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1. Question: Drying Time in Oil Paint

Pedram F., an artist who works in Sweden, asks: "Heya James! Big fan and silent watcher of your posts and blog here! I'm going to break the silence tho' this time around because I have been watching your latest video on the Rise of Tyrannosaurus that I bought recently. It's a really simple question that wasn't really touched on, except maybe only hinted at in the video, but I wonder how long it takes for your painting to dry in between the stages/layers. Do you always wait for touch dry before moving on? Since you are using different dryers or mediums that shorten the drying time, it would be interesting to know how long you wait in between sessions. That is, from the moment you put down the paint brush to finishing it."

Hi, Pedram,
Great question! Thanks for asking. When I'm painting on a deadline assignment, I usually want the section that I'm working on to stay workable for a couple of hours. A few hours is usually plenty of time to accomplish any kind of blending or gradation. I typically want it to be dry to the touch by the next morning.

When there's time for slow drying
If I really need more than one day for a given passage—such as a big cloudy sky or a portrait with a lot of edge work—I might use a more normal painting medium (such as damar varnish + stand oil + gum turpentine), or no medium at all. In that case, I make sure to paint that passage early enough in the deadline cycle so that it will have time to dry to the touch in a natural way before I need to deliver the painting.

I have to be careful about thick impastos of titanium white or the cadmium colors, because they dry slowly. The last parts to dry are often the highlights. Those might take days or even weeks to dry.

This particular assignment allowed six weeks from first call to delivery. More than half of that time was taken with research, sketches, and approvals—which is typical for a scientific or historical illustration. As a result, the final paintings had to be done in the last two weeks. Most magazine deadlines allow a few weeks to a month start to finish, but I am sometimes called in on much shorter deadlines.

Eight strategies to speed up drying

1. Working thinly is a third way to get oil paint to dry quickly. I use Winsor and Newton's Alkyd mediumor Gamblin's Galkyd medium if I need medium at all. If the paint is reasonably thin, it will be set up by the next day.

2. Pre-texturing is the method I show in the video to achieve thick paint with impastos, while still getting the paint to dry quickly. The thin oil paint is applied over the surface of the dried acrylic underpainting textures. The oil layer dries overnight, but because of the underpainting textures, it looks like a thick impasto.

3. Another method is a heated drying box used at night between painting sessions. A drying box is an enclosed fireproof volume built to contain the painting, together with some heating element, such as an incandescent bulb.

4. If you don't want to build a box, you can use a light bulb in a reflector clamp lamp to speed the drying. If the heat is coming just from one side, there's a danger of warping the board or damaging the surface of the painting.

5. One solution for such thick paint is the use of chemical accelerators. If I think I might use thick passages of white or cadmiums, I might use just a drop or two of cobalt drier mixed with a palette knife into the blob of white on the palette. As I'm sure you know, these driers should be used sparingly, as they can weaken the paint emulsion and change the color if one uses too much of them. I rarely resort to them, but if I need them, they can be a lifesaver.

6. Another tip that you'll recall from the video is that I can save a day by doing a casein underpainting. Casein is a well established underpainting medium for oils, and the painting can be taken to any stage in that medium with the oil used only where necessary.

7. Sometimes the oil paint just isn't dry the night before shipment or hand-delivery. In that case, I build a gapped box, with cardboard shims around the outer edges, so that the cardboard of the container is not touching paint surface. I also would then put a note in the box to let the art director know that there might be some wet paint.

8. A final expedient is for the artist to photograph the wet painting instead of shipping it to the client. As long as the copy work is done to a standard acceptable to the client, this can save everyone a lot of effort, expense, and time, and then it doesn't matter if the painting is wet. If the lighting set-up is good, the new cameras such as the Canon Digital Rebel can shoot excellent high resolution files that rival what a lab could deliver. Here's a blog post explaining how I typically photograph paintings, and here are two other blog posts by Dan Dos Santos and David Palumbo explaining how they do it.

Hope that answers your question, Pedram. And in case anyone else wonders: I haven't experimented much with water-soluble oils, tubed alkyd paints, or acrylics, mainly because I've got my hands full with oil, casein, gouache, and watercolor. I'm sure they have wonderful properties, but I just haven't had a chance to try them out.

