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1. Opinion: Puritans, then profiteers over Día de los Muertos - QEPD

My guest contributor today is the one and only Flo Hernandez-Ramos. Flo gave an interview to and wrote a column for Colorado Public Radio about Día de los Muertos. She kindly consented to sharing her opinion piece with La Bloga's readers. I remember when Flo and only a few others publicly celebrated Day of the Dead here in Denver, years ago. She wasn't the first one to do so but she was among the first to help make the day a very public event. She set up an annual altar at radio station KUVO, where she worked, helped organize displays at art galleries and other venues, and patiently explained the true meaning of the celebration to anyone who wanted to listen.

Also - recent losses to the literary and music communities that La Bloga serves.  
______________________________________________________


Opinion: Denverites were puritans, then profiteers over Día de los Muertos

By Flo Hernandez-Ramos Oct 27, 2014

Listen -- Audio: CPR's Chloe Veltman talks to Flo Hernandez Ramos about Dia de los Muertos



A Día de los Muertos altar in memory of Teodora Hernández and José de Jesus Hernández
(Photo: Courtesy of Flo Hernandez-Ramos)

It’s hard to go anywhere in Denver at this time of year without seeing fancifully-decorated sugar skulls peering out among Halloween decorations in the windows of bars and stores.

The candy skulls (“calaveras”) are a core image of Día de los Muertos, a two-day commemoration on Nov. 1 and 2 each year of those who have passed away.

Long history in Denver

The annual Mexican holiday that sees death as part of the circle of life has been around in Denver for as long as there have been Mexicans living in Denver, which is to say, for a long, long time. Unlike the festivities in Mexico, where entire villages turned their cemeteries into fiesta venues, in the United States Día de los Muertos was always a private, family celebration.

Paper mâché skull by Los Ramirez Castaneda

(Photo: Courtesy of Flo Hernandez-Ramos)

But since the early 1980s, in line with the growth of the Mexican population in this country and the desire of Mexican Americans to celebrate their cultural roots, the holiday has moved into the mainstream -- not just in Denver but throughout the U.S.

Día de los Muertos originated in Mexico about 4,000 years ago among the indigenous populations. It bears some similarity to Memorial Day in the United States, in the tradition of people putting flowers on the graves of loved ones.

Día de los Muertos decorations are far more elaborate than those associated with Memorial Day. People festoon graves and altars with food, flowers and folk art depicting skulls and skeletons from all walks of life.

There is nothing ghoulish about the holiday. But that’s not how Día de los Muertos was perceived when it was first introduced in the Denver metro area.

In the early 1980s, Denver artist Patricio Cordova proposed a Día de los Muertos art exhibit to The Pirate Contemporary Art Oasis, a Northside collective at West 36th Avenue and Navajo Street.

The Pirates were all Anglos, but committed to thinking beyond their own cultures.

“People embraced the idea because of its edginess,” Pirates leader Phil Bender says. “The Pirates’ logo was a skull and crossbones, so there was an affinity with the sugar skulls and the folk art of Día de los Muertos.”

But the broader Denver community was not unanimously willing to embrace the Mexican holiday.

Even though movies like “Bloodbath at the House of Death” were popular in 1984, Latinos and non-Latinos alike were squeamish about Dia de los Muertos.

To them, it was macabre.

“People in the U.S. were willing to see people being killed on the big screen,” says Mercedes Hernández, program director of Denver’s KUVO jazz radio station in the mid-1980s. “But they didn’t want to think about death and its personal effect on them.”

From macabre to franchise

How things have changed.

The holiday is now so popular in “los Uniteds” that it has become a franchise.

Safeway sells marshmallow skull lollipops. Disney tried to trademark the phrase “Día de los Muertos.” World Market offers a line of Día de los Muertos decorations, plates, party favors, wine and beer. And the Denver Botanic Gardens is hosting its first Calavera Ball on Nov. 1.

But the commercialization of the Mexican holiday in mainstream U.S. culture today threatens to destroy the essential meaning of Día de los Muertos.


Skulls painted by children for Cherry Creek Library Calavera Contest
(Photo: Courtesy of Flo Hernandez-Ramos)

At this point, the Mexican holiday has become almost indistinct from Halloween, with people blending Día de los Muertos and Halloween festivities together.

For example, the animated film Book of Life by Guillermo del Toro, a story based on Día de los Muertos, is marketed as a Halloween adventure. And in Colorado Springs, the Cottonwood Center for the Arts is hosting a Halloween/Día de los Muertos celebration on Oct. 31.

It opens with a zombie dance and offers henna tattoos, belly dancing and the construction of mini-altars. And not everyone is happy about it.

“It’s a prime example of the disrespect and the unconscious attempt to usurp another culture's holidays,” wrote artist Jerry Vigil on his Team Muertos Facebook page .

Similarly, the meaning of Halloween also seems to have been lost in the scuffle between culture and commerce.

Halloween has its roots in an ancient Gaelic belief that on Oct. 31 the boundaries between the world of the living and that of the dead overlap and souls roam the earth.

Scottish and Irish immigrants introduced the holiday to the United States in the 1800s. Beginning in the 1900s, Halloween became a more commercial enterprise through the production of costumes, decorations and the custom of trick-or-treating.

In more recent times, the popular U.S. holiday is a billion-dollar industry of ghouls and gore. And Día de los Muertos may be headed down that same slippery, bloody slope.

One can argue about the “true meaning” of Día de los Muertos. For some it is the honoring of loved ones who have passed; for others it may mean winning first prize at a costume contest as a calavera. But for everyone, the sugar skull is here to stay.

