editor said, "I initially found A Little Life so challenging and upsetting and long that I had to work my way through to appreciating it. ... (My private little descriptive tag for the book is 'miserabilist epic.')" Miserabilist isn't the right modifier for me, despite the many miseries in the book, but there's certainly an epic quality to the novel's expanse, at least in the everyday vernacular sense of epic. In a genre sense, though, A Little Life is seldom epic; indeed, it's often the opposite: instead of expanding across history and myth and fantasy, telling digressive and episodic tales of heroes and villains, it narrows the world, history, and myth into ahistorical psyches and bodies, constructing a world less of event than of feeling.


The central character in the novel, Jude, suffers relentless, overwhelming abuse through his first fifteen years, and that abuse leaves him physically and psychologically mutilated for the rest of his life. We are not spared descriptions of what happened and of what its effects were.

I do not usually read detailed descriptions of child abuse. I can think of very few works that benefit from such descriptions, and too often they seem to me to be a cheap and morally dubious way for the writer to try to gain the reader's sympathy for characters — who, after all, is more sympathetic than a child?

Now and then, though, a story justifies the detailed pain it describes, and this is, I think, very much the case for A Little Life. Without the detail, Jude's character would not make much sense. The events of the book are so extreme — extreme not only in pain, but in (occasional) joy — that to have the appropriate weight, the descriptions of violence done to Jude first by others and then to himself by himself must be vivid. And they are vivid. They serve to place us into Jude's body, to learn his world through his pain, which is the primary fact of his world.

In many ways, A Little Life fits into the classical mold of the melodrama, though there is a kind of moralism to melodrama that is absent from A Little Life. (Which is not to say that this novel lacks a moral or ethical vision — not remotely — but rather that it's not a book by Elizabeth Gaskell.) But Jude's childhood, particularly, is straight out of melodrama: the villains are grotesquely villainous, the (very) occasional heroes are saintly, and Jude's sufferings are extreme. Indeed, the representation of Jude's childhood is not just melodramatic, but gothic, complete with a monastery teeming with horribly malevolent monks.

The gothicism reminds me of Joyce Carol Oates, but A Little Life is more consistent and successful than any Oates novel I've read (and I've read quite a few, which is to say maybe 10% of her output). Oates's Wonderland, for instance, has an extraordinarily vivid, gripping first section, and there are some similarities in the way Oates presents the psychological experience of violence to the way Yanagihara presents it. But Wonderland falls apart after its beginning, unable to sustain or even really justify the intensity of its opening hundred pages or so. One of the many impressive qualities of A Little Life is how consistent it is, how well it sustains and modulates its intensity through hundreds and hundreds of pages recounting fifty years of Jude's life.

Though it is focused on Jude throughout, A Little Life is not only about him, but also about all the people who are important in his life, including three friends he met at college and who become his closest friends for life. Another of the impressive qualities of A Little Life is its nuanced charting of a group of male friends through three decades or so of knowing each other. We see how they know each other differently, even as they know each other together: Jude's relationship to each of his friends is different, and their relationships to each other are equally different. We see the friends in good moments and bad, and we see especially how friends who have known each other a long time can also hurt each other deeper than anyone else — and how the bond still holds even as its intimacy metamorphoses. We see how Jude and his friends change over time as they become successful, as their lives gain new depths and contours, and as they suffer immense loss.

The relationships in A Little Life are complex, too, in their flows of desire and sexuality. Garth Greenwell has suggested that this may be "the great gay novel" that some people have been calling for, and that may be true, but it's far more queer than gay: the relationships throughout the book shift from the sexual to the asexual, hetero to homo to bi to whatever. (No trans characters, alas.) Identities of every sort are slippery throughout the novel, and with Jude, two of the primary identity categories in contemporary American life, sexuality and race, remain ambiguous or unknown from first page to last. (In conversation, a character says of Jude, "...we never see him with anyone, we don’t know what race he is, we don’t know anything about him. Post-sexual, post-racial, post-identity, post-past. ...The post-man. Jude the Postman.”) At one point, an apparently heterosexual character's thoughts are presented to us as he considers the limits of his heterosexuality: "he’d had sex with men before, everyone he knew had, and in college, he and JB had drunkenly made out one night out of boredom and curiosity". The most important relationship in the book is one where the characters are described as "inventing their own type of relationship, one that wasn’t officially recognized by history or immortalized in poetry or song, but which felt truer and less constraining."

One interesting, risky choice Yanagihara made was to set A Little Life in a timeless New York City. Though the book spans decades, its New York doesn't really change, and there are no references to any identifiable historical events or to buildings and places that have significantly changed over time. There are few, if any, references to any sort of technological details that would fix a scene in a particular time. This is a world without Giuliani, without gentrification, without 9/11. It is not just a novel that doesn't really concern itself with political or social history, but rather a novel that goes out of its way to erase political and social history from its universe.

This should make me hate the book. But much as I like some political and social history in my fiction, what I like more than that is fiction that takes risks and strives for unique effects and vision. The risk Yanagihara takes in A Little Life is to make its setting obviously a fantasy, but not a fantasy like a big fat trilogy full of orcs and mages. That sort of fantasy lives and dies by its "worldbuilding"; A Little Life does the opposite: it builds its world not from references to culture, history, politics, etc. but through the psychic life of its characters. It is filled with the physical world, but the physical world it is filled with is Jude's, and what overwhelms Jude's physical world, to the point of nearly obliterating time and space, is his body. Jude's nervous system is to A Little Life what the Shire and Mordor are to The Lord of the Rings.

