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1. Setting up the reading journal for a year of writing about reading

Ever since I began teaching, my students’ reading journals have been as much “the gateway to all the work we will be doing from September to June” (to borrow a phrase from a… Continue reading

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2. Ian McEwan profile

       In The Observer Robert McCrum profiles, at some length Ian McEwan: 'I'm only 66 -- my notebook is still full of ideas' -- mainly, of course, about his new work, The Children Act.
       Quite a few interesting titbits -- including:

McEwan has just sold his manuscripts to the Harry Ransom Center in Austin, Texas. "Bundling up my papers," he says, "has been another ageing thing." The library, conventionally a sanctuary, has become a sobering transit-lounge. At once dry and droll, he describes it as "the antechamber to death".
       (I wonder whether they'll use that as a new logo in Austin .....)
       Perhaps surprising, the admission: "I haven't written a short story since 1976"

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3. Blogging and Conversion – How to Get More Juice out of Your Efforts

I’m always reading marketing blogs and one of my favorites is HubSpot.com. In a recent post on ‘squeezing more conversions out of our blog,’ the author offered some interesting tips on doing this – four tips actually. 4 Blog Conversion Tips 1. Get a “subscriber banner” up on your website. I really like this idea because it’s immediately visible, front and center when someone lands on your

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4. Interview With Kerry O’Malley Cerra: MG Author

I am so pleased to be doing a post with Kerry O’Malley Cerra, the author of the middle grade book, JUST A DROP OF WATER.  What better way to honor Labor Day than to have Kerry talk about the book and freedom. Here’s Kerry:

1. Tell us about your personal connection to 911.
Pretty quickly after the attacks, it was discovered that Mohamed Atta—the lead hijacker of the plane that flew into the north tower in New York City—lived in our town. Fear was already heightened throughout America, but this information almost paralyzed me. I had three small kids and I couldn’t help but wonder if we’d seen Atta at the grocery store, a restaurant, the park, the bank. At the same time these scenarios were running though my head, I discovered that a close college friend—who is Muslim—was having a difficult time and that his parents, who lived in the town where the terrorists took flight lessons, were being questioned. I wish I could say I believed their innocence in that moment, but it would be a lie. I’ve never really forgiven myself for that.                           Just a Drop of Water Cover

2. What motivated you to write JUST A DROP OF WATER?
As I mentioned above, I didn’t like myself for doubting my friend and his family. Once my head cleared and the fear subsided a little, I knew—with all that is in me—that they were innocent. I started to wonder why I doubted them in the first place. And, I wondered if my kids, at their young ages, would have ever doubted their friends. At what age do we go from trusting and innocent, to fearful and jaded? I wanted to explore that, and Just a Drop of Water is the result.

3. What’s the message you want readers to take away from the story?

I sincerely hope that the theme of peace comes though. While the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11 were tragic, I hope we can learn from them. Acceptance is the key to peace, and that begins with children. I don’t mean acceptance of terrorism, but acceptance of religious, cultural, racial, and all other differences to eventually create a world where we can live side by side, peacefully. When I see and hear stories about children in the Middle East being brainwashed and trained to hate at such young ages, it breaks my heart. Why can’t we be doing the same thing but with the opposite message? I hope that Just a Drop of Water is a step in that direction.

4. Our theme this month is FREEDOM. How does that idea resonate with your book and all that took place during the events of 911 and the writing of your story?

I’ve always loved the word freedom. It’s a strong word that evokes much emotion for me. Though freedom equates to rights, those rights come with much responsibility. That’s a hard concept for kids to grasp. In the story, Bobby is free to be whom he wants and he chooses to be a bully. Jake has the freedom to defend Sam. But, both of these roles come with responsibility and both, ultimately, have consequences. This is the part that Jake struggles with the most. If Bobby hits Sam, Bobby deserves to be hit in return, but all this does is get Jake in more trouble. He can’t see the fine line between standing up for what he believes in, yet finding a way to do that peacefully—finding a way to do it that won’t get him in trouble. How does this relate to war? If terrorists attack our country, is it okay to attack them back? When does defense cross the line? Is it better to find another way to solve the problem? These are all questions the book raises, and questions to be considered when freedom is discussed. I hope teachers, parents, and/or librarians will talk about this with kids as they read the book.              Kerry Offiicial Author Photo copy

You can reach Kerry at:
Twitter @KerryOCerra Website is: http://www.kerryomalleycerra.com

Just a Drop of Water:   Kirkus calls the book:
“A perceptive exploration of an event its audience already sees as history.”
“…the supplemental material middle-grade history teachers are looking for…”

Ever since he was little, Jake Green has longed to be a soldier and a hero like his grandpa, who died serving his country. Right now, though, he just wants to outsmart—and outrun—the rival cross country team, Palmetto Ridge. But then the tragedy of September 11 happens. It’s quickly discovered that one of the hijackers lived nearby, making Jake’s Florida town an FBI hot spot. Two days later, the tragedy becomes even more personal when Jake’s best friend, Sam Madina, is pummeled for being an Arab Muslim by their bully classmate, Bobby.
According to Jake’s personal code of conduct, anyone who beats up your best friend is due for a butt kicking, so Jake goes after Bobby. But soon after, Sam’s father is detained by the FBI and Jake’s mom doubts the innocence of Sam’s family, forcing Jake to choose between his best friend and his parents. When Jake finds out that Sam’s been keeping secrets, too, he doesn’t know who his allies are anymore. But the final blow comes when his grandpa’s real past is revealed to Jake. Suddenly, everything he ever knew to be true feels like one big lie. In the end, he must decide: either walk away from Sam and the revenge that Bobby has planned, or become the hero he’s always aspired to be.
A gripping and intensely touching debut middle grade novel by Kerry O’Malley Cerra, Just a Drop of Water brings the events of September 11, which shook the world, into the lens of a young boy who is desperately trying to understand the ramifications of this life-altering event.
You can now pre-order my book from these locations:
Amazon / IndieBound / Barnes & Nobel / Book A Million / Powell’s Books

 


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5. Math Monday: Padlet


Visit Mandy at Enjoy and Embrace Learning for Math Monday link up!
(This post is cross posted at Click Here Next)

I don't remember where I saw Padlet used for math but I kept the idea in the back of my head.  This week,  I wanted to start embedding technology into our work across content as a natural part of the process. I didn't want to teach a lesson on Padlet or talk directly about the tool but I did want kids to begin to experience various tools could support thinking and learning.

So before school began, I started a padlet with the problem we'd be solving.  I didn't share it with students yet but, as students were working on a math problem, I bopped around as I always do, looking a student work and finding a variety of strategies. I decided to take photos of 4 students' work and add photos of each to the padlet. About 3-4 minutes before I gathered the class to share, I invited these 4 students to look at the padlet and to add their words to their work--what had they done to solve the problem. I had each child use a different computer so as the rest of the class gathered for share time, they could see the 4 students simultaneously adding to the padlet.  The talk was around math and the strategies each had used, but the power of the technology was evident.

Because we'd been talking about how we could learn from each other and how we might want to go back to a past problem to solve a new one, I wanted to make this something kids could easily go back to if they want to later in the year. I also thought it was a great opportunity to write a quick shared post on our class website. So we added our Padlet to the math section of our Weebly and wrote a quick blurb about the activity.  This hopefully gives students an anchor for talk at home about learning at school.

This was really simple and the addition of Padlet took no extra time.  The focus was still on math but Padlet helped us look at the possible strategies and to hold on to those in a way that we couldn't without technology.  By putting this on our class website, this resource can be accessed whenever a child thinks it might be helpful.


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6. 5th Blogiversary Celebration

Five years. That's right, I'm celebrating five years of my blog. Looking back at this year's posts, I see there aren't too many, but there's good reason for that. I'll get to that in a moment. There are lots of things to cover.