Flo Hernández-Ramos was CEO of Denver jazz radio KUVO for 23 years and recently retired as the executive director of the Latino Public Radio Consortium. 




Flo's 2014 Altar - A Work In Progress


___________________________________________________

QEPD

We note the recent passing of two pioneering Chicano writers:

Juan A. Contreras: an El Paso educator, Chicano poet and writer well known in literary circles throughout the Southwest. Contreras was 64 when he died on October 20. According to the El Paso Times, Contreras participated in the University of Southern California's historic Flor y Canto literary festival in 1973, a three-day event featuring dozens of emerging Mexican-American poets and writers. He often lectured in El Paso and Juárez and throughout the Southwest.

"We must have the same dream with a vision that one day our children will be judged not by the accent of their tongue, but by the creativity in their expression and the power of their voice," Contreras once said, referring to Martin Luther King's famous "I have a dream" civil rights speech.

Juan Estevan Arellano:  a Chicano writer who tried to showcase the unique culture of New Mexico, Arellano gained international acclaim in 1994 when he won the Premio Nacional de Literatura José Fuentes Mares prize in Mexico for his 1994 novel, Incencio.

It was a ground-breaking work because it was written in New Mexico Spanish — a fusion of Spanish and indigenous languages birthed out of the region's isolation from exploration to frontier days, said Vanessa Fonseca, a University of Wyoming Latino Studies professor. As posted by My San Antonio,  Arellano's wife, Elena, said he died at the family's home in Embudo, New Mexico, from heart failure on October 29. He was 67.

We also express our condolences to the family and friends of Jimmy Trujillo, long-time volunteer DJ at radio station KUVO, esteemed musician, and latin jazz expert. Jimmy died in Denver on October 29 - he was 52. His memory and music live on in the hearts of many who listened to Jimmy in several different bands, on the air, or at numerous events as a speaker and teacher.


Later.

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2. Follow Friday Four Fill-In Fun - 10/31/14

Feeling Beachie

Love this meme....I hope you can join in the fun.  

Each week, Feeling Beachie lists four statements with a blank for you to fill in on your own blogs.  

Trick or Treat Bag



The statements:
  1. During a______, I_______
  2. Enjoying_____ is________
  3. Listening to______ is something_______
  4. Answering______ can be ________

My Answers:

1.  During a snowstorm, I get a lot of books read.  :)

2.  Enjoying reading is something we must instill in our children.

3.  Listening to my sisters chatter away is something to be cherished.

4.  Answering a call from a solicitor can be very annoying.







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3. Atlanta Aquarium

The Atlanta Aquarium is AWESOME with several huge Aquariums   This one had a tunnel with a people mover on the other side! Another section had LARGE Japanese Spider Crabs. I was amazed by their sheer size.  I LOVED the penguins! This one followed my fingers.   Wow to the Razor Fish! (the leaf like objects swimming face down around the sea horse)

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4. Halloween Edition of The Book Blogger Hop - 10/31 - 11/6


Question of the Week:

You can go trick or treating with any fictional character (book or film). Who would you go with?

My Answer:

I would go trick or treating with Freya from Posie Graeme Evans' book, The Island House, or any character in Lucinda Riley's books.
I loved the setting of The Island House, and I love any book written by Lucinda Riley.
Whew...I am glad this is the last of the Halloween questions, Billy.  It was a rough month of questions.
Who would you choose?

Trick or Treat Bag








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5. Ten Children's Books for Halloween - by Emma Barnes

From ghoulies and ghosties
And long-leggedy beasties
And things that go bump in the night...

It's Halloween, and the perfect time to choose some spooky stories.  Witches, wizards and ghosties...read on for some mainly funny, occasionally frightening, books featuring witches, wizards and other Halloween happenings.  I've organized them roughly by age of reader and slipped in a book of my own.

Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson and Axel Schlieffer

Julia Donaldson is the queen of the rhyming picture book, and this one is features a wonderfully traditional (if benevolent) warty-nosed witch, complete with cat and a very over-crowded broomstick...


Winnie the Witch by Valerie Bierman and Korky Paul

It's Wilbur the cat and the wonderful illustrations - veering from all dark, to a world of colour - that absolutely make this book for me.

The Worst Witch by Jill Murphy

The classic adventures of the accident-prone Mildred Hubble at Miss Cackle's Academy are ever-fresh and delightful.

The Best Halloween Ever - by Barbara Robinson

I have to admit I haven't actually read this yet - in fact I only just discovered it existed.  But it's by one of the funniest childrens' writers ever, Barbara Robinson, about one of the funniest families ever, the Herdmans.  They produced a hilarious Christmas Pageant so I'm looking forward to what they'll do with Halloween...

Bella Donna by Ruth Symes

An ordinary girl, who just happens to be a witch...or rather a witchling.  A contemporary take on witches.

Witch Baby by Debi Gliori

I think this would be a book my own Wild Thing character would enjoy - because, like her story, it concerns a little sister whose behaviour is driving her older sister crazy.  Only this little sister is a witch.  Sibling rivalry with a big dose of magic thrown in.

Jessica Haggerthwaite: Witch Dispatcher by Emma Barnes

Yes, this one's by me!  Jessica Haggerthwaite wants to be a famous scientist and is determined to foil her mother, Mrs Haggerthwaite's, witchcraft business.  Her plans come to a head at a disastrous Halloween Party for her mother's magical pals and their familiars.