We are not, though, plunged into a psyche and its sensorium in the way that we are in, say, Woolf's The Waves. The narration in A Little Life is not stream of consciousness, but instead a fairly close third person limited point of view sprinkled with free indirect discourse. The point of view characters can change from chapter to chapter, but the perspective is still close. There are also a few important first-person chapters. The writing style is neither avant-garde nor especially "difficult" — indeed, if the book holds your attention, you'll likely find it to be frequently a page-turner.

The risk of setting the book in a rather blank world, a world of place names more than places, ends up paying off in spectacular and surprising ways. It produces some of the effects of stream of consciousness without being stream of consciousness because the way it presents its world is the way its focal character seems to perceive that world. Jude, unlike some of the other characters, is staunchly apolitical and apparently uninterested in history. He is (as we are) haunted by his personal history, but not a history of the world. In the monastery, he was only able to think about his immediate reality, and that habit of thinking goes unbroken for the rest of his life. He carries the monastery with him forever. Though his friends seem mostly to be conventionally liberal, and he has a strong desire for what he thinks of as justice, he holds no apparent political opinions, and enjoys working his way up in a corporate law office, a place other characters consider soulless and evil, but which is the only place Jude consistently can escape his terrors — it's a different kind of monastery for him, one that is comforting rather than scarring.

Yanagihara chose to make all of the characters successful in their professions and wealthy. This is another important part of the fantasy. They came from a variety of backgrounds (including racial backgrounds), but after college they all fairly quickly find professional and economic success. This is not, though, a book about the wonderful glamour of wealth. It's also not a book about the corruptions of wealth. The wealth of the characters seems primarily to be a plot device, as denuded of actual economics as the setting is denuded of actual history. The book's most determined (and determining) goal is to follow the effects of almost unfathomable childhood abuse on Jude throughout his life, to see how pain shapes him physically and mentally, and that goal would get messier without the ease of travel and association that wealth, power, and fame provide the characters.

In that way, A Little Life is not so much like a melodrama as it is like a classical tragedy, where the focus on royalty allows a kind of world-historical gravitas even when the world and history aren't really the work's concern.

And in truth, if Jude and his friends hadn't been as wealthy and successful as Yanagihara allowed them to be, there probably wouldn't have been as many pages to the book, because Jude would not have lived very long. It's hard to imagine him as a high school teacher, for instance, or a retail clerk; hard to imagine him making it through a life where he didn't have access to world-class health care and where he couldn't call in favors from well-connected friends and family. Jude has, as he acknowledges, an extraordinary life as an adult. That his struggles are still so painful, so unbearable, heightens the tragedy. We weep not because the pains of the rich and powerful are more painful than our own, but because we can extrapolate back to ourselves: we, without private drivers and personal assistants, without doctors at our 24-hour beck and call, without the means to fly across the world at any moment, without the ability to wrangle the press in our favor or to summon gaggles of lawyers and lawmakers — we would be crushed. As readers, we bear the pain alongside Jude, we feel our way along with him, but we only make it through because he can.

(Perhaps there is, then, a kind of political subtext to the book: To survive the kind of childhood Jude had, or even one more ordinarily traumatic, you'd have to be brilliant, highly successful, and wealthy. That most of us aren't even one of those things, never mind all three, allows some perspective on the cruelties of our systems.)

The world as these characters experience it is huge, punishing, and vertiginous: "They all ... sought comfort, something that was theirs alone, something to hold off the terrifying largeness, the impossibility, of the world, of the relentlessness of its minutes, its hours, its days." Here is one of the meanings of the novel's title: To survive, these characters must find ways to make life little, to bring it down to a comprehensible size, because otherwise they are lost. The struggle is all-consuming and agonizing, often unsuccessful, but the few and fleeting successes feel worth fighting for, worth fighting toward.

Why follow Jude's struggles, why subject ourselves to his pain and suffering? What pleasure is there in reading a book that fundamentally asks, "How much can a person bear? What sort of childhood can't be escaped?" Why keep turning the pages?

I don't have a simple, clear, or even perhaps convincing answer for that, but I will say this: I've read few novels with such vivid characters. I'm not a particularly immersive reader, and I suspect I resist imagining characters in novels as flesh and blood people more than many readers do. And yet the characters in A Little Life, particularly Jude and Willem, seemed to me alive both while I read about them and after. I could imagine them outside the stories that the novel tells. I could think about a "Jude-type person" or a "Willem-type person". I would have vehement opinions about who could play them in a movie adaptation.

How Yanagihara achieved this effect? I'm not entirely sure. The magical alchemy of fiction. It is far more than the sum of the words on the page. Partly, such an effect relies on what we bring to the words from our own experience. Even though my own life has been and is very different from that of the characters, I still felt, again and again, that the novel expressed something very deep within myself. It unlocked and unleashed emotions I hardly knew I had. And that, too, is part of its purpose: to extend imagination, to help us think and feel our way toward sympathy. In one of the first-person chapters, a character says, "Most people are easy: their unhappinesses are our unhappinesses, their sorrows are understandable, their bouts of self-loathing are fast-moving and negotiable. But his were not. We didn’t know how to help him because we lacked the imagination needed to diagnose the problems." In that sense, A Little Life is a pedagogical novel, a novel that seeks to teach us — or at least to exhort us — to open up our imagination so that perhaps we might better help each other somehow, somewhere. And so that we ourselves might be able to be helped.