First, I want to say that Robin Williams made my day. Please don't take this the wrong way. I am not trying to make light of a tragic situation. I know both depression and addiction are powerful diseases. My point in saying he made my day is that it emphasizes no matter how successful or financially well off you are, you are still not immune. It reminds me that chasing every last dollar and stressing over bills is not the answer. We live in a beautiful world and need to focus on the truly important things.

Now, as soon as I can put my soap box away, let's get on with the party...


A little bit further down this post, you can find details on the blogiversary prizes. Some of you may have noticed that I have been a bit absent from the "writing world" coming close to a year now. At least, I hope you noticed. Well, there's good reason for that. I've actually been living a childhood dream.


I'm currently a Walt Disney World Monorail Pilot! Ever since I was a little boy, I wanted to drive one of those things. Last November, an opportunity arose and I took it. Let me tell you, the actual drive training is one of the most challenging things I've done in a long time. Every minute has been worth it! I am having a blast and spend my days with some absolutely amazing cast members.

As for my writing, I have some plans and things are coming together. 



My friends at Helping Hands Press (www.myhelpinghandspress.com) are helping me celebrate this blogiversary for the next 25 days. I have two projects that I am working on for them. Quite a while ago, I started co-authoring a story called Amish Wonder. When finished, it will be a novella about a young Amish boy thrust out into the secular world. For fans of the Defective Amish Detective, I will be re-editing those stories into a complete novel with a nice surprise on the end.



I am also working with Dinosaur George Media on two different series. Ask DG is a question and answer picture book for young readers. Book 2 will feature illustrations from the very talented Victor Donahue. Both Ask DG and Dinosaur George and the Paleonauts book 2 are expected to be available by Christmas. You can find these books and more here: store.dinosaurgeorge.com



And the one that started it all - The Empyrical Tales. Book Four of the Empyrical Tales will continue the story of Zandria and Olena by telling the tale of The First Queen. The whole series will be revamped and re-introduced soon. Until then, I will keep those details under wraps. Please visit my official website for more details and the series and my other books - www.MillerWords.com

While you are there, please check out my new online store, where you can get autographed copies of all of my paperbacks at a special price with free shipping.

In five years of writing, blogging and social media, I have met some fantastic writers and been blessed with some great fans. I've received humbling reviews and inspiring emails. I've tried my hand (not always successfully) in many different genres and have something for most every type of reader. To celebrate, I am giving away the gifts. Here are the links to five of my paperbacks available through Goodreads.com:














In addition to the paperbacks, Helping Hands Press has put together a prize pack of selected eBooks (mine and some of my author-friends). Lazarus Filmworks, for whom I wrote the adaptation of Daniel's Lot, is also including some prizes. Please be sure to visit both of my sponsors. This part of the giveaway will be done through Rafflecopter exclusively on my blog. You can earn an unlimited amount of entries by using social media once a day for the next 25 days.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

In closing, I want to express my gratitude. That is one thing of which I have an abundance and can afford. I am full of thanks for all of my experiences over the past five years. I am thankful for the people, both real and virtual, that I have met. I am thankful for the opportunities I've had. In this time, I have also watched my family grow and change and I thank God for that gift. Please feel free to share this post and all of the prize links. And, as always, I appreciate any comments on my blog.


Thank you for the past five years,
and I look forward to the next five!
Mark

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7. I'm off to Rio! Yippee!


Okay, I am making the assumption once again that things are following the plan. Whether that's true or not, one thing's for certain: the Urban Sketchers 5th International Symposium is now officially over (sigh). But, my trip isn't quite done yet (hurrah!).

Before I left England, I booked a long-distance bus to take me and fellow instructor Liz Steel to Rio de Janiero. The symposium actually ended with the bit party on Saturday night, but I know from past years that the pace over the three days will have been extremely intense, so I thought I might appreciate a short period of relative calm, sketching at a gentler pace in Paraty on Sunday, before moving on.

Liz and I leave Paraty on the 09.20 bus (or has it already happened? Can't remember which way the time-thing goes...), but it takes over four and a half hours to get to Rio. Now, Liz is probably the only person alive who talks more than me, so we'll be able to pass a fair bit of that time chin-wagging, but I'm guessing we'll also be doing some of The Usual. 

I don't have long in Rio - just two and a half days, which is nowhere near long enough for such a crazy place, but I'll get a taster at least. And, yes Mum, I'll be careful and won't go out and about on my own - promise!




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8. Review of the Day: Dory Fantasmagory by Abby Hanlon

DoryFantasmagory1 362x500 Review of the Day: Dory Fantasmagory by Abby HanlonDory Fantasmagory
By Abby Hanlon
Dial (an imprint of Penguin)
$14.99
ISBN: 978-0-8037-4088-4
Ages 6-8
On shelves October 9th

Which of the following types of children’s books are, in your opinion, the most difficult to write: Board books, picture books, easy books (for emerging readers), early chapter books, or middle grade fiction (older chapter books)? The question is, by its very definition, unfair. They are all incredibly hard to do well. Now me, I have always felt that easy books must be the hardest to write. You have to take into account not just the controlled vocabulary but also the fact that the story is likely not going to exactly be War and Peace (The Cat in the Hat is considered exceptional for a reason, people). And right on the heels of easy books and their level of difficulty is the early chapter book. You have a bit more freedom with that format, but not by much. For a really good one there should be plenty of fun art alongside a story that strikes the reader as one-of-a-kind. It has to talk about something near and dear to the heart of the kid turning the pages, and if you manage to work in a bit of a metaphor along the way? Then you, my dear, have done the near impossible. The last book I saw work this well was the extraordinary Sadie and Ratz by Sonya Hartnett, a book that to this day I consider a successor to Where the Wild Things Are. I didn’t expect to see another book tread the same path for a while. After all, these kinds of stories are enormously difficult to write (or did I mention that already?). Enter Dory Fantasmagory. Oh. My. Goodness. Pick up my jaw from the floor and lob it my way because this book is AMAZING! Perfection of tone, plot, pacing, art, you name it. Author Abby Hanlon has taken a universal childhood desire (the wish of the younger sibling for the older ones to play with them) and turned it into a magnificent epic fantasy complete with sharp-toothed robbers, bearded fairy godmothers, and what may be the most realistic 6-year-old you’ll ever meet on a page. In a word, fantastico.

She’s six-years-old and the youngest of three. Born Dory, nicknamed Rascal, our heroine enjoys a rich fantasy life that involves seeing monsters everywhere and playing with her best imaginary friend Mary. She has to, you see, because her older siblings Luke and Violet refuse to play with her. One day, incensed by her incessant youth, Violet tells Rascal that if she keeps acting like a baby (her words) she’ll be snatched up by the sharp-toothed robber Mrs. Gobble Gracker (a cousin of Viola Swamp if the pictures are anything to go by). Rather than the intended effect of maturing their youngest sibling, this information causes Rascal to go on the warpath to defeat this new enemy. In the course of her playacting she pretends to be a dog (to escape Mrs. Gobble Gracker’s attention, naturally) and guess what? Luke, her older brother, has always wanted a dog! Suddenly he’s playing with her and Rascal is so ebullient with the attention that she refuses to change back. Now her mom’s upset, her siblings are as distant as ever, Mrs. Gobble Gracker may or may not be real, and things look bad for our hero. Fortunately, one uniquely disgusting act is all it will take to save the day and make things right again.