Charmed Life by Diana Wynne Jones

DWJ is my favourite fantasy author and I could have chosen several of her books: Witch Week or The Time of the Ghost or Howl's Moving Castle.  Charmed Life is one of the Chrestmanci series, and is perfect for Halloween as it is during a grand dinner party at Chrestomanci Castle ("because they always do lots of entertaining around Halloween") that the magic really goes awry, with the help of a pinch of dragon's blood.  A truly wonderful book.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by JK Rowling


The most famous boy wizard of all, and Azkaban is my favourite of his adventures, because that time changing plot is just so fiendishly clever.

The Midnight Folk by John Masefield

Older and darker in tone, this classic novel is one of my all-time favourites.  The witches, including the terrifying Mrs Pouncer and her friends, are genuinely scary, as is Abner Brown.  There is a wildness to time and setting.  And Nibbins the cat is probably my favourite Witch's cat of all.


Coraline by Neil Gaiman

A bit of a change of subject matter here, as most of my list is funny rather than terrifying, but if you want something truly spinechilling then Coraline fits the bill.  Just why is that mother with the button eyes so disturbing?  But don't blame me if you (or they) get nightmares.


What have I forgotten?  Please nominate your favourite Halloween reads.



------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Emma's new series for 8+ Wild Thing about the naughtiest little sister ever (and her bottom-biting ways) is out now from Scholastic. 
"Hilarious and heart-warming" The Scotsman

 Wolfie is published by Strident.   Sometimes a Girl’s Best Friend is…a Wolf. 
"A real cracker of a book" Armadillo 
"Funny, clever and satisfying...thoroughly recommended" Books for Keeps


Emma's Website
Emma’s Facebook Fanpage
Emma on Twitter - @EmmaBarnesWrite

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6. STONE COLD TOUCH by Jennifer Armentrout {Review & Giveaway}

Review by Becca STONE COLD TOUCH The Dark Elements #3 by Jennifer L ArmentroutPaperback: 464 pagesPublisher: Harlequin Teen (October 21, 2014) Amazon Barnes and Noble Kobo iTunes Every touch has its price Layla Shaw is trying to pick up the pieces of her shattered life—no easy task for a seventeen-year-old who’s pretty sure things can’t get worse. Her impossibly gorgeous best friend

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7. ILLUSTRATION - viddy

VIDDY is a flat pack construct-it-yourself pinhole camera kit that was successfully funded on Kickstarter. Each kit is screen printed by hand, eco-friendly, easy to build and fully functional taking both 35mm and medium format film. Each VIDDY kit also comes with two decorative front sticker panels designed exclusively for their Kickstarter campaign by illustrators Becca Allen and Suzi Kemp.

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8. As Enny Fool Kin Plainly See


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9. WALLPAPER - ingela p arrhenius

Photowall have launched a new wall mural collection called 'Fabel' by Swedish illustrator and designer Ingela P Arrhenius. There are eight designs currently in the range including Ingela's personal favourite 'Town" (above & below) which reminds her of the picture books she enjoyed as a young girl. Other designs include Frames, Jungle, Forest, Space, Tivoli and Travelling - and all the designs

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10. Monster Madness Blog Hop


Happy Halloween, guys and ghouls! Welcome to the Monster Madness Blog Hop hosted by Vicki Leigh and me. Since Vicki and I both released monster books this year (The Monster Within and Catch Me When I Fall), we thought it would be fun to have a blog hop dedicated to the monsters we love so much. So have some candy corn and enjoy this post as Vicki and I interview each other.

Okay, Vicki, time to fess up. What monster scares you the most?

I’m pretty hard to scare, to be honest. But there is one monster who gives me the creeps: Freddy Krueger. In a way, he was kind of the inspiration behind the Nightmares in my series, because the thought of someone being able to kill you in your dreams terrifies me. I’ve never actually seen the Nightmare on Elm Street movies, but, man, that dude creeps me out.

I love Freddy! My sister loved the Nightmare on Elm Street movies so I saw them much younger than I should have. ;)

How about you, Kelly? You have to be afraid of someone or something, too!

Growing up, I was terrified of the monster under the bed. I even wrote a short story about it called “The Monster of All Monsters.” Anyway, if I had to get up in the middle of the night for water or to use the bathroom, I’d stand on my bed and try to jump to the doorway. Thankfully, I’ve gotten over that fear. Now the thing that freaks me out is ghosts. I tried to write a book about a haunting once, and the research totally scared me away from the idea.

Oh, man. I love ghosts. Like, I legitimately want to spend the night in a true haunted house. I think it’d be awesome. (Yet, a fictional guy creeps me out. I’m weird; I know. J)

All right, Vicki, you have to create a NEW monster. What does it look like, and what kind of terrifying things can it do?

Hmm…I think a monster who takes the shape of whatever form you find most attractive would be pretty terrifying—especially when he/she sucks out your soul during a smexy scene and leaves you a comatose patient for the rest of your life. That may have been done before. I don’t know. But I’ve heard freaky stories about what it feels like to be in a coma. I never want that experience. Or being found comatose on my bed in my birthday suit.

All right. So, my monster sucked. You create one, Kelly. I’m positive you can do better!

I’m feeling the pressure now. I’m sort of stealing from Harry Potter here, but I think a monster that can transform into whatever it is a person fears the most would be just awful because no one would be safe from it. No wait! Better yet, the monster becomes ALL of your fears rolled into one! So if you are afraid of snakes, ghosts, and realistic looking dolls with eyelids that open and close (not that I’m being that specific because those are my top three fears or anything), the monster would turn into a doll possessed by a ghost who can charm poisonous snakes to attack on command. *shivers*

Back to you, Vicki. We’ve all been inside haunted houses or mazes at Halloween time, right? What monster got the best of you inside one of those?