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2. Celebrating Letter Writing

Letter writing may be a dying art, but it's still important to know how to communicate, whether by email, text, tweet, note, OR letter. Need a model of how to? Check out this poem, "Sincerely" by Robyn Hood Black. Here, the narrator in Jenny G's video has really captured the spirit of the poem with such a great smile and clear enunciation. And don't miss the hilarious blooper bits too!

You can share this lovely poem next March during National Write a Letter of Appreciation Day or ANY DAY when you want to nudge children to try writing someone they care about. You'll find a Pocket Poem card version of this poem at Pinterest too right HEREWe have a whole "board" of CELEBRATION Pocket Poems there to share and enjoy. Just click HERE.

For the full text of this poem and 150+ more (all in English AND Spanish), order your own copy of The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations HERE and for more Poetry Celebrations fun, click HERE. Plus for more on National Poetry Month, click HERE.

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3. PO-EMotion -- Happiness

from Wikimedia


Before I was born, my dad was an ag pilot.
He traded freedom and flight for
responsibility and safety and John Deere parts.

Growing up,
we often went for Sunday drives in the country
to get out of town and look at the crops.

But sometimes,
he borrowed a plane and we slipped the surly bonds of earth*
and flew over the faded quilt of fields.

the flight pattern of our small town airport
went right over our back yard.

One summer, I planted a smiley face of marigolds
for the pilots to see
as they came in on final.

©Mary Lee Hahn, 2015

* "slipped the surly bonds of earth" is from my dad's favorite poem "High Flight" by John Gillespie Magee, Jr.
Here's John Denver singing the poem as a song (scrub to 3:25). We played this at dad's funeral.

Carol, at Carol's Corner, will join me again this year as often as possible.

Kimberly, at iWrite in Maine, is joining me this month. 

Kay, at A Journey Through the Pages, is joining, too!

Steve, at inside the dog, is sharing his poems 
in the comments at Poetrepository.

Heidi, at my juicy little universe, will join us when she can.

Linda, at TeacherDance, will join as often as she can.
Check the comments at A Year of Reading or Poetrepository for her poems.

Kevin (Kevin's Meandering Mind) is back this year,
leaving poetry trax in the comments.

Carol, at Beyond Literacy Link, is writing alongside us when she can.

Jone, at DeoWriter, is doing a "double L" challenge. 
She and I are cross-poLLinating our challenges whenever possible.

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4. Blog Tour Guest Post : The Water and the Wild by K. E. Ormsbee PLUS GIVEAWAY

Please welcome K. E. Ormsbee to GreenBeanTeenQueen! K.E. Ormsbee is the author of The Water and the Wild. I asked her to share about libraries and I love the libraries she talks about! She even shared pictures and I want to visit these libraries now!

About K. E. Ormsbee: I was born and raised in the Bluegrass State. Then I went off and lived in places across the pond, like England and Spain, where I pretended I was a French ingénue. Just kidding! That only happened once. I also lived in some hotter nooks of the USA, like Birmingham, AL and Austin, TX. Now I'm back in Lexington, KY, where there is a Proper Autumn.

In my wild, early years, I taught English as a Foreign Language, interned with a film society, and did a lot of irresponsible road tripping. My crowning achievement is that the back of my head was in an iPhone commercial, and people actually paid me money for it.

Nowadays, I teach piano lessons, play in a band you've never heard of, and run races that I never win. I likes clothes from the 60s, music from the 70s, and movies from the 80s. I still satiate my bone-deep wanderlust whenever I can.

I’m only slightly exaggerating when I say I grew up in the library. Both my parents were educators who read to me constantly and taught me how to read for myself. They created one insatiable bookworm. I munched through books with a voracious appetite, and I looked forward to my weekly visit to the library more than I did trips to the pizzeria. Oh yeah. I was a Supreme Nerd.

Growing up, I was well acquainted with many public library branches in my hometown of Lexington, KY. I knew which branch had the best Middle Grade section (Beaumont), which had the best storyteller (Lansdowne), and which had the coolest CD collection (Central).