DoryFantasmagory2 300x192 Review of the Day: Dory Fantasmagory by Abby HanlonThis is what I like about the world of children’s books: You never know what amazingly talented book is going to come from an author next. Take Abby Hanlon. A former teacher, Ms. Hanlon wrote the totally respectable picture book Ralph Tells a Story. It published with Amazon and got nice reviews. I read it and liked it but I don’t think anyone having seen it would have predicted its follow up to be Dory here. It’s not just the art that swept me away, though it is delightful. The tiny bio that comes with this book says that its creator “taught herself to draw” after she was inspired by her students’ storytelling. Man oh geez, I wish I could teach myself to draw and end up with something half as good as what Hanlon has here. But while I liked the art, the book resonates as beautifully as it does because it hits on these weird little kid truths that adults forget as they grow older. For example, how does Rascal prove herself to her siblings in the end? By being the only one willing to stick her hand in a toilet for a bouncy ball. THAT feels realistic. And I love Rascal’s incessant ridiculous questions. “What is the opposite of a sandwich?” Lewis Carroll and Gollum ain’t got nuthin’ on this girl riddle-wise.

For me, another part of what Dory Fantasmagory does so well is get the emotional beats of this story dead to rights. First off, the premise itself. Rascal’s desperation to play with her older siblings is incredibly realistic. It’s the kind of need that could easily compel a child to act like a dog for whole days at a time if only it meant garnering the attention of her brother. When Rascal’s mother insists that she act like a girl, Rascal’s loyalties are divided. On the one hand, she’ll get in trouble with her mom if she doesn’t act like a kid. On the other hand, she has FINALLY gotten her brother’s attention!! What’s more, Rascal’s the kind of kid who’ll get so wrapped up in imaginings that she’ll misbehave without intending to, really. Parents reading this book will identify so closely to Rascal’s parents that they’ll be surprised how much they still manage to like the kid when all is said and done (there are no truer lines in the world than when her mom says to her dad, “It’s been a looooooooong day”). But even as they roll their eyes and groan and sigh at their youngest’s antics, please note that Rascal’s mom and dad do leave at least two empty chairs at the table for her imaginary companions. That ain’t small potatoes.

DoryFantasmagory3 219x300 Review of the Day: Dory Fantasmagory by Abby HanlonIt would have been simple for Hanlon to go the usual route with this book and make everything real to Abby without a single moment where she doubts her own imaginings. Lots of children’s books make use of that imaginative blurring between fact and fiction. What really caught by eye about Dory Fantasmagory, however, was the moment when Rascal realizes that in the midst of her storytelling she has lost her sister’s doll. She thinks, “Oh! Where did I put Cherry? I gave her to Mrs. Gobble Gracker, of course. But what did I REALLY ACTUALLY do with her?” This is the moment when the cracks in Rascal’s storytelling become apparent. She has to face facts and just for once see the world for what it is. And why? Because her older sister is upset. Rascal, you now see, would do absolutely anything for her siblings. She’d even destroy her own fantasy world if it meant making them happy.

Beyond the silliness and the jokes (of which there are plenty), Hanlon’s real talent here is how she can balance ridiculousness alongside honest-to-goodness heartwarming moments. If you look at the final picture in this book and don’t feel a wave of happy contentment then you, sir, have no soul. The book is a pure pleasure and bound to be just as amusing to kids as it is to adults. Like older works for children like Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key, Dory Fantasmagory manages to make a personality type that many kids would find annoying in real life (in this case, a younger sibling) into someone not only understandable but likeable and sympathetic. If it encourages only one big brother or sister to play with their younger sibs then it will have justified its existence in the universe. And I think it shall, folks. I think it shall. A true blue winner.

On shelves October 9th.

Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.

Like This? Then Try:

Professional Reviews: A star from Kirkus

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9. All Fall Down: Review Haiku

Yes, it's a bit cliched
and too easily solved.
But you'll still read it.

All Fall Down by Jennifer Weiner. Atria, 2014, 400 pages.

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10. The Lightkeeper's Wife by Sarah Anne Johnson

A seaman's life for me.

Hannah was worthy to be a seaman, and Annie/Blue turned into a seaman as well as a pirate​.

Hannah and Annie knew nothing about each other, but they had things in common:  both​ were headstrong for women of the 1800’s and they both loved the sea.

THE LIGHTKEEPER'S WIFE goes back and forth between Hannah's life and Annie/Blue's connecting both characters’ lives without their knowing.

THE LIGHTKEEPER'S WIFE is about enduring life and living a passion.  You will feel Hannah's frustration as she tries to keep up the lighthouse after her husband has gone missing and only has Billy to help her.

The descriptions Ms. Johnson has of boat rescues and being at sea are amazing.  Great detail in the telling of the story and the book's events keeps you reading.

I enjoyed THE LIGHTKEEPER'S WIFE.  If you enjoy the 1800's and seafaring content, you will enjoy THE LIGHTKEEPER'S WIFE.  


Gorgeous cover, fantastic writing, and great research, but my rating is going to be a 3/5 because of the disconnection with some parts of the book and for the length of time it took me to figure out what was going on and the length of time it took me to figure out who the characters were.
 
I received this book free of charge and without compensation from the publisher in return for an honest review.​

 

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11. The year I walked through hell

I know it's Labor Day, not New Year's, but I'm declaring it officially the start of a new year. This last year was the hardest year I have ever had in my life.  Good things happened too, I'm not saying that, but I would trade those good things to reverse some of the bad. A year ago today, I was involved in a horrific car accident, then moved home and took care of my mom while she was on hospice, and then ended up in the hospital.

The accident

We were driving to dinner. September 1, 2013. I had my hand on my husband's knee and we were smiling and talking about nothing.

Past his shoulder suddenly: a dog. Appearing so out of nowhere it's like magic. A black lab running flat out toward us. Pink tongue streaming behind. Black leash streaming behind.

It looks totally happy. Happy and clueless.

No time to scream. No time to brake. No time to react.

A second after we first see it, the dog and car meet just past the driver's side front bumper.

And then we are screaming.

We pull over in the gravel, still screaming. It has to be dead. It has to be.  Oh my god.  It seems like we are a long ways away, blocks and blocks, but later I see it's not even half a block.

I get out. It's worse than I thought.

Not one dog, but two.

Two dogs lying on their backs in the street, paws in the air.

I've never seen dogs lying like that. Cars are already stacking up. A young man kneels by one, a young woman by the other.  Screaming, crying, begging. What will these people think of us?  We killed their dogs.

MauroAs I get closer, I can see they are street kids. The girl with red-gold dreads and pants made of patches. The guy with red-gold hair and a black T-shirt. (I later found his picture online.) They carry their dogs to the side of the road. The guy is begging. "Aldo! Aldo!" The black lab is moving a little. And then it dies.

The little dog is still alive and whining.

I try to look up Dove Lewis, the emergency animal hospital, on my phone. I keep typing the wrong letters, and the harder I try the worse I get. The lady who answers says to bring the dogs in. I tell my husband to get the Subaru.

These two kids are wailing. Stumbling from one dog to the other, shaking, weeping so hard that snot runs down their faces.

The guy lifts the lab into the back - even though we all know it must be dead - and then climbs in beside it.  The girl sits in the back with the little dog and I pick up their two huge packs (they were setting down their packs when they lost control of the dogs) and bag of groceries and somehow manage to shove them all in the car.

And then we drive. Too fast. I keep telling my husband to be careful, that the guy is just loose back there.

Otherwise, the car is mostly quiet. The guy is curled over the dog, weeping soundlessly. The girl is trying to reassure the little black and white dog, named Karate Kid. Neither of these two are that much older than our daughter.  But somehow they've gone from being someone's precious babies to two kids living on the street with their dogs.