I actually have a good story for this, because I really am super hard to scare. I’ve been in haunted houses and mazes, and usually when things jump out at me, I giggle. So, last year, I went to a haunted cornfield with a few friends. We walked through a LOT of really tall corn, and a trailer that was pitch black. None of the actors really got me, even when I had to feel the walls because it was so dark I couldn’t see. And then we exited the cornfield, and I was like, “well, that was fun,” thinking it was over.

Then, out of nowhere, came a dude with a chainsaw. Good lord; I jumped out of my skin! I screamed and then tipped my head back and guffawed. That dude got me. It was the chainsaw noise that did it, and his perfect position: I thought the maze was over.

How about you, Kelly? Do you have a good haunted house story?

Ooh, sneaky little chainsaw-wielding devil! ;) 

Okay, well I have to say I startle easily, not scare easily. I went through a haunted dormin college. I give the people who ran it credit because it was pretty good. There was a funeral in one room, and we all thought the dead body was going to get up. It was really a distraction for something that snuck up on us. Still, I wasn’t scared. Nor was I scared when they turned out all the lights and we had to find out way out in complete darkness. Then at the end, there was a guy in a gorilla suit. That made me laugh, but it also distracted me from the hands reaching out from under the stairs I was climbing. I admit I jumped when I looked down and saw what I’m assuming was a zombie gripping my leg.

Time to change gears. What monster is your all-time favorite, Vicki?

Am I okay to say Cookie Monster? J For real, though, my favorite is probably Dracula.

How about you? You have to have a favorite!

I think I’m going to have to go with a zombie. Something about a reanimated corpse is both disgusting and terrifying, considering it wants to eat your brains. Got to love that! ;)

Now it's your turn! Choose 3 questions below to answer either in the comments or on your own blog.


1. What monster terrifies you the most?
2. Do you have a good haunted house story?
3. What's your favorite monster?
4. Is there a monster book that terrified you as a child?
5. Have any book recommendations for stories that include monsters?
6. Finally, create your own monster! What does it look like, and what scary things can it do?
Then tag FIVE of your friends to share in the Monster Madness!
And be sure to enter our giveaway to win books and SWAG from Vicki and me.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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11. UPDATE - caroline gardner

Lots of things have been happening at Caroline Gardner recently, including opening their first ever store in London's Kings Road, a new range of ceramics including mugs, cake tins, eggcups and tea towels. Plus a very cute stationery range called 'Muchly Lovely' featuring owls and dogs that also includes a 2015 calendar and diary. Finally there is chance to join this fabulous company as a

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12. {Indie Spotlight & Giveaway} THE GIRL IN BETWEEN by Laekan Zea Kemp

*The Girl In Between, will be free on October 31st so Laekan is giving away two copies of the second novel, The Boy In Her Dreams below! Bryn Reyes is a real life sleeping beauty. Afflicted with Klein-Levin Syndrome, she suffers episodes of prolonged sleep that steal weeks, and sometimes even months, from her life. But unlike most KLS patients, she doesn’t spend each episode in a catatonic

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13. Poetry Re-Issue: I'm the Squeak Upon the Stair (a spooky Halloween poem)

This poem first ran here at Gottabook back in 2011.

I’M THE SQUEAK UPON THE STAIR...
by
Greg Pincus

I’m the squeak upon the stair...
Yet when you look, there’s no one there.
I’m howling winds, groaning floors,
Extinguished lights, slamming doors.
I’m flitting shadows, darkening skies,
Piercing screams, distant cries.
I’m all your fears – heard, felt, or seen.
I’m in your head. I’m Halloween.

Halloween is on Poetry Friday again (with the roundup hosted by Linda over at TeacherDance)! This makes me happier than peanut butter cups, I gotta say. May those of you who trick-or-treat have a happy, safe evening (same for those of you who don't, by the way). And... boo!

If you want to get all my poems emailed to you for freeee as they hit the blog, enter your email address in the box below then click subscribe:

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14. Prepare Yourself for these Film Adaptations

The summer is almost upon us, which means the season for blockbuster movies is here. With the successful adaptation of Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn I thought I would talk about some other movies that come from books. Like me, I am sure a lot of people out there would prefer to read the book […]

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15. Nordic Council Literature Prize

       They've announced that Hägring 38, by Swedish-writing Finnish author Kjell Westö has won this year's Nordic Council Literature Prize -- the biggest (and pan-)Scandinavian literature prize, which also comes with a pay-out of DKK 350,000 (just shy of US$60,000).
       See also the Schildts & Söderströms publicity page, or Tom Ellett's review in the Swedish Book Review.

       Is it really possible that Westö's Lang is still the only thing of his to have been translated into English (about a decade ago) ? (See, for example, Michael Dibdin's review in The Guardian.) Good timing, anyway, from Harvill, who are re-issuing it early next year; pre-order your copy at Amazon.co.uk.

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16. Illustrator Lize Meddings

Back in 2009 when I first decided that illustration was definitely the route for me, I was finally beginning to stumble on a lot of other illustrators that really governed my taste and aesthetic going forward. Interestingly, a lot of them happened to reside across the pond in Great Britain. Julia Pott, Lizzy Stewart and Gemma Correll are a few that come directly to mind when thinking of the geography, and are some of my favorite working artists to this date. Lize Meddings also happens to hail from the UK. I stumbled upon her work via Tumblr of all places, and am quite happy I did!

Lize Meddings is a Bristol-based fine artist and illustrator with a penchant for the color pink, animals, nature and all kinds of positive self-expression. She works in both analog and digital formats, showcasing wonderful brushwork and gestural figures. Since finishing up the Illustration program at Plymouth College of Art & Design, she’s become a self-publishing fiend–constantly working on the next comic, zine, print, bag or fine art commission. The idea of a creative block seems far and away from this one’s mind.