I sweated through this book, I wept through it, I felt excitement and joy for the characters, pity and fear. Some days, I had to set it aside because it was all too much to bear. But I went back, always, until finally I reached the last pages, which were heartbreaking and beautiful, indescribably sad and also somehow liberating, even life-affirming, but not in some shallow, Hallmark way — instead, in delineating all the ways that even the most privileged life can go wrong, and showing when letting go of life is, if not acceptable, then certainly understandable, A Little Life illuminates the dignity in its title: these lives, some of them cut short, some of them filled with suffering, feel, in the end, immense.

He knew it was the price of enjoying life, that if he was to be alert to the things he now found pleasure in, he would have to accept its cost as well. Because as assaultive as his memories were, his life coming back to him in pieces, he knew he would endure them if it meant he could also have friends, if he kept being granted the ability to take comfort in others.

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4. 48 days, day 18: bountiful moon

{{ I am chronicling 48 days of writing before my July 31 travel. If you are chronicling your summer writing/days and would like to share, please link or comment so we can all cheer one another through. Strength to your sword arm! }}

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5. Faith, Hope, and Love: A Book Review of Ghost Boy by Martin Pistorius

by Sally Matheny

Ghost Boy by Martin Pistorius
 At age twelve, Martin Pistorius slowly slipped from perfect health into an unknown illness. His body weakened and his memories faded. After his parents exhausted all medical avenues for an answer, they painfully watched their boy become a mute, quadriplegic.


For four years, Martin was in a waking coma state in an unresponsive shell, unseeing and unknowing of his surroundings.

Then, his mind slowly woke up. But, his body did not.

For ten years, his mind was completely aware—aware that he was trapped inside an unresponsive body and unable to communicate with others. Martin wasn't paralyzed, but no matter how hard he tried, he had no control of his spastic muscles, his curled fingers, or the voice that disappeared with his childhood.


Most of us can’t begin to grasp what it’s like to have no physical control of our bodies. Nor can we fully comprehend the horror and painful realities someone, with a fully intact mind, experiences encased in one of these silent shells.

For someone who went fourteen years unable to express his emotions, Martin Pistorius pushes full throttle, and exquisitely conveys them all in his book.

Tension builds in Martin’s tedious days. Sorrow snatches the tiniest glimmers of joy. Hence, a courage develops, as does hope.

Martin inserts a great sense of humor in spots. I was thankful for them, especially after reading the difficult passages.

I cringed at what Martin had to endure at times. I believe a note for reader discretion is needed for the chapter titled, “Lurking in Plain Sight.” I hated reading it—and rightly so. And yet, had Martin not been so painfully transparent about his darkest days of torture, his story would be incomplete. Nor would I have fully appreciated his joy when he survived and overcame.

This is not an overtly Christian book. There are two or three points of faith shared—but they are profoundly powerful.

The most amazing one to me is the one where Martin shares his knowledge of God’s presence with him. He never had church worship experiences or even Christian training prior to his illness. Nevertheless, when his mind awoke inside the shell of his unresponsive body, he knew God was there with him. Martin sharing that realization is one of my favorite parts of the entire book.

Martin Pistorius as a young teen

The story unfolds of Martin’s amazing journey from being like a “potted plant” to living a full and productive life. All because of one person noticing a flicker of life in him and opening a door of opportunity. Martin expresses appreciation to many but he is certain of who he owes the most gratitude.

In a May 2015 interview with Christianity Today, Martin said,

Without the Lord, I would not be here today. I have no doubt that it was only his intervention that saved me. It is only through God that I have found my voice.”

In the book, Martin shares the joys and fears of learning how to communicate once again. His life changed. He got a job, a college degree, started his own business, and married the love of his life.

This book inspires me to take time to look more intentionally at people—especially those who seemingly fly under the radar. You don’t have to have a health condition to feel invisible.

Time after time, Martin shares the power one tiny act of kindness, one caring word spoken, or one consideration of the man’s heart rather than his body, all had a huge affect on his life.

I recommend this book. Martin Pistorius’ story will take you into the uncomfortable pit of darkness and encourage you to grasp hold of life-giving faith, hope, and love.


A Smiling Martin Pistorius- Twitter Photo


If you’d like to hear Martin Pistorius speak  briefly about forgiveness and compassion listen to this interview with Glen Beck on YouTube.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”





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6. The Real Digital Children’s Book

 

However, at long last I believe I have seen something that could change the reading experience in what I think will be a profound way—and it is Virtual Reality—and it is going to be here in a mass market way in very short order, perhaps in a matter of months. If you have not already experienced Virtual Reality by using one of the Oculus Rift devices for instance then you are in for a transformative experience. This is not 3D. It is totally immersive.  My son is involved in various projects, some of which take him to the sites of natural disasters to report on and to coordinate specific relief efforts. Days after the Nepal earthquake, his business partner was in Kathmandu with a Virtual Reality camera (basically seven Go Pro cameras attached to a ball at the end of a rod).  The short film they created when edited, scored, and narrated  has you, the viewer, standing on a pile of rubble watching people pulling rocks and steel from the wrecked buildings as they search for survivors. When you lift your head you see others higher up on the building. Turn your head to the side and there is a line of people waiting in line for food. Turn completely around and you are looking down another broken street, and then a camera on a drone takes you hurtling down that same street.  At the end of the film there is a pitch to donate money for relief work. There is no doubt in my mind that bringing that kind of reality to the viewer is going to be a powerful incentive for people to get involved in what for them will no longer be just another disaster story at a bottom of a news page. How could it be? They were practically eye witnesses.