At the vet hospital, a tech in blue scrubs comes out to the parking lot, puts her hand to the lab's neck and shakes her head.  She's a tall girl, broad-shouldered, and she manages to carry his body in by herself. Three hours later, we are looking at X-rays of the smaller dog. (It turned out that another car actually hit him.) The ball on one hip joint has been turned into paste.  Everything has been pushed to one side.

And after they say goodbye to both dogs, both kids stagger back out into the waiting room. Eyes nearly swollen shut with weeping. We were strangers thrown together, sharing a nightmare.

2011-07-22 12.23.02 Becoming an orphan
Eleven days later, I drove down to my home town
on a few hours sleep. I had gotten back from a business trip to North Carolina and New York City the night before. My mom had declared that September 12 was when she was going on hospice. She had congestive heart failure and interstitial lung disease and had been put on oxygen a few months before.

2013-10-12 14.50.34I think she had hoped that the magic of going on hospice would cause her to die right away. But then the hospice nurse said she might live for months. My mom and I exchanged horrified glances while the nurse prattled on, oblivious. It took her a long time to figure out that Mom wanted to die and soon.

For years, my mom has been dying on the installment plan.  She was ready to die. There was nothing unsettled, nothing unsaid. She thought it was funny when, after she had decided she would go on hospice, her fortune said, "You are soon going to change your present line of work." She firmly believed in God and and afterlife, although she had no preconceived ideas about what it would be like.
2013-09-21 14.31.36

The nurse only took her off a couple of her meds.  On her own, Mom decided to go off the others.  She stopped her oxygen. Then she stopped eating.  Then she - sort of - stopped drinking.

It was a very strange three weeks.  Good conversations. Watching a lot of old movies and documentaries, as well as the entire first season of Homeland and the Forsyte Saga. Being bored. Wondering when/ hoping/being afraid she would die. Weeping in the laundry.


I was getting an award October 5.  I was going to cancel. Mom told me not to, and then died quietly October 1, a few hours after the hospice nurse said she would live for at least a week, maybe longer. Of course, I was flat out useless at the awards. I basically stood at the podium and wept. It got so bad that one of presenters gave me her already used Kleenex.

2013-09-23 15.13.35room and biting my hand so she wouldn't hear me. Being scared. Laughing. Telling her to stop apologizing for my being there. Trying to write a little. Eating my way through so much junk food.  The day the wild turkeys came - and my mom's favorite memory involved a drive in the country and a flock of wild turkeys. 2013-09-21 07.43.42

When you hear hoofbeats, don't look for zebras
Doctors have a saying.  "When you hear hoofbeats, don't look for zebras." In other words, it's probably a cold, not a rare fatal virus.

Or in my case, just before Christmas when my leg turned red and started swelling up, it was probably cellulitis.  And when it didn't respond to three different antibiotics, they decided it was MRSA cellulitis, and I ended up in the hospital for three days. In case I was contagious and  might pose a danger to people who were already physically sick, they put me on the psych unit. Let's just say, that was interesting. T
hen I had a rare reaction to IV Vancomycin called hand-foot syndrome. First my hands and feet felt like they were on fire. Then eventually all the skin peeled off. Oh, and somewhere in there, the doctor thought I had a blood clot in my heart that was throwing off bits.  It was a month or so of suck.

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I did a LOT of lying on my back, staring at white acoustical ceilings, and crying.  And wondering whether I would lose my leg or die. I actually came out okay (except a scar from a biopsy).  It turns out that an errant kung fu shin clash probably led to something called traumatic panniculitis (dermatologist's theory) or a crush injury (orthopedic doc's theory).  Unfortunately, even though everyone eventually agreed I never had cellulitis, they couldn't agree on what I did have, so I coudln't be featured in the NY Times' Think Like a Doctor series. I couldn't even persuade the hospital to not charge me my copay, since they never tested to see if I had an infection.

Write or die
I like that program, Write or Die, for forcing you to write, forcing you to create instead of criticize or dither.

This past year was write or die for me. I turned in a book February 19th. February 20th I started a new book and turned that in June 1, despite doing school visits and events in St. Louis, Detroit, Chicago and Houston.  Both editors said the books were the best I had ever written. And I sold a new book over Memorial Day.  I'll finish it in November.
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So that's it. The highlights of my year. I hope to have a much quieter one this year.

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12. 100,000 like lottery


I've reached 100000 likes on my Facebook fanpage, I'm giving away this little image to one of the commenter of this post. Head over there and comment if you'd like a small drawing: www.facebook.com/Mattias.O.Adolfsson Thanks all for all the likes!

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13. Sunday Sketching -

In the teensy purse Moleskine balanced upon my knee..


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14. Scottish Space Adventure: Edinburgh Book Festival 2014

This year Edinburgh Book Festival was OUT OF THIS WORLD!



My literary co-pilot Philip Reeve and I had been putting together a Cakes in Space stage show and this was our first full-on performance. (Since Reeve lives on Dartmoor and I'm in London, we only had one other chance to practice, at Nine Worlds a couple weeks before Edinburgh.) And just as we were leaving for Scotland, this fabulous animated Cakes in Space trailer popped up, made by Ed Beck & David Mead from MB Films:



Our book features a spaceship food machine called the NOM-O-TRON, so we brought along a smaller, portable version:



And I showed everyone how to draw Pilbeam the robot and a killer cake! Here's one of the drawings, tweeted in by @Lorna_May_D:



I still can't quite get over seeing Reeve in streaky blue hair and lipstick.



And we even got our portraits shot by festival photographer Chris Close. We were the only authors he took into his special anti-gravity booth. Thanks, Chris!





When Stuart and I first arrived at the book festival, I raced around looking at all the other photos... and spotted some friendly faces! Here's Philip Ardagh (who works with Axel Sheffler on his The Grunts books; Axel draws Julia Donaldson's Gruffalo - that's the link to the little chappie on his shoulder - and Babette Cole, with characters from her new James Rabbit and the Giggleberries book.



And while I was there, Babette drew me a birthday picture! Thank you, Babette! :D She made sure I paid special attention to the space pants.



I did quite a lot of costume changes, and Stuart was wonderful about helping me with them, even if he thought I was slightly nuts.



On the Thursday, I had a full day of Outreach Events in Fife. The festival organises these so schools and libraries outside of central Edinburgh can still take part in the festival. Here I am in the festival Yurt, very early in the morning, practicing my There's a Shark in the Bath song. I first sang it at the Hay Festival and I was super-nervous, but I'm a bit more confident about it now.



I took those sharks to Kirkcaldy West Primary School. They were great fun, that lot! And we even got our pictures in the local paper. (Thanks for tweeting that, Damon Herd!)



My assistants and I got to have lunch at the beautiful new Kirkcaldy Galleries:



The Schools Outreach is very strict about not taking photos in the schools, so I only got one. But it's of the excellent team who took me around on the day: Outreach coordinators Sarah Bingham, Grainne Crawford and Rona Neilson and a tag-along Jampire. Thanks so much, team!



One of the challenges of Edinburgh Book Fest is trying to do a few other things outside the book festival. But this time Stuart and I made a point of going to see our friend Emma Vieceli acting at The Fringe festival, in a play called Parade. She did a great job! Emma now makes comics, but she started out as a children's telly presenter and she's recorded music, and it's fun seeing her go back to her roots.



Ah, here's Emma (second from right)! Together with comics people Hannah Berry, Pat Mills and their partners:



On the way to Emma's play, Stuart spotted my Summer Reading Challenge banner in the front window of the new Edinburgh Central Children's Library, together with two of Philip Reeve's three GOBLINS books. Cool!



Another fun thing about Edinburgh is going out for publisher dinners and meet other authors who are published by the same team. Here's Philip, our excellent Oxford University Press publicist Keo Baxendine (who did a lot of our planning) and another of their writers, Wendy Meddour, whose 12-year-old daughter illustrates their Wendy Quill books. (Or maybe her daughter's older now, but still, pretty amazing.)