Lize is quite interested in the act of characterization, if that wasn’t obvious before. Her medium of comfort is a brush and some ink, but she also demonstrates a natural comfort around the use of color. I particularly love the way she draws eyes–very fairylike for some reason.

Something I’ve noticed about several British illustrators is the tendency towards a more “naive” aesthetic. While that might sound negative, it’s completely the opposite. There’s a unique youthfulness in Lize’s work that allows it to appeal to a wider, younger audience, all while the messages remain witty and cheeky. It takes a special person to turn reality into something appealing, and she does just that by focusing on the relatable, more beautiful aspects of life.

Follow along with Lize’s illustrative adventures:

Tumblr

Etsy

Sad Ghost Club

Facebook

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17. No more Science Fiction & Fantasy Translation Awards

       Very disappointing news: they've announced that the wonderful SF&F Translation Awards Closing Down; see also Cheryl Morgan -- one of the directors of the association running the awards -- on Translation Awards - The End at her Cheryl's Mewsings weblog.
       The Best Translated Book Award (for which I am one of the judges) does, of course, consider science fiction and fantasy titles, but it's a crowded field and there is definitely room for a specialized award that focuses solely on this area.

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18. Free Fall Friday – October Results

 illustrationppinsk

This illustration was sent in by Patricia Pinsk. She works primarily with water colour, ink, digital photography, coloured pencil and collage. Patricia holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Vancouver’s Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design (now called Emily Carr University of Art and Design), as well as a Certificate in New Media from Vancouver Film School. Web: www.patriciapinsk.com/ Facebook: www.facebook.com/patriciapinskillustration?ref=hl Twitter: @patriciapinsk

Here are the first page critiques brought to you this month by Liza Fleissig from the Liza Royce Agency.

The Tattletail’s Claw: A CreatureNet Chronicle by Jody Staton – Middle Grade Novel

“Be Careful What You Wish For”

“. . .and that, Clawdia,” says Hershey’s voice in my head, “is why you must never let two-leggers know what we are.”

I lick a paw, and swipe it across my whiskers. Curled up on his wide brown rump, warmed by his body heat, I’m lulled half to sleep.

Zzzzt! A huge horsefly dive-bombs us. Wide awake now, I swat with a paw, and miss. Hershey flicks his long black tail. Whipping horsehairs send the fly tumbling. It buzzes around his legs, he stomps a hoof. His rump becomes an earthquake. I leap to my feet, teetering because I dare not dig into his hide the few claws I have left. We are next to a water trough, and I jump over it to a split-rail fence.

“Sorry about that,” he says. He ducks his head—in apology, I think. No, he’s just rubbing his head against the edge of the trough, scratching the lump that mars his forehead. Then, stern, like the police horse he used to be, Hershey demands that I repeat what he just told me.

I blink. “About the interstellar ark?”

“Wrong. About how two-leggers wouldn’t understand. How can you teach these stories to other Listeners if you don’t know them well yourself?”

I twitch my question-mark tail. “Why? Yesterday you said how few of us—”

“Lunchtime, Clawdia.” A human voice cuts me off. From the back porch of the Schwartz Veterinary Clinic, across a gravel drive from Hershey’s farm, it’s a young voice. And familiar!

“Dookie! I knew she’d come again this summer.” Forget Hershey’s lectures—my favorite person is here! I leap from the fence, streak across the drive. Dookie jumps from the porch, falls over a small bush, picks herself up, and races toward me. We meet in a mess of legs and arms, fur and tight curls, purrings and kisses.

Here is what Liza had to say: 

Staton, The Tattletail’s Claw

The writing itself is nice, with many nice details (like “I lick a paw and swipe it over my whiskers” and “his rump becomes an earthquake”). But my first impression is one of confusion—there are a lot of elements that are unexplained, and it’s rather difficult to paint a picture or figure out what’s going on.

The very first sentence is a difficult and awkward way to begin a story—with dialogue in the midst of being spoken. Perhaps the writer is trying to created intrigue, but younger readers will be confused. For one, we do not yet know they are animals and two, “two-leggers” will be an unfamiliar term.

It takes quite a while to figure out what kind of animals these are, which also causes confusion—you don’t want readers to be wondering about this so much that it detracts from what’s happening in the story.

Other questions: The cat says, “I dare not dig into his hide the few claws I have left”—why is this? Is this a detail we need to know right now, on the first page? Then, the horse says, “How can you teach these stories to other Listeners if you don’t know them well yourself?” First of all, what stories? Secondly, who are the Listeners? Third, why does the cat not seem to care about the stories (and why does the horse)? Again, you want to create intrigue, but you don’t want to leave the reader with so little to work with, and here there are just too many unanswered questions.

If this is a story about talking animals, then it’s a story for young readers. The sentence structure is a bit too complex, and combined with the above questions, I think younger readers are going to feel lost (what is an “interstellar” ark, for example?) We need to have a simpler, cleaner and more appealing introduction to the story. The set-up needs to be such that young readers want to keep on reading. The detail with Dookie is very sweet—perhaps concentrate on this as an introduction—and maybe the fact that these animals can talk is enough of a mystery that the reader will be excited to find out more.

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Daddy, What’s a Redneck? by Erika Wassall Picture Book

Little Lainey squatted, tugged on the pant legs sticking out between the two tires and asked, “Daddy, what’s a Redneck?” (illus: Daddy is underneath a vehicle working on it.)