On occasion, I even got to visit the behemoth William T. Young Library on the University of Kentucky’s campus. Truth be told, a college library was pretty boring stuff to nine-year-old Kathryn, but I lovedskipping through the automated sliding bookshelves, deliciously terrified that the motion sensors might not detect me. To be crushed in the Anthropology section would be a spectacular way to go, reasoned Little Kathryn. I was a pretty morbid kiddo.

I’ve always considered libraries to be magical places, and I’ve discovered some rather spectacular ones in my travels, from London to Prague to Seville to Cambridge. I mean, take a peek at this teeny but cozy library at King’s College, Cambridge:

(Magical, right? Magical.)

It wasn’t until my senior year of college, however, that I discovered the Library of Dreams, the Library to End All Libraries, MY FAVORITE LIBRARY. In 2011, I set foot in the newly opened Library in the Forest in Vestavia Hills, Alabama. And yes, this library is just as cool as it sounds. 

Library in the Forest, which is located on the edge of nine wooded acres, is Alabama’s first LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified facility. My personal favorite feature of the library is the Treehouse Reading Room, a special space where you can read suspended above the forest.

I spent many days studying at Library in the Forest, soaking in the natural light from its giant windows and watching kids explore the surrounding area on class field trips. Whenever I reached my writing limit, I knew I could just rip out my earbuds, swing on my backpack, and step out into the great outdoors for a hike.

But it’s not just Library in the Forest’s location or facilities that make it so cool. It’s the people who tirelessly work to provide the community with great programming and countless opportunities for kids and teens to learn and explore. What makes the library extra special to me is all the time I spent there with friends who loved the winning combo of books, nature, and community-minded programming just as much as I did.

It seems rather fitting, then, that I worked on revisions for The Water and the Wild while at Library in the Forest, since the importance of nature, stories, and friendship are all central to Lottie Fiske’s story. I think all three of those things carry a little bit of magic in them, whether they’re found in the pages of a fantasy book or in a library just outside Birmingham, Alabama.

So! Next time you’re in the area, be sure to stop by the very special Library in the Forest. I hope you’ll feel the magic, too.

About The Water and the Wild: A green apple tree grows in the heart of Thirsby Square, and tangled up in its magical roots is the story of Lottie Fiske. For as long as Lottie can remember, the only people who seem to care about her are her best friend, Eliot, and the mysterious letter writer who sends her birthday gifts. But now strange things are happening on the island Lottie calls home, and Eliot's getting sicker, with a disease the doctors have given up trying to cure. Lottie is helpless, useless, powerless—until a door opens in the apple tree. Follow Lottie down through the roots to another world in pursuit of the impossible: a cure for the incurable, a use for the useless, and protection against the pain of loss.

Want to win a copy? Leave a comment below to enter to win a signed copy! 
-One entry per person
-Ages 13+ up
-Contest ends April 30

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5. Jane Higgins, author of THE BRIDGE, on letting reading teach and inspire you

We're thrilled to have Jane Higgins join us to share more about her award-winning novel THE BRIDGE.

Jane, how long did you work on THE BRIDGE?

I worked on it for about three years, although I was playing with the idea of it for a while before that.

What book or books would most resonate with readers who love your book--or visa versa?

Try these: they are all compelling. How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff, The Tomorrow Series by John Marsden, the Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness, The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins, Feed by MT Anderson.

What do you hope readers will take away from THE BRIDGE?

For me, THE BRIDGE is about two things. First, there’s the possibility that when you meet your enemy face to face you might discover that your world is more complex than you thought.  And secondly, it’s about the power of friendship. I work a lot with young people in my day job as a researcher and I’m always struck by how important their friends are to them.  Ultimately, THE BRIDGE is a story about friendship, what borders it might take you across, and what you might discover about yourself and your world on the way.

How long or hard was your road to publication? How many books did you write before this one, and how many never got published?

I have one ‘training wheels’ novel sitting in a drawer at home. I guess I worked on that for six or seven years. It got rejected by numerous agents and publishers, but that’s okay; I learned a lot while I was writing it. In 2008 I joined a writing group consisting of established writers and poets as well as beginners like me.  I wrote THE BRIDGE with helpful feedback from them. In 2010, after two substantial rewrites, I submitted it to a New Zealand publisher, but it got rejected, so I did another rewrite and finished that in time to enter it in Text Publishing’s Prize for Young Adult and Children’s Writing. To my profound and lasting delight, it won. Text (in Australia) published it in 2011 and it was picked up for North America by Tundra after that.