Right now the equipment to film, edit, and view Virtual Reality is expensive and rare. However, Google has just debuted Google Cardboard, an inexpensive device (about $10) that you can slip your phone into, and then connect with a brand new YouTube being developed just for Virtual Reality film. And Facebook’s Oculus Rift division will come out with new, cheaper, headgear early next year.

And so what does this have to do with children’s books? First, it is not the end of the traditional hardcover picture book.  The book, a unique art form that generations of parents and their children have grown up with is not going away, and in fact should continue to thrive no matter what electronic wonders evolve.

But think of this: A nonfiction book about the Holocaust in which embedded in the text is a link to a YouTube site that can be accessed by scanning a link onto your phone. Then, after slipping on Google Cardboard and sliding in your phone, you find yourself transported to the Holocaust Museum or through the gates of Auschwitz. Or a picture book about lions that places you in the middle of a pride lounging about a water hole. Tour the International Space Station? Take a spacewalk?  Visit Monet’s Garden?  The possibilities for enhancing a book are endless. 

Also endless is the headlong advance of technology. Google Cardboard, cutting edge today, could be old hat in a year, replaced by something being dreamed up in Silicon Valley even as you read this.

Our challenge as writers and artists is to use our creative minds to turn these new tools into compelling stories that will entertain and educate. The field of children’s books has always been highly competitive and the future will be no different. Those who succeed will be those who educate themselves, work hard at their craft and, in the end, settle for nothing but the very best. New technology will demand it, and children deserve it.

 

Want to learn more about Virtual Reality? Here are a few links that will get you started.

 

  1. Purchase Google Cardboard Viewer for your smartphone and find VR Apps: www.google.com/get/cardboard
  2.  
  3. The Wall Street Journal on how Virtual Reality will change the news-a short video: Will Virtual Reality Change How We Consume News?
  4.  
  5. Short Virtual Reality Videos to View with Google Cardboard: www.vrvideo.co

  6.  
  7. All you want to know—and then some about Virtual Reality: www.vrs.org.uk/virtual-reality/what-is-virtual-reality.html

 

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7. Looney Tunes Are Good for Selling Shoes, If Not Much Else

The Looney Tunes characters don't entertain anymore, but they'll sell you $200 kicks.

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8. DANGER by Roxanne Bee

timthumb

Submitted by Roxanne Bee for the Illustration Friday topic DANGER.

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9. SCBWI Exclusive with Tina Wexler

 

What makes a compelling hook in a manuscript?

Anything that subverts my expectations, offers a fresh take on a familiar story, or offers an unfamiliar story with a relatable issue at its center.

 

What in a query letter catches your eye and makes you request a manuscript?

An original idea, expressed well, sent by someone who clearly researched agents and has read books published recently and within the category/genre they are writing.

 

Would you consider a query or manuscript from a writer whose queries you’ve passed on before?

Yes. I’ve signed and sold a number of projects that came to me as the authors’ second queries.

 

Is it essential to have a synopsis?

It is essential to have a pitch (two or three sentences that tell me what the project is), but it is not essential to have a synopsis (a page-long description of the story, beginning to end), as I rarely read them.

 

The million-dollar question: What in a manuscript takes your breath away?

If it has a great voice, if it works on a line-by-line level as well as a big picture story level, if the characters won’t leave me alone, if it makes me laugh out loud or cry, if it participates in the wider cultural conversation.

 

If you have a manuscript that fits the above, query Tina at TWexler@icmpartners.com. You can follow her on Twitter @Tina_Wexler for other helpful publishing tips.

 

 Three Helpful Hints when querying an Agent

 1) Never underestimate the value of a personalized salutation.

2) Just as you should revise your manuscript, so to your query.

3) Don’t dilly-dally with long introductions. The sooner you tell me about your story, the sooner I can fall in love with it.

 

Tina Wexler is an agent in the Literary Department at ICM Partners representing middle grade and young adult fiction and nonfiction, as well as the occasional picture book or nonfiction for adults. A few of the authors on her acclaimed list are Anne Ursu, Christine Heppermann, Shane Burcaw and Brandy Colbert.

 

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10. Tales of the Wolfman on Kickstarter

David Gruba is hoping to raise $5000 on Kickstarter for Tales of the Wolfman, a collection of comics and art that gives new life to some classic children’s tales and comic books.

The 48-page anthology, which includes contributions from various artists, reimagines Little Red Riding Hood based on the premise that the wolf marries Red Riding Hood.

Here is more from the Kickstarter listing: “But in this case, the Wolf is a Wolfman. In this all-ages series, writer David Gruba and artist Rene Castellano play with the possibilities of Wolf and Red’s uncommon pairing by blending Universal Monsters with Fairy Tale Classics. The series, so far, consists of Bride of the Wolfman, House of the Wolfman, Feast of the Wolfman and Time of the Wolfman.”