Daddy laughed. He opened his mouth to answer, but stopped short.

“Hand me that yellow screwdriver and I’ll tell you,” he said. “Your great-granddaddy was a Redneck. He worked out in the cotton fields all day, with the sun beating on the back of his NECK.” Daddy slid out from underneath the engine and smiled. “What happens to your nose and shoulders when you’re out in the sun all day?”

Little Lainey’s eyes lit up, “They get all RED!” she cried.

Daddy nodded. “Exactly! Back then, working in the fields meant you couldn’t go to school. Calling someone a Redneck could have been hurtful, meaning they weren’t very smart. People started to think that folks who worked with their hands all day were fools.”

Little Lainey stared at Daddy’s grease covered hands and sternly shook her head. “But Daddy! Your hands can fix everything! They’re the smartest hands I know.”

“Darn right!” said Daddy. “Folks often try to find ways to put others down. That doesn’t make them right. People all across the country are proud to be Rednecks.” (illus: Daddy’s leaning over so we can see his red neck)

“Why?” asked Little Lainey, as she watched the rainbows dance on the top of the oil pan.

Here is what Liza had to say:

Wassall, Daddy, What’s a Redneck?

Opening paragraph is sweet. I just don’t know how much this topic is going to interest readers. Does this make a story? What is the story here? Dad is answering a question, but what is the story? Why does the little girl ask this question in the first place?

My concern is that the title feels like a joke and it’s hard to take the story seriously upon first hearing what the title is. In fact, there may be a lot of people who take offense before they even have a chance to read the story.

Dad’s answers to the little girl’s question are nice, but there’s a lot that feels a bit too adult here and which young readers might have a hard time understanding: “Folks often try to find ways to put others down” etc.

General kid appeal: a little low. It’s hard to imagine a kid wanting to read this based on the first page (and keep going back to it). Feels a bit too earnest and “issue” driven. Combined with the title, I don’t think this would be something an editor would request over other things currently being shopped.

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JEREMY’S SLED By Sue Heavenrich – Picture Book

Jeremy pulled his new sled out of the car. He squeaked his boots on the fresh snow. “Sugarhouse Hill, here I come!”

“We still need noisemakers for our New Year’s party,” said Dad. “Stick to the small hill until I get back from the store.”

“Okay,” said Jeremy. He waved to Dad and then plodded up the hard-packed path. But instead of stopping where he should have, his feet took him up, up, up to the top of the highest hill in the whole park.

“Just one run,” Jeremy whispered. He climbed into his sled. It teetered, it tottered, it wibbled and wobbled, then –

WHOOSH! Off he flew down, down, down to the line of straw bales that stopped runaway sleds. Jeremy slipped through a gap…

…. and tangled the leash between a woman and her dog.

“Sorry!” Jeremy yelled as the dog flew into the air and landed in the sled. The sled sped across the slick road, down a slope and onto the pond.

“Sliding through!” Jeremy shouted. The sled knocked a puck into the net and flipped a hockey player into the sled.

“Hang on!” The sled slid through a flock of ducks, hit a bump and flew

through the air…

… scared a squirrel out of a tree, knocked a hat off a snowman,

and barely cleared the back fence of the zoo.

Here is what Liza had to say:

Heavenrich, Jeremy’s Sled

I like the fun of the sled ride gone out of control—readers will think this is super fun and entertaining. The beginning is slow, though. Why do we need the earnest, adult details of dad telling Jeremy that he’s going to the store and stick to the small hill? Why not just have Jeremy at the big hill pondering it “mom and dad always tell me to stick to the small hills, but just once I’d like to try the big one” or something like this.

The wild sled ride itself seems to need to be slowed down a bit, too much happens too quickly. The writer could have a lot of fun here by making each thing that winds up in the sled a more fun acquisition.

The title needs to be more interesting and compelling, something that reflects the fun that both Jeremy and the reader are in for. The language as well, while nice, is not really reflective in rhythm and language of a wild sled ride. Writer should look at some comparable picture books for examples.

___________________________________________________________

Rule Breaker by Angela Larson & Zander Mowat, Middle Grade Novel

Detective Derk’s Spy Manual for the Disgruntled made surveillance sound a lot easier than it was. Knelling on a bent knee, peering around a corner with a mirror, Aaron Adams switched the mirror from one hand to the other. This was just long enough for him to shake out his arm, which had started to go numb. He resumed his position, but his back and knee still ached. For the whole lunch period he’d been looking down the long hall that leads to the school’s cafeteria. He’d been on surveillance since Monday and now that it was Friday, he was losing hope that this would work. An internal debate started to brew in his mind, was it worth skipping lunch again, after the lack of success all week. Then, his target, his jerk older brother Roger Adams, turned the corner.

Roger strolled down the hall in his ‘I’m too important to walk any faster’ mode and pulled what appeared to be a coin from his pocket. Roger never has change, this doesn’t make sense, thought Aaron. Roger walked toward a row of old-fashioned vending machines. These ancient relics had been in the school forever, since a time when their Principle attended here as a kid. They were always full of candy bars, but no one carries change anymore except old people, like Aaron’s rusty teachers.

Aaron’s arm was starting to shake by the time Roger stopped in front of the vending machines. He took slow steady breaths; this was described in Detective Derk’s manual as something you should do if you ever need to steady yourself. He kept the mirror focused on his target.

Roger slid a quarter into a slot, pressed a button and the sound of the candy hitting the tray echoed down the hall. I KNOW he doesn’t carry money.