Was there an AHA! moment along your road to publication where something suddenly sank in and you felt you had the key to writing a novel? What was it?

There was no big revelation, but there was a moment when I realized that this was not going to work as a short story, and that I had to let it be the novel it wanted to be.  After that, I wrote in an exploratory kind of way – I was discovering the world of Cityside and Southside at the same time that my protagonist, Nik, was.

What's your writing ritual like? Do you listen to music? Work at home or at a coffee shop or the library, etc?

I have a day job as a researcher, so I have to squeeze my writing into the ‘nooks and crannies’ of my day (and night). When I get the chance I write at home at a desk that is a little crowded with writing stuff: books, a dictionary, a thesaurus, a candle, pens and pencils; also a miniature TARDIS which is not exactly writing related but I do like to look at it to ponder the power of the imagination. I don’t usually listen to music. If I do, it will be instrumental because I find lyrics distracting. I’m definitely more of a pantser than a planner and I like to hone and polish as I go, which is undoubtedly inefficient, but it’s the fun bit! When I finish a section I read it aloud because I want to write with cadence and rhythm and the best way to test that is to read aloud. When I’ve finished a whole draft, I read it aloud to my husband Paul, who listens and asks questions, spotting plot problems and contradictions and helping me solve them.

What advice would you most like to pass along to other writers?

I guess my favourite piece of advice is also the most obvious, and that’s to read. Read, read, and read some more. Read widely and well, read great writing, read as a writer, let it teach and inspire you.

What are you working on now?

At the end of last year I finished a sequel to THE BRIDGE. It’s called HAVOC and it’s set about six months after the end of THE BRIDGE. It has just been published in New Zealand and Australia by Text. And now I’ve started something new.


The Bridge
by Jane Higgins
Tundra Books
Released 4/14/2015

The City is divided. The bridges gated. In Southside, the hostiles live in squalor and desperation, waiting for a chance to overrun the residents of Cityside.

Nik is still in high school but is destined for a great career with the Internal Security and Intelligence Services, the brains behind the war. But when ISIS comes recruiting, everyone is shocked when he isn't chosen. There must be an explanation, but no one will talk about it. Then the school is bombed and the hostiles take the bridges. Buildings are burning, kids are dead, and the hostiles have kidnapped Sol. Now ISIS is hunting for Nik.

But Nik is on the run, with Sol's sister Fyffe and ISIS hot on their trail. They cross the bridge in search of Sol, and Nik finds answers to questions he had never dared to ask.

The Bridge is a gritty adventure set in a future world where fear of outsiders pervades everything. A heart-stopping novel about friendship, identity, and courage from an exciting new voice in young-adult fiction.

Purchase The Bridge at Amazon
Purchase The Bridge at IndieBound
View The Bridge on Goodreads


Jane was born in Christchurch, New Zealand. Over the years, she has traveled away, but she returned in the 1990s; she and her husband, Paul, live there still, even though the ground now shakes at regular and unnerving intervals and has done since the earthquakes of September 2010 and February 2011.

Growing up, she read a lot of classic science fiction, fantasy and myth, and was captivated by the astonishing beauty and strangeness of the universe and by the writers who explored it – in fiction and non-fiction. She tried some exploring of her own, in the company of the very cool people in the Canterbury Astronomical Society – people who made their own telescopes and tracked the patterns of the solar system from their own backyards. She watched Dr. Who (almost, but not quite, from the beginning), Star Trek (favourite episode: The Trouble with Tribbles – great, because so silly) and The Prisoner (great, because so weird), and kept reading. She went to university and completed a degree in astronomy and mathematics and thought about spending her life sitting on a mountain being an astronomer.

A trip away to Europe, post-degree, derailed those ambitions. Seeing serious poverty and serious preparations for war for the first time was a powerful experience. She came home to study social science and learn from some amazing people about its concrete expression in the world through campaigns against poverty, oppressive labour laws and racism in New Zealand and elsewhere.