 

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11. Mau and The Book of Dares for Lost Friends


Dear Two-legged One,

You're welcome. I have successfully inspired you to create a cat who is a cat, and not a fluffy fashion accessory. Because of my insights, Mau will take her place among literature's other masterful cats, such as The Cheshire Cat, Crookshanks, and Mr. Mistoffelees.

Mau's book will be in stores on July 14. Then everyone can admire her wisdom and her grace. There are some human characters in the book too, for those who like reading about "middle-school cruelty, the heartache of abandonment, and the supple bonds of friendship."  (from Publishers Weekly) Of course, my favorite parts were when Mau was hunting for rats near the Obelisk in Central Park.

I believe that you will be giving a reading at 7 pm on July 16th at  Community Bookstore in Brooklyn. Unfortunately I will not be able to attend. But I know that there is a cat in residence there, so all should go well.

I have arranged for 5 copies of Mau's book to be given away from Goodreads. LINK to the GOODREADS Giveaway  If you haven't joined that group of readers, you should. It's free and fun.

And so, dear Two-legged One, my work here is done. 

Sincerely, 

BLACKBERRY

The Cat


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12. Marching Mariachi Band


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13. Boomerang Reboots With Original Bugs, Scooby, and Bunnicula

Time Warner is relaunching its archival animation showcase Boomerang with original content -- and commercials.

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14. You Can Judge a Book By a Title

 

by Rob Broder, President & Founder of Ripple Grove Press

 

So, what’s in a title?  A title can say a lot.  It can provide me with what the story is about, introduce a character, tell how the story will end or tell me to dive in and keep me guessing.  Titles like (I’m making these up but are similar to what we’ve received) The Grumpy Town says to me everyone in the town is grumpy except one small child who turns the town around and they are all happy in the end with merriment in the streets.  And hopefully it won’t rhyme.  

Or Mr. Pajama-Wama The Cat Thinks Theres A Monster Under His Bed.  I never thought there was a monster under my bed and I don’t know why I would want to put that idea into a child's mind.  The title gives it all away, and I don’t want to read the words Mr. Pajama-Wama on every single page. And hopefully it won’t rhyme.

There are titles that describe too much and spill the entire story, like, Little Red Hen and the Missing Mitten on a Rainy Tuesday.  I know everything before I even get to the first sentence. And… hopefully it won’t rhyme.

Or titles like, Im Always First or New Baby in the House.  Both titles are telling me the beginning, middle and end before I even get started.  And hopefully it won’t rhyme. 

The titles that make us want to move on to the story are the simple titles that pique my interest and keep me intrigued, (yes, these are our books) like The Peddlers Bed… okay, now what.

or Too Many Tables… okay, where could this go.  Or Lizbeth Lou got a Rock in her Shoe… a little long but you got my attention.  If your title mentions your pet’s name or your grandchild’s name, it doesn’t usually pan out.  When titles have names that don’t match the characters you created, like Aidan the Kangaroo or McKenzie the Raccoon or Addison the Hippo, it’s obvious the child is sitting right next to you as you write your story.  I understand that something special or sweet has happened to your loved one, but that doesn’t mean it has universal appeal. Share your ideas with friends or a critique group.  Read your story out loud to yourself. 

You can judge a book by it’s title… if words like Hope or Grace or Pray or Johnny Scuttle Butt are there.  And although bodily function writing might be humorous to some, it’s not something I want to read over and over again to a four-year-old.  So please, no poop or pee or burp or fart… not timeless, not cozy.

With all this said, I still get excited to read every submission and every story.  I want to find the gem, I want to be wow’d.  I want to put your story in my revisit folder and I want to like it more and more each time I read it.  So please, do your research.  And please, oh please, read children’s picture books.  Read award winners, what’s popular, what librarians recommend.  Read stories you may not be a fan of, it will guide you to your own voice.  Study them, why do they work, what made the publisher choose this story?  Match your story with the right publisher.  Hopefully all this work will shine through your story and one day you’ll get that phone call from a publisher who would like to talk to you about your submission. 

 

Rob Broder is the president and founder of Ripple Grove Press, an independent children’s picture book publishing company based in Portland, Oregon. To learn more about Ripple Grove Press and their submission guidelines, visit www.ripplegrovepress.com.

 

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15. Back to old tricks

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16. 4 Questions for Giuseppe Castellano

 

 

I think of it this way: kids who can only afford a book that’s under ten dollars still deserve the same level of artistry as a kid who can afford more. There are illustrators—too numerous to mention—who jump between trade and mass projects; and the only difference is the format of the book, and not the quality of the art.

 

If an illustrator is interested in both trade and mass market, do they need two different portfolios?
 
Are the styles vastly different? How is their “mass” art different from their “trade” art? Without seeing the illustrator’s work, it's difficult to say whether or not they need more than one portfolio. Unfortunately, there is no broad-stroke answer. In portfolio reviews, I’ve heard my colleagues use “mass” as an adjective meaning “less than." How many illustrators have heard “It's too mass”? Others conflate “cartoony” with “mass." I’m not sure how much good that does; as it implies that there are styles worthy of trade, and styles that aren’t—irrespective to the execution of the art.    
 