And hanging out in the Authors Yurt is fun, too. Everyone's sort of equal in there, so you can talk with anyone (and grab cake and whisky and other nice treats and meals). Look, it's Children's Laureate Malorie Blackman! While we were there, Malorie did an interview with a Sky reporter, quite rightly calling for more diversity in children's books, and got stuck with a very bad headline, which caused massive internet outrage, and quite a lot of abuse, too. But Malorie stuck by her guns, and all our colleagues rallied around her, and the whole thing made it much more clear just why we need more diversity in books. Not in a tick-the-box sort of way, but in a way that lots of different kinds of people can find other people like themselves in books. Patrick Ness talked on Twitter about how he couldn't find any books about gay people in his school library, and there aren't that many UK children's books with black people as the main characters. Here's Malorie's initial Sky interview, and a Guardian article about her response.



Here's Malorie's Summer Reading Challenge video:



More exciting encounters: it's Di Cameron from Oxford's Story Museum, comics artist Adam Murphy in The Phoenix Comic), comics colourist Lisa Murphy, Cameron Jr and comics artist Neill Cameron! Adam and Neill both have new books out with The Phoenix Comic and David Ficking books, compilations of their Phoenix work: Corpse Talk by Adam and How to Make Awesome Comics by Neill. Lisa did quite a lot of the colouring for Adam, and has also coloured for my studio mate Gary Northfield (Gary's Garden) when he was pressed for time.



Philip and I were hugely flattered that Geraldine McCaughrean came to our event! Geraldine's been a big influence on Philip, and her book The White Darkness is one of my all-time faves. Geraldine's on Twitter now: you can follow her: @GMcCaughrean.



Philip and I did two Cakes in Space events, one for schools and one for the general public. During the schools event, festival sketcher Morag Edward drew us! She did a great job, but I don't think we made it easy for her: "You moved around a lot!"



COSTUME CHANGE!



Ha ha, I got this week at Afflecks Palace in Manchester during an earlier festival, and I love the name of it: Skyscraper Blond.



Head of Marketing and Publicity Elaine McQuade from Oxford University Press came with Philip and me to Wester Hailes Library to do another Outreach event, this time featuring Oliver and the Seawigs. I'm really getting into this wig thing. My bird thought Elaine was rather splendid and cuddled up. One of the librarians had a phobia of feathers, so I had to put away my fluffy fan.



We had a great time at Wester Hailes, drawing Sea Monkeys with everyone and singing the EEP song, but I didn't get any photos. Our next stop was Leith Library, where we were helping them with their Summer Reading Challenge final medal ceremony. First I sang an opera aria...


Photo by Jeff Holmes

(No, not really.) If you've been following my blog, you'll have seen that MYTHICAL MAZE theme of this year's Summer Reading Challenge has been a big part of my lasts few months. I got to be the official illustrator, and when I first took on the job, I met with kids at Leith Library and got their ideas and feedback on some of the characters. So it was great coming full circle and hearing how they'd enjoyed the challenge, and congratulating them for reading their six books.


Photo by Jeff Holmes

We tried to slide the medals on gracefully and not get them stuck on anyone's ears. It's a tricky task.


Photo by Jeff Holmes

Philip and I read a bit from our Oliver and the Seawigs, the myth we've created, and I talked with the kids a bit about myth making. There's no way to say your characters will be remembered thousands of years from now, like Medusa or the Minotaur, but if you do your best, you never know!


Photo by Jeff Holmes

I led everyone in drawing Medusa, Edinburgh City Libraries' Simon Radcliffe said a few words, and our sponsor, Tesco Bank, took a big Summer Reading Challenge group photo.


Photo by Jeff Holmes

One of the fun things about this summer is the way so many kids and librarians have dressed up in mythical creature costumes, and the photographers took us outside for a few more cosplay shots:


Photo by Jeff Holmes

Whee! Thank you, Edinburgh! A huge thanks to the festival's Children & Education Programme Director Janet Smyth, and you can follow the festival on Twitter: @EdBookFest and see some other things that happened on the #EdBookFest hash tag.


Photo by Jeff Holmes

As much as I love book festivals, I find them exhausting, and I was very grateful that I didn't have to go straight back to the drawing desk (despite impending deadlines). Stuart and I took a couple more days to visit Glasgow Auntie, and she looked after us wonderfully. Here she is, having an intimate moment with a Jampire.



Glasgow Auntie took us to beautiful Troon. I had no idea Troon had such an amazing beach.



But jellyfish... JELLYFISH! We were glad we weren't swimming. Check out this alien creature that had washed up:



One last shot with lovely Stuart in the Troon sun.



Bye bye, Scotland, but just for now! If you're further south and still want to see our Cakes in Space performance, there are still a few spaces left for our Saturday morning family-friendly launch at Daunt Books Marylebone, central London on 13 Sept at 10:30am. Book your free ticket now! (You can come with kids or without, in space costume or not, it's up to you!) :)

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15. Audio Books: Listen to This!


eBook Sale: August 26-31 only $0.99/regular $5.99

Available at these eBook stores Mims House eBookStore Nook Kindle Kobo iBookstore

AUDIO BOOK (Unabridged): Now Available!

Available at these Audio Book stores iTunes Store Amazon Audible

According to the Wall Street Journal, audio books have “ballooned into a $1.2 billion industry, up from $480 million in retail sales in 1997. Unit sales of downloaded audio books grew by nearly 30% in 2011 compared with 2010, according to the Audio Publishers Association.” Some reasons include the ease of listening on smart phones, lower prices, and a growing audience of people who prefer audio books.

I’ve always loved audio books, and in fact, I almost always have one going in my car. That’s why I’m thrilled with my news today that three of my titles are now audio books, with three more coming this fall. If you have audio rights to your books, you can also do this through ACX. They provide a platform for you to audition narrators, who will then produce the book. They are all for sale on iTunes, Audible and Amazon. At the time of this writing, Kell, the Alien is on sale at Audible for only $1.99.

The Girl, the Gypsy and the Gargoyle

Paula Bodin

Paula Bodin, actress and narrator of THE GIRL, THE GYPSY AND THE GARGOYLE.

The narrator, Paula Bodin, created multiple voices for this exciting version of the story.

Paula Bodin is an actress and producer in LA who adores the SciFi/Fantasy genre. She’s voiced multiple characters in shows like Barbie: Life in the Dreamhouse, Monster High and Ever After High, brought Lady Door to life in the West Coast Premiere of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, and is in numerous film/tv/web productions, including playing Wendy in The New Adventures of Peter & Wendy.

Paula says, “I hope you enjoy listening to this book as much as I enjoyed reading it!”



GGG-ACXCover
Buy the AudioBook

Listen to a Sample


Saucy and Bubba: A Hansel and Gretel Tale

Audio Book Narrator, Monica Clark-Robinson

Audio Book Narrator, Monica Clark-Robinson

Monica Clark-Robinson is a writer, actor, and voice-over artist living in Little Rock, Arkansas. She holds an MFA in Theatre from Michigan State University. Monica has acted locally for the Arkansas Repertory Theatre, Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre, and Murry’s Dinner Playhouse. She also writes for kids and teens, and was a finalist in the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Karlin Picture book award competition. Monica has published a cookbook, titled “Vegan Kids Unite,” and she is a speech writer for local and national professionals. She also works as a voice-over talent for local audio production companies. In her “spare time,” she enjoys gardening, reading, and just hanging with her two awesome daughters and her handsome husband.

S&B Audio250x250-150
Buy the Audio Book

Listen to a Sample Audio


Kell, the Alien

Josiah Bildner, audio narrator of the ALIENS, INC. series.