She became an academic at the University of Canterbury then at Lincoln University, specializing in research with young people about their lives. She wrote a lot of non-fiction for academic journals, kept reading and finally had a go at writing a novel.

She was lucky to be part of the inaugural intake of the Hagley Writers’ Institute – more wonderful people, including tutors and fellow scribblers. In their company, The Bridge grew from a short story into something longer and more complicated.

She still works as a researcher with young people, still reads, still writes (and still watches Dr. Who).

What did you think of our interview with Jane Higgins, author of THE BRIDGE? Let us know in the comments!

Happy reading,

Jocelyn, Martina, Jan, Shelly, Susan, Lisa, and Erin

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6. The Day is Waiting by Don Freeman with Linda Zuckerman

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7. Michaela MacColl, author of THE REVELATION OF LOUISA MAY, on writing mysteries centered around famous authors

We're delighted to have Michaela MacColl join us to share more about THE REVELATION OF LOUISA MAY, the latest novel in her series of literary mysteries. Michaela has also agreed to give away an ARC, so make sure to enter the giveaway below.

Michaela, what is your favorite thing about THE REVELATION OF LOUISA MAY?

My favorite thing about The Revelation of Louisa May (Chronicle 2015) is probably Louisa May Alcott herself. I just liked her so much! When I write these literary mysteries I always start with biography. I learn as much as I can about the writer who will be my main character. I feel a little bit like a sculptor – adding bits and pieces of my understanding of the character until she’s fully formed in my head. When I start to write, the voice comes naturally. But Louisa was special – I understood her from the beginning.  She was bright and contrary even as a toddler (her wacky parents did all sorts of educational experiments on them and documented the results!).  The most practical member of the family, even at 12 her harassed mother (Marmee) confided in her way too much about the disastrous family finances. Louisa’s response was to vow to earn enough money to support the family … with her pen.  And she did. Little Women was published in 1869 and has never gone out of print. Louisa was a millionaire and yes, she supported the whole family.  She had grit and I liked that.

What was your inspiration for writing THE REVELATION OF LOUISA MAY?

I’m doing a series of literary mysteries for Chronicle that are tagged as “tales of Intrigue and Romance.”  The idea is to get readers hooked on the writer – then the kids are bound to go to their amazing works. We began with Emily Dickinson, then the Bronte sisters. Louisa May Alcott was a natural choice for the third installment. How many librarians do you know who weren’t hooked on that book? So many of us grew up yearning that the next time we reread the book somehow Jo would change her mind and end up with Laurie!

As I said, these books are mysteries. So I usually scour biographies looking for a body or a hint of one. I discovered early on that the Alcotts, in keeping with their humanist and transcendental philosophies, were also members of the Underground Railroad and Louisa mentions sheltering a fugitive slave named George in their kitchen. As soon as I began to think about fugitive slaves I thought about secrets. And slave catchers. And blackmail.  From there it was an easy jump to murder!

What scene was really hard for you to write and why, and is that the one of which you are most proud? Or is there another scene you particularly love?

One of my favorite scenes is not a hugely important one. Louisa is visiting with her good friend, Ralph Waldo Emerson.  He’s an adult who is a good friend to her family (Emerson encouraged the Alcotts to move to Concord and helped them out financially more than once) and he has always encouraged her love of reading.  The room that Louisa loves best in the world is his library.  Emerson guarded his time and his workspace, but Louisa was always welcome there. In that scene there’s a quick memory that flashes through Louisa’s mind of when Emerson’s beloved son dies of scarlet fever. Louisa had been sent with a note to the Emerson house. The distraught father meets her at the door and tells her his boy is dead. They sit on the steps for a long time crying together. With that kind of foundation for a friendship, it’s not surprising to the reader that when murder and scandal come close to touching the Emersons, Louisa is there to defend them.

What's your writing ritual like? Do you listen to music? Work at home or at a coffee shop or the library, etc?

I have a lovely office where I hardly ever work. I like curling up on the couch or in a chair in front of the fireplace. When I’m under a time crunch I go to the closest Paneras – mainly because the coffee is OK and I don’t like the food!  I spend a lot of time in libraries doing research. My town’s library is ridiculously busy  -- a true center of the community – but not very quiet. The local university library on the other hand is a ghost town until finals. So I go there and make the day of the research librarian.