Personally, I don’t think “trade” or “mass” when I’m assessing art. I’m concerned with these factors: Does your art meet my need? Does your personality come through? Is it well-executed? You can read more about this topic in my blog post Forget “Style”
 
What about illustrating for licensed properties (for example, Strawberry Shortcake)? Are there illustrators who do both licensed books and original work?
 
Of course! This ties back to the “multiple style” discussion. Illustrating for media-tie in publishing (books based on TV shows, movies, and video games) can be immensely rewarding. It’s a sorely misunderstood field of illustration. Some of the most talented artists I know work in media tie-in. 
 
It’s unfortunate that there’s still a prejudice about it—as if it lacks a level of artistry—when, in fact, the opposite is true. In my blog post, Animation and Children’s Books, I speak to the creative and financial value of media tie-in illustration. Related to that, artists in the field of animation from Claire Keane to Liz Climo to Pete Oswald discuss the topic of crossing over from animation to children’s books. 
 
The bottom line is that an illustrator should never feel that their career is either/or. Until illustrators reach a status where they can call their own shots, I think all options should be considered.
 
Should an illustrator expect royalties when negotiating a contract with a mass market imprint?
 
Royalties aren’t as likely, as mass-market budgets tend to be smaller (a $3.99 book can afford less than a $16.99 book)—but they’re not off the table. The thing with royalties—that I find is assumed—is that they’re a sure thing. Royalties are triggered only after your advance is covered by the book’s sales—which doesn’t always happen. That’s very important to keep in mind. Moreover, depending on the publisher’s accounting system, the schedule for a royalty check can vary. When negotiating your contract, these are all points you should certainly discuss.
 
What is your best advice for SCBWI members who are interested in illustrating for mass market imprints?
 
As far as I’m concerned, there is no such thing as “illustrating for mass market." For me, all the same qualities should be met in mass as they are in trade: strong character design, strong color theory, good visual storytelling through composition, consistency, good use of value range, polished execution, and personality.
 
I would recommend that illustrators simply keep working on their visual handwriting. Focus on being the best possible version of yourself as an artist. Do that, and you won’t have to worry so much about classifications.
 
 
Read more from Giuseppe by visiting his popular #arttips blog. You can also follow him on Twitter.

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17. Happy Pub Day to Jessixa Bagley’s BOATS FOR PAPA!

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I’m so thrilled to wish Jessixa Bagley a very happy pub day for her debut book, BOATS FOR PAPA. I met Jessixa at SCBWI NY in 2013; that was the first conference I attended with my agent hat on after nearly ten years on the other side of the desk at Simon & Schuster. Jessixa came to my session, politely introduced herself and struck up a conversation. She was a runner-up in the Illustrator Showcase and submitted a dummy called Drift to me after the conference. I opened it and was immediately drawn into the world of Buckley, a young beaver who creates increasingly intricate boats to send to his absent and much missed Papa. And she made me cry. Tears-streaming-down-my-face cry. I sold the book to the brilliant and wonderful Neal Porter. Neal, … [more]

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18. On the Shelves Hicklebee’s

 

What would you like to see more of from authors/illustrators in terms of community involvement?

A good social media outreach and community is helpful. And, please, include either your local independent bookstore(s) and/or a link to IndieBound.org on your website, Facebook, and other online places. If we visit these and only see Amazon, we just cannot link to your sites. 

 

How do you handle author/illustrator visits? Can authors/illustrators contact you directly?

Most of our author visits come via the publishers as they send their talent out on tour. The publishers also provide co-op funds that help us advertise the books and events. Co-op funds make up 100% of Hicklebee's advertising budget, which allows us to create and print in-store flyers and brochures, add the listing to our website, and enewsletter, put together in-store displays,  and do some print advertising in local newspapers. Authors and illustrators can indeed contact us directly. If a date and time works for our schedules, we're happy to discuss an event with you. For local, self-published people, we've developed a program that allows us to staff and manage their books and events: www.hicklebees.com/local-independently-published-authors-0

 

What is your favorite part of being a bookseller/manager/librarian?

Seeing children sprawled out across the store absorbed in a book. Watching kids beg their parents/caregivers for a book like their life depends on it. Plus getting to meet and talk to other book-loving people. 

 

Personal book recommendation?

Off the top of my head—Smek for President. Adam Rex had me laughing out loud with his clever words and characters. I found myself wishing my children were young again and still at home—we'd have had so much fun with this book!  For picture books, I'm loving The Duck and the Darklings by Glenda Millard, illustrated by Stephen Michael King for the beautiful, inventive language, hopeful, caring message, and curiously perfect illustrations.

 

To learn more visit: www.hicklebees.com

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19. Beach Fun! Beach theme picture books and printables

Beach Fun! Beach theme picture books and printables | Storytime Standouts

Beach Picture Book Fun from StorytimeStandouts.com

Whether planning a day at the beach or just back from some fun in the sun, these beach-theme picture books will be a wonderful addition to your summertime fun. Suitable for toddlers, preschool age children, kindergarten and older, these stories address important themes like fear of the water and getting outside one’s comfort zone. Whenever possible, it is very valuable to have children read books that match their experiences. These stories are perfect for introducing new concepts and extending learning. Have fun!









All You Need for a Beach written by Alice Shertle and illustrated by Barbara LavalleeAll You Need for a Beach written by Alice Shertle and illustrated by Barbara Lavallee
Picture book about a day at the beach published by Harcourt, Inc.