Josiah Bildner, audio narrator of the ALIENS, INC. series.


Josiah Bildner has been performing in theatrical performances since he was 10 when he played Bob Cratchit’s son in Dickens A Christmas Carol. He starred as the Wizard in the Wizard of Oz and Geppetto in Pinnochio in high school and received a drama scholarship at the University of Northern Iowa. After graduation Josiah worked as a director and audio/visual engineer at the NBC affiliate KWWL channel 7 in Waterloo Iowa. Josiah is also a storyteller at a children’s Education Through Music camp and during the school year he is a speech language pathologist. Josiah currently uses all those talents in the wonderful world of voice over. He can be heard voicing many audiobooks, from children’s sci-fi to adult horror, biographies of musical celebrities like Emil Richards and George Harrison to spiritual journeys of Buddhism and Judaism. Josiah Bildner loves voice over because it is the best of all worlds!

Aliens1-250x250-150Buy the AudioBook (Unabridged)

Listen to a Sample


Do you like audio books? How often do you listen to them?

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16. The Art of Storytelling - For Grade 3 at Munson Elementary, by Wendy Orr...

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17. Stop and search, and the UK police

The recent announcement made jointly by the Home Office and College of Policing is a vacuous document that will do little or nothing to change police practice or promote better police-public relations.

Let us be clear: objections to police stop and search is not just a little local difficulty, experienced solely in this country. Similar powers are felt to be just as discriminatory throughout North America where it is regarded as tantamount to an offence of ‘driving whilst black’ (DWB). This and other cross-national similarities persist despite differences in the statutory powers upon which the police rely. It would, therefore, seem essential to ask whether differences in legislation or policy have proven more or less effective in different jurisdictions. Needless to say, absolutely no evidence of experience elsewhere is to be found in this latest Home Office document. Instead, to assuage the concerns of the Home Secretary, more meaningless paperwork will be created.

One reason why evidence seems to be regarded as unnecessary is the commonplace assumption that ‘everyone knows’ why minorities experience disproportionate levels of stop and search: namely that officers rely not upon professional judgement, but upon prejudice, when exercising this power. Enticing though such an assumption is, it has serious weaknesses. As Professor Marion Fitzgerald discovered, when officers are deciding who to stop and search entirely autonomously, they act less disproportionately than when acting on specific information, such as a description.

Research that I and Kevin Stenson conducted in the early 2000s also found that the profile of those stopped and searched very largely corresponded to the so-called ‘available population’ of people out and about in public places at the times when stop and search is most prevalent. This is not to say that these stops and searches were conducted either lawfully or properly. Indeed, a former Detective Chief Superintendent interviewed a sample of 60 officers about their most recent stops and searches as part of this research. What he found was quite alarming, for in around a third of cases the accounts that officers freely gave about the circumstances of these 128 stops and searches could not convince any of us that they were lawful. There was also a woeful lack of knowledge amongst these officers about the statutory basis for the powers upon which officers were relying.

Uk police officer watches traffic at roadside. © RussDuparcq  via iStock.
UK police officer watches traffic at roadside. © RussDuparcq via iStock.

If officers were much better informed about their powers, then perhaps the experience of stop and search may be less disagreeable — it is unlikely ever to be welcomed — than it often is. Paragraph 1.5 of the Code of Practice governing how police stop and search states:

1.5   An officer must not search a person, even with his or her consent, where no power to search is applicable. Even where a person is prepared to submit to a search voluntarily, the person must not be searched unless the necessary legal power exists, and the search must be in accordance with the relevant power and the provisions of this Code.

The implication of this is quite clear: police may stop and search someone with their consent, but may not use such consent as a means of subverting the requirements under which the search would be lawful. Yet, so few officers seem even to be aware of this and conduct stop and search solely on the basis of their formal powers. I believe they do this as a ‘shield’; they imagine that if they go through the formal motions then no one can object to the lawfulness of the search. But they do object and do so most valuably, which gravely damages the public reputation of the police.

Research evidence aplenty confirms that it is not the possession of this power by the police that irks even those who are most at risk of stop and search. What they really object to is the manner in which the stop and search is conducted. A more consensual approach by police officers might just make the use of this power just a little more palatable.

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18. How does color affect our way of seeing the world?

There is a study of color perception that has gotten around enough that I would like to devote this post to how I see it, according to my take on whether, and how, language “shapes” thought and creates a “worldview.”

The experiment involved the Himba people, and is deliciously tempting for those seeking to show how language creates a way of seeing the world.

There are two parts to the experiment. Part One: presented with a group of squares, most of them various shades of green and one of them a robin’s egg-style blue, Himba tended to have a hard time picking out which square was “different.” That would seem to suggest that having a single word for green and blue really does affect perception.

Part Two: presented with a number of squares which, to Western eyes, seem like minimally different shades of green, Himba people often readily pick out a single square which is distinct from the others. This, too, seems to correlate with something about their language. Namely, although they only have four color terms (similarly to many indigenous groups), those terms split up what we think of as the green range into three pieces – one color corresponds to various dark colors including dark green, one to “green-blue,” and then another one to other realms of green (and other colors).

Both of these results – on film, a Himba woman seeming quite perplexed trying to pick out the blue square, and meanwhile a Himba man squinting a bit and then picking out what looks to us like just one more leafy green square – seem to confirm that how your language describes a color makes a huge difference to how you see the color. The implications are obvious for other work in this tradition addressing things like terms for up and down, gender for inanimate objects, and the like.

But in fact, both cases pan out in ways quite unlike what we might expect. First, the blue square issue. It isn’t for nothing that some have speculated in all seriousness that if the Himba really can’t perceive the difference between forest green and sky blue, then the issue might be some kind of congenital color blindness (which is hardly unknown among isolated groups for various reasons).

Autumn colour (10311552835)
Autumn colour, by Ian Kirk from Broadstone, Dorset, UK. CC-BY-SA-2.0 via Wikimedia Commons
 

That may seem a little hasty. But no one studying color terms, or language and thought, has ever denied that colors occur along a spectrum, upon which some are removed from one another to an extent that no humans have ever been claimed not to be able to perceive. Russians can suss out where dark blue starts shading into light a teensy bit faster than English speakers because they have separate words for light and dark blue – indeed. But no one claims that an English speaker plain can’t see the difference between navy blue and sky blue.

Along those lines, no one would remotely expect that a Himba speaker, or anyone, could actually not see the difference between spectographically distinct shades such as sky blue and forest green. One suspects that issues to do with familiarity with formal tests and their goals may have played a role here – but not that having the same word for green and blue actually renders one what we would elsewhere term color-blind.

Then, as to the shades of green, I’m the last person to say that the man on film didn’t pick out that shade of green faster than I would have expected. However, the question is whether we are seeing a “world view,” we must decide that question according to a very simple metric. The extent to which we treat something in someone’s language as creating a “cool” worldview must be the same extent to which we are prepared to accept something in someone’s language that suggests something “uncool” – because there are plenty of such things.

A demonstration case is Chinese, in which marking plurality, definiteness, hypotheticality, and tense are all optional and as often as not, left to context. The language is, compared to English, strikingly telegraphic. An experiment was done some time ago suggesting that, for example, the issue with hypotheticality meant that to be Chinese was to be less sensitive to the hypothetical than an English speaker is. That is, let’s face it, a cute way of saying that to be Chinese is to be not quite as quick on the uptake as a Westerner.

No one liked that, and I assume that most of us are quite prepared to say that whatever the results of that experiment were, they can’t have anything significant to do with Chinese perception of reality. Well, that means the verdict has to be the same on the Himba and green – we can’t think of him as seeing a world popping with gradations of green we’d never dream of if we can’t accept the Chinese being called a tad simple-minded. This is especially when we remember that there are many groups in the world whose color terms really don’t divvy up any one color in a cool way – they just don’t have as many names for colors, any colors, as we do. Are we ready to condemn them as not seeing the world in colors as vivid as we do because of the way they talk?