Aaron leaned so far forward the mirror started to fog from his breath. Before the image…

Here is what Liza had to say:

Larson & Mowat, Rule Breaker

Writing is a bit awkward and clunky—the very first paragraph is actually quite a mouthful to read aloud, and I worry that readers’ introduction to this story will not be as compelling as it needs to be in order to hook readers and get them interesting in reading further. Words like “disgruntled” and “knelling” (is this an error?? didn’t make sense) further confusing the narration.

Kids will find spying fun, but why is one brother spying on another? I think we need a better sense of this. And why is one brother spying on another brother at school (when he can spy on him at home)? In other words, I worry that this may come across as a plot that’s not so exciting (as opposed to having Aaron spy on someone more interesting, like a school enemy, for example).

Words are misspelled throughout (knelling rather than kneeling, Principle rather than Principal) and grammar is shaky. As an agent, this isn’t something I request to see further.

____________________________________________________________

Thank you Liza for sharing your time and expertise with all of us. It is much appreciated.

Hope everyone has a Happy Halloween.

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy

 


Filed under: Advice, Agent, inspiration, Process, revisions, Tips, writing Tagged: First Page Critiques, Free Fall Friday, Liza Fleissig, Liza Royce Agency

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19. What I’m Doing at Kirkus This Week,Plus What I Did Last Week, Featuring Eva Eriksson

All storytelling has its backbone in realistic fiction. So many kids, even at a surprisingly young age, are eager to read scary stories. I tried to fill that gap. ‘Scary’ thrills them. It makes their hearts beat faster. … To me, the great sentence is: The door knob slowly, slowly turned. That delicious moment of anticipation, of danger climbing the stairs. I’ve tried to provide those chills, while still resolving each book in a safe way.”

* * *

Over here at Kirkus yesterday, I talked to author James Preller, quoted above, about his Scary Tales series from Feiwel & Friends. The latest, The One-Eyed Doll, was recently released. Perfect for Halloween reading. We also chat about his middle-grade novels and school visits.

Next week, I’ll have some art from the Scary Tales books. They are illustrated by Iacopo Bruno.

Today at Kirkus, I write about some picture book imports — that is, those picture books originally published in other countries but now on American shores. That link will be here soon.

* * *

Last week, I wrote here about two early chapter books, one featured more in-depth on Wednesday of this week. Below are some illustrations from the other book, Rose Lagercrantz’s My Heart is Laughing, illustrated by Eva Eriksson (Gecko Press, May 2014). Enjoy the art.


“It was so high they had to go and find a chair so they could climb up it.
They climbed for hours pretending to be monkeys.”


“‘This is very sad!’ she sighed. ‘Is there anyone else this has happened to?’ It was quiet again. ‘Me,’ said Jonathan finally. ‘Vicky and Mickey keep pushing me all the time!’
And Susie waved her arm furiously.”


“‘I forgive you anyway,’ she said. Everybody breathed out. The drama was over.”


“Dani just sat and waved her pen around and smiled at Ella,
who had been given a sheet of paper to write on.”


 



 

* * * * * * *

MY HEART IS LAUGHING. First American edition copyright © 2014 by Gecko Press. Illustrations used by permission of the publisher.

0 Comments on What I’m Doing at Kirkus This Week,Plus What I Did Last Week, Featuring Eva Eriksson as of 10/31/2014 3:37:00 AM
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20. Asia Society Bernard Schwartz Book Award

       They've announced that the 2014 Asia Society Bernard Schwartz Book Award (and its $20,000 prize) goes to The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger and A Forgotten Genocide, by Gary Bass, selected " from over 100 nominations" (which are unfortunately not identified). See also the Vintage publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
       The prize: "recognizes nonfiction books for their outstanding contributions to the understanding of contemporary Asia or U.S.-Asia relations".
       Interestingly, while translations are eligible, they apparently have to have been published, for the first time, in their original language and in English in the year for which they are being considered (i.e. for the 2015 prize between 1 January and 31 December 2014). Very, very few books get translated into English and published in the same year they appear in their original language. Very few.

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21. Top Posts From AJBlogs 10.30.14

Early Word On “Mr. Turner” – Movie, Good; Art, Bad
AJBlog: Real Clear Arts Published 2014-10-30

David Byrne: Big Money is Killing Art
AJBlog: CultureCrash Published 2014-10-30

Angry bird
AJBlog: Performance Monkey Published 2014-10-30

Remembering Tony Staniland
AJBlog: Plain English Published 2014-10-30

Chica Chica Boom Steps?
AJBlog: RiffTides Published 2014-10-29

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22. French Global goes ... French

       A book I've mentioned a couple of times and have long found fascinating is French Global: A New Approach to Literary History, published by Columbia University Press in 2010 (see their publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk). I do, however, have a tough time reviewing anthologies, and so I still haven't gotten around to giving it its proper due -- despite its being one of the more interesting literary overviews I've read in recent years.
       Now, as Jean-Louis Jeannelle reports in Centrifuger les lettres françaises in Le Monde, French Global is going ... French, as it is being published in French; see the Garnier publicity page or get your copy at Amazon.fr.
       It's actually surprising that it hasn't come out in French before since it should be of particular interest in France. Anyway, I can certainly commend it to you, in either English or French -- it's fascinating stuff.

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23. How I Got My Literary Agent: Susan Blumberg-Kason

“How I Got My Agent” is a recurring feature on the Guide to Literary Agents Blog, with this installment featuring Susan Blumberg-Kason, author of the memoir GOOD CHINESE WIFE. These columns are great ways for you to learn how to find a literary agent. Some tales are of long roads and many setbacks, while others are of good luck and quick signings. If you have a literary agent and would be interested in writing a short guest column for this GLA blog, e-mail me at literaryagent@fwmedia.com and we’ll talk specifics.