A companion book to All You Need for a Snowman, this is an exuberant celebration of a group of children, playing together in sand and water. Bright, cheerful colours and a happy theme of exploration and cooperation highlight this picture book for toddlers and preschool-age children. Illustrations depict a racially diverse group of children.

All You Need for a Beach at Amazon.com

All You Need for a Beach at Amazon.ca



At the Beach by Anne and Harlow RockwellAt the Beach by Anne and Harlow Rockwell
Toddler book about a day at the beach published by Aladdin

Best suited to very young children, At the Beach is a lovely introduction to the joys of spending a day picnicking, playing in the sand, looking for treasures and swimming. Simple, clear text matches the colorful illustrations and creates an opportunity for learning new vocabulary.

The main characters are a Caucasian girl and her mother however the illustrations depict diverse skin tones among those playing at the shoreline.

At the Beach at Amazon.com

At the Beach at Amazon.ca

Curious George Goes to the BeachCurious George Goes to the Beach based on the original character created by Margaret and H.A. Rey, illustrated in the style of H.A. Rey by Vipah Interactive
Picture book about a day at the beach published by HMH Books for Young Readers

Fans of Curious George will not be disappointed with this fun story about a day at the beach. George and his friend Betsy enjoy playing at the sandy beach, making friends and feeding the sea gulls. Betsy’s reluctance to go into the water could be an opportunity to talk about fear of new experiences.

Betsy, her grandmother and the man with the yellow hat Caucasian however the illustrations depict diverse skin tones among those at the beach.

Curious George Goes to the Beach at Amazon.com

Curious George Goes to the Beach at Amazon.ca

Duck and Goose Go to the Beach written and illustrated by Tad HillsDuck and Goose Go to the Beach written and illustrated by Tad Hills
Picture book about friends who visit the beach published by Schwartz & Wade Books

Duck is keen for adventure while Goose would much rather stay in familiar surroundings so it is only not surprising that Goose is not keen to go for a hike. The two friends leave their familiar meadow and eventually arrive at the beach. It is loud and wet and very, very sandy. Vibrant illustrations are a highlight of this engaging story about two friends leaving their comfort zone, enjoying a day out together and then returning to the comfort of home. Duck and Goose Go to the Beach is highly recommended for preschool- age children.

Duck & Goose Go to the Beach at Amazon.com

Duck & Goose Go to the Beach at Amazon.ca

Scaredy Squirrel at the Beach by Melanie WattScaredy Squirrel at the Beach written and illustrated by Melanie Watt
Beach theme picture book published by Kids Can Press

Scaredy Orville Squirrel whose initials are S.O.S. is an immensely popular character in an equally popular series of picture books.

In Scaredy Squirrel at the Beach Scaredy the worrywart is very careful to avoid any sort of real or imagined danger. Rather than encounter pirates, jellyfish, seagulls and sea monsters, he decides to create his very own private backyard beach paradise. After carefully constructing his safe haven, Scaredy realizes that, although his beach “look” is great – his backyard just doesn’t sound like the real thing. The only solution is “Operation Seashell” – a carefully planned and executed mission in search of a seashell that will provide crystal clear ocean sound. Featuring detailed descriptions of Scaredy’s beachware and plans for his mission, Scaredy Squirrel at the Beach will be enjoyed best independently or in a small group or one-on-one read-aloud setting. Best-suited to children five and up.

Scaredy Squirrel at the Beach at Amazon.com

Scaredy Squirrel at the Beach at Amazon.ca

Stella Star of the Sea written and illustrated by Marie-Louise GayStella Star of the Sea written and illustrated by Marie-Louise Gay
Picture book about a summer day at the seashore published by Groundwood Books

In this endearing series of picture books, we meet confident and worldly Stella and her much less self-assured younger brother Sam. When the two children visit the seaside on a shimmery summer day, Sam is filled with questions that suggest not only curiosity but also a bit of fear,

Do you think there are sharks in the sea?” asked Sam.
“Have you ever seen one?”
“Just a little one,” said Stella, “with an eyepatch.
Are you coming, Sam?”
“Not just this minute,” said Sam.



Gorgeous illustrations together with text that beautifully depicts the two siblings will have young children longing to visit the seashore and discover all the wonders of a leisurely summer day filled with digging in the sand, fishing, beach combing and, eventually, a swim.

Winner of the 2000 Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz Children’s Book Award

Stella, Star of the Sea at Amazon.com

Stella, Star of the Sea at Amazon.ca

Tip Tap Went the Crab written and illustrated by Tim HopgoodTip Tap Went the Crab written and illustrated by Tim Hopgood
Counting book about sea creatures

Tip Tap Went the Crab features bright and colorful illustrations along with repetitious text that includes alliteration and onomatopoeia. When a crab decides to leave her small rock pool to explore the ocean she encounters one seagull, two sea lions and three starfish.

A great choice for toddlers and preschoolers, Tip Tap Went the Crab provides a great reminder that books for this age group can (and should) include rich language and fun, detailed and appealing illustrations. It is well-suited for a classroom or library read-aloud session.

Nominated for the Kate Greenaway Medal 2010

Tip Tap Went the Crab at Amazon.com

Tip Tap Went The Crab at Amazon.ca

Beach Theme Picture Dictionary and Sight Words

Free Beach Theme Printables for Preschool and Kindergarten

Note: There is a file embedded within this post, please visit this post to download the file.