Surely not, and that’s the lesson the Himba experiment teaches. Language affects worldview in minuscule ways, of a sort you can tease out in a lab. However, the only way to call these minuscule ways “worldviews” is to accept that to be Chinese is to be dim. I don’t – and I hope none of the rest of us do either.

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19. Guest Post and Giveaway: Amanda Forester, Author of A Winter Wedding

Please welcome Amanda Forester to the virtual offices this morning! She took a little break from her Labor Day festivities to share some info about her handsome duke, James Lockton, and she has a copy of A Winter Wedding up for grabs!

The Trials and Tribulations of an Unmarried Duke by Amanda Forester

Can one feel sorry for a duke? The Duke of Marchford is, after all, young, wealthy, attractive, and a duke. An unmarried duke, to be exact, and that is where the trouble starts. Let us spy a moment on how he is getting along at his London house in this excerpt from Winter Wedding.

James Lockton, the Duke of Marchford, was a marked man. He heard voices coming and pressed himself against the wall, edging slowly away, careful not to make a sound. One wrong move would seal his fate.

He had tried to escape his doom, hiding at his country estate like a craven coward. It was only the pressing needs of king and country, and the early opening of Parliament to deal with a severe crisis of governance, that drew him back to London. He had hoped December would find Town desolate of company, but with the return of the members of Parliament came their families, and with their families came…

“The Duke of Marchford is sooooo handsome,” cooed a young feminine voice.

“Better yet, he’s dreadfully rich,” said another young lady. “What I wouldn’t give to be duchess of this hall.”

“Do you think we should be wandering about, Mama?”

“No, of course not, but do you think we should come all this way without an introduction to the duke? Do you really think I care a whit about that spiteful old dowager? No!” exclaimed the baroness. They were growing nearer.

Marchford knew the baroness and her daughters were coming to visit his grandmother, but he hardly expected them to make a search of the house. He darted up a servants’ stairwell and into a long hallway of bedrooms. He walked quickly toward the main stairs but stopped short at the sound of their whining voices. The woman had the audacity to come up to the private rooms!

“We’ll flush out the duke,” crooned the baroness, her voice growing louder, “say we got turned around in the house and secure an introduction. I swear I’ll not set foot from this place until you both have been asked to dance at tonight’s ball.”

Nothing to do but run.

He spun and dashed down the hall on light feet. Taking a risk, he opened one of the doors and slipped inside, closing the door carefully to avoid the conspicuous click of the latch. Now if only the bedroom were empty, he could possibly survive the night.

A small, feminine shriek behind him laid waste to that grand hope.

“Your Grace!” demanded Penelope Rose. “What on earth are you doing in my bedchamber?”

Ah, the trials and tribulations of being an unmarried duke. Of course the Duke of Marchford is not only the biggest matrimonial prize in the known world, he is also obligated to assist the Foreign Office in flushing out traitors and spies who have infiltrated London society. This is 1810, after all, and we are at war with that wretchedly brilliant Napoleon.

Is it any wonder that Marchford may feel a bit piqued at times? So how does a duke relax after a hard day of avoiding marriage-minded females and international spies? Unfortunately, Marchford could learn more of the fine art of relaxation, but here are some of his favorites:

  1. Run off to the club and spend time with his friends, the Earl of Thornton and Mr. William Grant. Trouble is, they are both recently married and are focused on such odd things as spending time with their wives and the anticipation of tiny heirs.

  2. Hide in his study and look at maps. Marchford thought there was nothing he could like more than a good dependable map… until Penelope ended up on top of one.

  3. Convince his grandmother to adopt a stray cat by telling her it is a rare Peruvian jungle house cat. His grandmother, however, declares the animal is a dog.

  4. Tease Penelope Rose by taking her beloved Christmas traditions to their literal extreme, all for the joy of seeing the shocked expression on her face along with a twinkle of amusement in her eye.

  5. Take a long hot bath with…oh wait, you’re going to have to read the book to find out more about this!

To read more about the Duke of Marchford and his search for traitors, spies, and a suitable bride, read Winter Wedding now available. To get you started in the series, the first book in the trilogy, Wedding in Springtime is being offered FREE for a limited time and Midsummer Bride is currently only $1.99. I love to hear from readers so come visit me at my website, facebook, or twitter.

What is your favorite way to relax? Comment for a chance at winning a copy of Winter Wedding!

Amanda Forester holds a Ph.D. in psychology and worked for many years in academia before discovering that writing historical romance novels was decidedly more fun. Whether in the Highland hills or a Regency ballroom, Forester’s critically acclaimed novels offer fast-paced adventures filled with wit, intrigue, and romance. She lives with her supportive husband and naturally brilliant children in the Pacific Northwest.Visit her at www.amandaforester.com.

This adventurous duke…

The Duke of Marchford requires a suitable bride, but catching spies for the Foreign Office takes up most of his time. Not wanting to face another London season as an eligible man, he employs the notorious Madame X to find him a match.

Has met his match

Miss Penelope Rose knows the rules of marriage among members of the ton better than most. Her own unsuccessful attempts at matrimony did not stop her from becoming London’s most exclusive matchmaker. Marchford proves to be a difficult client, but as he draws on her social expertise to help him flush out a dangerous traitor, they find that falling in love may be the riskiest adventure of all.

Pre-Order Links:

Amazon: http://amzn.to/1vcjPpL

Apple: http://bit.ly/1orV3bN

BAM: http://bit.ly/1sxRhDC

B&N: http://bit.ly/1qXa08Q

Chapters: http://bit.ly/1pXOdMo

IndieBound: http://bit.ly/1ntyXVW

Kobo: http://bit.ly/1vckp71

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The post Guest Post and Giveaway: Amanda Forester, Author of A Winter Wedding appeared first on Manga Maniac Cafe.

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20. Querying 101

mailboxIn recent months I’ve received a lot of emails from many of you! I love mail, and thank you for contacting me to say hello. There’s been a great influx of new traffic lately and I’m really excited to chat, share, and discuss writing with you all!

However, I must admit, I’ve been confused by the growing number of novel query letters I receive. I say this because I’m not an agent, editor, or book publisher.

I’m an author.

Yes, I also do manuscript critiques to help writers hone their craft and prepare for querying. But, I’m not an editor at a publishing house. So, I’m always a little stumped when I receive a query letter, because I’m not in any position to actually publish my blog-reader’s books.

The more I thought about this, the more I’ve come to realize the problem lies in a lack of information on who you should actually send your query to. And since this blog is all about sharing information, I can help in this regard!

Who Should You Query?

The objective of a query letter is to get an agent or editor to request your book and consider you for representation and/or publication. However, that doesn’t mean you do a Google search for agents and editors, and blanket the market with your query. You need to target your letter to the proper individuals. Otherwise, you’re going to get an inbox full of rejection letters that have nothing to do with the quality of your book.

So how do you find the perfect agents and editors to query?

1) Decide if You Want an Agent

Do you want an agent? Or do you want to submit, negotiate, and work directly with a publisher yourself? I personally went the agent route, because frankly, I want to write and not worry about the business side. But there are plenty of authors who do it on their own without representation.

If you’re undecided, check out these great articles:

** If you decide you don’t want an agent, insert the word editor into the below steps.

2) Find Agents That Represent What You Write

Lit Agents bookThe number one reason your query letter is getting rejected, is because you’re sending it to someone who doesn’t represent what you write. You shouldn’t send a query for your gritty adult Noir to an agent who primarily represents picture book authors. Before you query, research and create a list of agents that represent books like yours!