GIVEAWAY: Susan is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Please note that comments may take a little while to appear; this is normal).

 

Screen Shot 2014-10-29 at 3.33.19 PMSusan Blumberg-Kason is a freelance journalist in Chicago. Her work has
appeared in the Chicago Sun Times, TimeOut Chicago, Journal of the
American Dietetic Association, and Chicago Parent magazine. She lives
in the Chicago suburbs with her husband and three children. Her memoir (Sourcebooks,
July 2014) is GOOD CHINESE WIFE: A LOVE AFFAIR WITH CHINA GONE WRONG.
Kirkus says of the book, “An American freelance journalist’s painful account of how
a hasty marriage to a Chinese man turned her life upside down…it is the author’s
courage to face her mistakes that makes the book worthwhile.”
Connect with her on Twitter

 

I STARTED QUERYING 6 YEARS AGO

Six years ago I started querying agents for Good Chinese Wife, a memoir about my tumultuous first marriage to a man from central China. A writer friend advised me to complete fifty polished pages of my memoir and a nonfiction book proposal before querying agents. That was all I would need, he said, because that’s how agents sold nonfiction.

So I started querying with fifty pages and a proposal. For every ten letters I sent, I would receive about two requests for a few chapters, four rejections, and no replies for the others. It might not sound very promising, but it gave me hope. I couldn’t help but marvel that two agents wanted to read my story!

After repeating this process a few times to no avail, I started to worry that my sample chapters weren’t up to snuff. I also realized I really didn’t know how to write a memoir. Each chapter seemed like a stand-alone story, which wasn’t a bad thing. But I knew the chapters didn’t flow together. So I enlisted the help of one of several independent editors over the next two years.

(How should you discuss a book’s series potential in a query letter?)

THE FIRST BITE FROM AN AGENT

One agent found my query in her slush pile and wrote back an encouraging and enthusiastic reply. And she requested my full manuscript! I didn’t have the full, but sent her my proposal, sample chapters, and some other writing clips. She seemed like the dream agent: young, eager to build her list, and she had lived in China during the very time I was in Hong Kong.

She didn’t sign me, but said she would be happy to read more if I completed the manuscript so she could see it in its entirety. I spent the next nine months writing and revising. I continued to work with an independent editor. And I stopped querying other agents. But when I eventually contacted this agent with my full manuscript, I received no reply. It took me a couple of months to figure out that she had moved agencies. Although I felt like a stalker tracking her down, she still seemed enthusiastic about my story.

But after nine more months and as many follow-up e-mails, I decided to move on. I polished my query letter and waited until just after New Year’s Day of 2012 to start querying again.

Right away I started to receive more requests than ever for fulls and partials. One day in mid-January, I read an interview with Carrie Pestritto of Prospect Agency on The Guide to Literary Agents Blog. I saw that she was looking for memoir and that she enjoyed one of my favorite books (Adeline Yen Mah’s Chinese Cinderella). So I queried her and didn’t think about it again until two nights later when Carrie requested my full manuscript.

(Would your story make a great movie? Here are 7 tips on writing a film script.)

SUCCESS WITH CARRIE

The following afternoon, Carrie e-mailed me to say that she was enjoying my manuscript and wanted me to let her know if another agent offered representation before she finished reading. I replied that I would definitely do that. And I mentioned that half a dozen agents were reading either a partial or the full. This was the furthest I’d gotten with an agent, but I didn’t allow myself to read too much into Carrie’s e-mails in case she decided to take a pass.

I didn’t hear from her the next day, but by the middle of the following day, she e-mailed to offer representation! It was almost four years to the date when I first started querying agents!

Although I still had to hear from other agents, my gut instinct told me to go with Carrie and not look back. Publishing is a lot like dating. If someone calls on Tuesday for a Saturday night date, that’s much more promising than the person who calls Saturday morning for a date that very evening. I wanted an agent who loved my story just as much as I did. And Carrie showed that way more than anyone else.

Carrie turned out to be every bit the dream agent I first envisioned when I started querying agents all those years ago. As it turned out, she had also spent time in China and had studied Mandarin. Carrie helped me with revisions, cheered me on during our submission rounds (which took another year), and found me a fabulous editor in Stephanie Bowen at Sourcebooks. When I write in my acknowledgements in Good Chinese Wife that my life wouldn’t be the same without Carrie, I mean every word and then some. I hope my story will show other writers that patience, hard word, and perseverance really do pay off in the end.

GIVEAWAY: Susan is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Please note that comments may take a little while to appear; this is normal).

 

Don’t let your submission be rejected for
improper formatting. The third edition of
Formatting & Submitting Your Manuscript
has more than 100 examples of queries,
synopses, proposals, book text, and more.
Buy it online here at a discount.

 

Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:

 

Want to build your visibility and sell more books?
Create Your Writer Platform shows you how to
promote yourself and your books through social
media, public speaking, article writing, branding,
and more.
Order the book from WD at a discount.

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24. Sam & Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen

Mac Barnett Jon Klassen are the brilliant team that brought us Extra Yarn, winner of the Caldecott Honor Medal. With Sam & Dave Dig a Hole, Barnett and Klassen have created yet another book that readers (and little listeners) will instantly bond with. Seemingly simple, this book will satisfy adults and kids and is sure to get repeated readings wherever it lands, in part because of the wry

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25. How to write when the story doesn't result in victory ..

Hello, I'm looking to write a short story, non-fictional. It's about a race season, David vs. Goliath, etc. The main character wins races and championships

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