What are you working on now?

I’m doing the final copy edits on the next literary mystery. This one is about Jane Austen and is still untitled.  What’s fun for me (besides writing and reading Jane Austen!) is that all the other characters I’ve written about also read Jane Austen. Emily Dickinson was delighted to see that a woman could be a serious writer. Charlotte Bronte felt that Austen books were passionless and too genteel.  And Louisa May Alcott of course was just delighted to know that it was possible to earn a living with her pen!


The Revelation of Louisa May
by Michaela MacColl
Chronicle Books
Released 4/14/2015

Louisa May Alcott can't believe it—her mother is leaving for the summer to earn money for the family and Louisa is to be in charge of the household. How will she find the time to write her stories, much less have any adventures of her own? But before long, Louisa finds herself juggling her temperamental father, a mysterious murder, a fugitive seeking refuge along the Underground Railroad, and blossoming love. Intertwining fact, fiction, and quotes from Little Women, Michaela MacColl has crafted another spunky heroine whose story will keep readers turning pages until the very end.

Purchase The Revelation of Louisa May at Amazon
Purchase The Revelation of Louisa May at IndieBound
View The Revelation of Louisa May on Goodreads


Michaela attended Vassar College and Yale University earning degrees in multi-disciplinary history. Unfortunately, it took her 20 years before she realized she was learning how to write historical fiction. Her favorite stories are the ones she finds about the childhood experiences of famous people. She has written about a teenaged Queen Victoria (Prisoners in the Palace, Chronicle 2010) and Beryl Markham’s childhood (Promise the Night, Chronicle 2011). She is writing a literary mystery series for teens featuring so far a young Emily Dickinson in Nobody’s Secret (2013) and the Bronte sisters in Always Emily (2014). She has recently begun a new series with Boyd’s Mill/Highlights called Hidden Histories about odd events in America’s past. The first entry in the series is Rory’s Promise and will be published in September 2014. She frequently visits high schools and has taught at the Graduate Institute in Bethel, CT. She lives in Westport CT with her husband, two teenaged daughters and three extremely large cats.

What did you think of our interview with Michaela MacColl, author of THE REVELATION OF LOUSIA MAY? Let us know in the comments and don't forget to enter the giveaway!

Happy reading,
Martina, Jocelyn, Shelly, Jan, Lisa, Susan, and Erin

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8. P is for Pandemic by Yvonne Ventresca for the A to Z 2015 Challenge

Today the letter feature is "P" and I'm honored to host Pandemic by Yvonne Ventresca. Yvonne and I are fellow members of The Muffin Commando Squad and I'm humbled by the talent from our group. Without further ado, I present to you Pandemic and Yvonne Ventresca. 

Pandemic (Sky Pony Press, 2014) a young adult novel by Yvonne Ventresca.

Excerpts from a review by Jim Cobb of Survival Weekly:

“I can honestly say this is one of my favorite reads thus far this year and easily ranks in my top 25 favorite disaster novels.  Yeah, it is that good. . . . Rather like many real world examples of flu pandemics, the very young and the very old are largely unaffected, while those in the prime of their lives are among the highest concentrations of victims.  This is just one of many examples throughout Pandemic where it is obvious the author has done her homework. . . . Throughout the book, the characters are very well written, with dialogue being spot on in every scene.  The reactions and motivations of the characters make perfect sense and ring true. . . . All in all, Pandemic is a tremendous read.  It is fast paced, with the reader pulled along page by page.  There are books you read and enjoy and there are books you are disappointed when you reach the end.  Pandemic definitely falls into the latter category.”

Yvonne Ventresca is the author of PANDEMIC (Sky Pony Press/Skyhorse Publishing, 2014), a contemporary young adult novel about an emotionally traumatized teenager struggling to survive a deadly flu outbreak. Before becoming an author, Yvonne wrote computer programs and taught others how to use technology. Now she happily spends her days writing stories instead of code. Yvonne’s other writing credits include two nonfiction books for kids, AVRIL LAVIGNE (a biography of the singer) and PUBLISHING (about careers in the field). Yvonne lives with her family and dogs in New Jersey.