How to Create Your Agent List:

  • Go to Literary Agency Websites and read the agent bio pages. These list agent book preferences, authors they currently represent, and genres they’re interested in.
  • Query Tracker.net – This is a fantastic resource. Start by searching their giant list of agents by genre. Then learn about query turnaround times, preferences, and more.
  • Writers Digest: Guide to Literary Agents – Pick up the current edition of this book (or check out their blog), to see what agents are currently looking for.
  • Book Acknowledgements – Look in the acknowledgement section of books similar to yours. See if the author has thanked his or her agent. This is a great way to find agents that represent work in your genre and age level.
  • Publisher’s Marketplace – Get a paid subscription to Publisher’s Marketplace and you can search agents to see who they represent and current deals they’ve made.

3) Research Agent Book Preferences

indexSo much of this business is about taste. An editor or agent can pass on your book based on taste alone. Give your book the best chance by researching what kind of books your list of agents like to read. Narrow your list by finding the agents interested in your specific genre and story-type. For example, you’ll find a lot of agents who represent young adult books, but do they like contemporary romantic YA or gritty sci-fi YA? You may have written the best young adult war epic of all time, but if you query an agent who isn’t interested in historical fiction… you’re going to get a rejection letter.

How to Narrow Down Your Agent List:

  • Read interviews, articles, and blog posts – Agents do a ton of interviews online. Others have their own blogs outlining their query wish lists. Using the list you made from step 2, start to read articles and blogs about these agents to get a better sense of their book tastes.
  • Literary RamblesIf you’re looking for a children’s book agent, Literary Rambles has an outstanding resource for you. Casey McCormick and Natalie Aguirre have rounded up hundreds of interviews, articles, and blog posts, and organized them by agent. Click through their agent list to read highlights from articles all over the internet.
  • Go to Conferences – Agents and editors love to speak at writing conferences. This is a great way for you to see their personalities, hear them talk about books they love, and to get a feel for if they’d be a good fit for you.

4) Craft Your Query Letter

Now that you have a list of 5 to 20 agents, create a query letter targeted toward them. I’ve written many posts on how to craft a query letter. So be sure to check out the links below.

How to Write a Query Letter:

emb5) Send Out Your Query Letter

Now that you have a small, targeted list for querying, start sending out your queries. I suggest keeping a spread sheet on which agents you’ve submitted to and the date of submission. Some agents have No Response Means No policies.  Using a spreadsheet will help you to keep track of those responses.

Every time you get a rejection, send out three more query letters! Querying can be a numbers game. Remember that so much of this is about taste. You don’t need everyone to love you. You just need that one agent or editor to love you!

Querying can be a difficult and grueling process. Keep researching, adding more agents to your list, and sending out queries. Keep the faith!

There’s a ton of great information on the internet on how to find an agent and create a successful query letter. This can be a rabbit hole and a big time-suck, but you put in the time to write your book, be sure to put in the time to research agents as well!

Hungry for more? Try these great links:


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21. Evil Librarian Giveaway

Are you ready for a giveaway? I’ve got an ARC of a book that releases next week, EVIL LIBRARIAN by Michelle Knudsen. Previously known for writing middle grade (The Dragon of Trelian and The Princess of Trelian) and picture books (the best-selling Library Lion), this is her debut novel for young adults. I have to […]

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22. Picture Book Monday with a review of My Pet Book, which was written and illustrated by Bob Staake

Taking care of a traditional pet, one that has fur or feathers, scales or fins, is a big responsibility. Pets need to be fed and entertained. You need to clean up after them and take them to the vet. Of course, you could have a pet rock or a pet plant. Such pets are easier to take care of, but they are not very interesting. What would happen if you decided to have a book for a pet? Now that might be an interesting experiment.

My Pet BookMy Pet Book
Bob Staake
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Random House, 2014, 978-0-385-37312-8
Most people have dogs, cats, birds, fish, or rodents for pets. Some even have snakes, turtles, or hermit crabs in their homes. In Smartytown there is a boy who has a very usual pet, and it is a little book. Since he did not like dogs, and was allergic to cats, the boy’s mother suggested that he should get a pet book. His father agreed that a pet book would be perfect. After all “no pet book / Had ever run away.”
   The boy and his parents go to a bookshop and at first the boy is overwhelmed by all the choices, but then he sees a little red hardcover and he knows at once that this book, with its “pages crisp, the printing fine / Its spine so very taught,” is the pet for him.
   Unlike traditional pets, the little book does not shed, does not have fleas, and does need a bath or meals. It never gets sick, does not make any noise, and doesn’t “even poop.” Best of all, the book is full of fantastic stories that are so captivating that the boy feels as if he is in the stories and not just reading them.
   Like all pets, the book stays at home when the boy goes to school. One day he comes home and he discovers something truly terrible; his book has gone. Something has happened to his beloved pet!
   In this wonderful picture book we meet an usual boy who has a very usual pet. As their story is revealed we come to appreciate how much the little boy loves his book, and we begin to wonder if, just maybe, some of our books are pets too. Are they, like the little boy’s book, “a friend?” Are they dear to us, and would we be upset if we lost them? Of course they are special, and of course we would miss them if they disappeared.


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23. Best New Kids Stories | September 2014

Hot New Releases & Popular Kids Stories Saddle up, readers! With so many amazing children's books releasing it was hard to select just five of the best new kids stories to share with you this month.

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24. Hiroshima in the Morning by Rahna Reiko Rizzuto

On the basis of Beth Kephart's recommendation in her book Handling the Truth, I ordered a copy of Hiroshima in the Morning through Powells. The author Rahna Reiko Rizzuto received a fellowship to go to Japan in mid-2001 for six months and research her planned novel about the bombing of Hiroshima. What she did not expect was the wrenching difficulty (in a myriad of ways) of parting from her husband and 2 young sons in NYC and how complicated it would be to navigate Japanese culture and gain the insight she wanted on her subject.

This is a really tough book to classify because if I tell you it will resonate strongly with women who feel torn between family life and their work, you will probably immediately think of "Lean In" and not give it a second thought. But that aspect of the book is important and needs to be noted. Rizzuto's personal/professional conflict is so intense and so tied to the unique aspects of researching a book, that any writer who has ever felt similarly torn is going to identify very powerfully with her words. She wonders if she is committed enough to her marriage and motherhood and also worries about her own mother who is suffering from the early stages of dementia. Are there other places where Rizzuto should be? It doesn't help when her husband starts to rethink all of his earlier support for the project after spending one too many nights dealing with sick kids. And all Rizzuto can tell him is that she is talking to people, visiting museums and temples, "soaking up" the culture of Japan.

She might be more convincing if she felt more certain that she was getting done the work she needed.

That's the other impressive aspect of Hiroshima in the Morning--Rizzuto's discovery of how complicated the Hiroshima story is. The book has excerpts from the interviews she conducted with survivors and they are the very definition of gut wrenching. Rizzuto finds herself overwhelmed by the horror of those stories, (you will be too), and transformed by them. Then 9/11 happens and her family arrives for a visit and again her vision of herself and the world goes through another change.

There is a lot about this book that made me think about writing, history, stories, the power of family and so much more. So many times as a writer I have questioned the value of what I choose to do with my life and anyone who has ever been in that position will understand what Rizzuto goes through. But the stories from Hiroshima are what has stayed with me more than anything else and they make me think yet again how much our history is dominated by the way we tell stories, and our collective acceptance of who does the telling.

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25. Our Lady of the Nile review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Rwandan-French author Scholastique Mukasonga's prix Renaudot-winning (2012) novel, Our Lady of the Nile, now available in English from Archipelago Books.

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