Storytime Standouts - Raising Children Who Love to Read


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20. Take Flight this Summer with ‘Maggie’ on Audio!

Thanks to superstar voice actress Tavia Gilbert, every month is Audiobook Appreciation Month here in Grain Valley, Kansas! To honor Tavia and all the awesome voice actors and actresses out there, we’ve been giving away Downpour.com downloads of Tavia’s performance … Continue reading

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21. #illustration #wip for #mograph #animation- Space themed!



#illustration #wip for #mograph #animation- Space themed!



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22. Bookseller William D. Farley Has Died

Bill Farley (GalleyCat)William D. Farley has died. He was 83 years old.

Farley, who was often called Bill, devoted more than 30 years of his life to a career in bookselling. Bill (pictured, via) and his wife, B Jo Farley, opened the Seattle Mystery Bookshop in the summer of 1990.

Here’s more from the store’s blog post: “It was his intention that the Seattle Mystery Bookshop be a place where readers and writers could meet, that it be a resource for those with questions or simply looking for a new author to read, that it be a place for someone new to the novels as well as the serious buyers looking to extend their collections. Under his guidance, the shop presented internationally known authors as well as beginning authors who grew into internatinally known authors. It was his dream and it was one he succeeded at brilliantly.”

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23. Beware of Reduncancy

Don't fall into the trap of repeating the same idea but using different words.

http://thestorytellersscroll.blogspot.com/2015/05/writing-tip-beware-of-repetitive.html?spref=fb&m=1

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24. KidLit Author Events June 30-July 6 (And PUPPY!)

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This has been such an exciting week around my house! Because this happened:

Puppy Coming Home Puppy SofaPuppy lge

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

She’s a 3 month old, German Shepherd/Husky (Gerberian Shepsky) mix. I saw her at Ace Hardware last weekend, and was bewitched by her sweet little face. I resisted the urge to take her home with me, because I still had some sanity left. But she stayed in my thoughts all week, so Saturday morning when my husband and son said they had to go to the hardware store, I chirped up that I wanted to go, too. Now, this isn’t unusual; I love hardware stores. But something in my tone of voice immediately tipped off my husband that something was up. I admitted it; I wanted to see if the beautiful little black dog had been adopted. She hadn’t, but now she has! We haven’t reached a decision on her name yet, so I’ll add that here next time.

Last week I introduced a new page on this blog, Houston Writer & Illustrator Events. This week, I’m introducing another new page, Workshops: Young Writers. There are many writing workshops for teens that range from an hour to a full day, but for young people who are serious about writing, that isn’t enough. This list will help serious young writers find events in time to meet the often rigorous application requirements and early registration dates. If you know a teen (and occasionally younger kids) who has a keen interest in writing, please share this list with them. Like all my other conference lists, I will update this page on a weekly basis, so check back often!

Also, tomorrow is the first full month of my new website theme, and so will be the first full month to feature books launching in July. These children’s and young adult books will be shown on the sidebar on all the conference pages. Clicking on these images will open a page about that book. Throughout July, please take a moment to visit these books and spread the word!

We have another quiet week for author bookstore events, but we have two writers’ events this week:

JUNE 30, TUESDAY, 6:30-8:30 PMHouston Writers Guild
The Houston Writers’ Guild
Trini Mendenhall Community Center, 1414 Wirt Rd.
Julian Kindred: Finishing Your Novel: Bringing Your Ideas to Fruition
Cost:$10 Members; $20 Nonmembers; $5 Students w/ID.

Staying the course once you’ve started writing your novel is difficult. How do you manage the distractions of daily life or the temptation to quit and chase the next new idea? And once the manuscript is complete, then what? This workshop will examine methods for holding yourself accountable for writing your novel and examine when it is time to start, or finally finish, revisions, as well as what you should be doing in the meantime.

JULY 6, MONDAY, 7:00-9:00 PMSCBWI
SCBWI Houston
Tracy Gee Community Center
Holly Walrath: Writing Culturally Relevant YA: War, Politics, Violence and Gender
Cost: FREE! All are welcome!

Children’s literature is entering a new era – one that embraces the dark lens of postmodern literature. Picture books deal with increasingly more disturbing topics from abortion to personal violence. Four themes have emerged in Children’s Literature that reflect these changes: War, Politics, Violence, and Gender. In discussing these themes, we’ll look at new trends in children’s literature and what they might mean for us as writers. We’ll explore how to approach these themes in our writing. We’ll discuss how children view these events and how they affect children’s personal lives.

 

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25. Amazon Now Sells Print Books in Mexico

amazon-mxAmazon has been building up its Kindle business in Mexico for the past several years. Today the company has launched its first e-commerce store across the border that sells physical books.

Amazon.com.mx, a Spanish-language e-commerce site launches with millions of print books. Just as in the U.S., the online giant will also sell everything from consumer electronics and video games to personal health care items. They are offering free shipping on orders above MXN 599 (about $38 USD).

“Our mission at Amazon is to be Earth’s most customer centric company, and we strive to be the destination where people can find anything they want to buy online,” stated Alexandre Gagnon, director of international expansion at Amazon. “With Amazon.com.mx, customers in Mexico will find more of what they want – the largest selection in the country, low prices, fast and reliable delivery, all with a trusted and convenient experience.”

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