Intrigued! For more information about Yvonne and her books visit:

<!--[if gte mso 9]> Normal 0 false false false EN-US JA X-NONE <![endif]--> Barnes and Noble www.barnesandnoble.com/w/pandemic-yvonne-ventresca/1116107728?ean=9781628736090


Best wishes,
Donna M. McDine
Multi Award-winning Children's Author

Ignite curiosity in your child through reading!

Connect with

A Sandy Grave ~ January 2014 ~ Guardian Angel Publishing, Inc. ~ 2014 Purple Dragonfly 1st Place Picture Books 6+, Story Monster Approved, Beach Book Festival Honorable Mention 2014, Reader's Favorite Five Star Review

Powder Monkey ~ May 2013 ~ Guardian Angel Publishing, Inc. ~ Story Monster Approved and Reader's Favorite Five Star Review

Hockey Agony ~ January 2013 ~ Guardian Angel Publishing, Inc. ~ New England Book Festival Honorable Mention 2014, Story Monster Approved and Reader's Favorite Five Star Review

The Golden Pathway ~ August 2010 ~ Guardian Angel Publishing, Inc.
~ Literary Classics Silver Award and Seal of Approval, Readers Favorite 2012 International Book Awards Honorable Mention and Dan Poynter's Global e-Book Awards Finalist

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9. 10,000 Hours

I'm back in Colorado for a long weekend. The big excitement here: Kataleya is walking! She's taking those first hesitant, awkward, heart-wrenchingly beautiful baby steps.

On the flight home late Thursday night, as we feared being diverted to land in Pueblo rather than Denver because of snow ("springtime in the Rockies"), I read an article in the Southwest Airlines in-flight magazine (I adore airline magazines) by writer Michael Kruse about a guy named Dan McLaughlin, who decided at age thirty to quit his job to work full-time on his golf game - although he had never played any golf. Calling it "The Dan Plan," his goal is to test the adage popularized by Malcolm Gladwell that it takes 10,000 hours of dedicated practice to achieve excellence in any field.

In the article, Dan is seen toiling at his golf swing in rain, in wind, in winter cold. His girlfriend breaks up with him. His funds run low. He still has 3963 hours left to go. He's a vastly better golfer than he was when he started (as a non-golfer!). He's not even close to great. But his goal is less golfing greatness than it is to test the 10,000-hour theory and offer himself and others a greater sense of life's possibilities.

Writer Kruse is a bit skeptical, asking "In Dan's effort to expand life's possibilities. . . has he reached a point where he's limiting his own possibilities?" And: "is it possible that the mess of modern life [which Dan has given up in his single-minded pursuit to log those 10,000 hours] is actually the fuel rather than the inhibitor of excellence?"

Good questions. I would say that the problem with Dan's pursuit (and I do admire the sheer quirkiness of it) is rather that it isn't fueled by any particular love of golf itself. He didn't quit his job to follow his lifelong dream of being a golfer, but to test a theory and write a blog and possible book about testing it. 10,000 hours of practice may be necessary to achieve a goal of greatness, but in my view it isn't sufficient. Love is necessary, too.

I couldn't resist doing the math about my own life as a writer. I've been writing professionally for around thirty-five years. To make the math easy (I always need to make the math easy!), call it thirty-three. 10,000 hours divided by 33 is 300, or pretty close to the number of days in a year, taking off weekends, vacations, etc. Which means that . . . ta-dah! . . . I've accumulated 10,000 hours of writing by writing, yes, an hour a day.

I don't know how much excellence I've achieved. I'm hardly the writing equivalent of a Tiger Woods. But I've published a lot of books, and some kids have written to tell me they loved them, and I've had a full and rich life along the way. And now: 10,000 hours. All from an hour a day.

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10. Getting to know Brian Muir

From time to time, we try to give you a glimpse into our offices around the globe. This week, we are excited to bring you an interview with Brian Muir, an Online Marketing Assistant on our Direct Marketing team in New York. Brian has been working at the Oxford University Press since March 2014.

The post Getting to know Brian Muir appeared first on OUPblog.

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11. A Jazz Appreciation Month Playlist

Established in 2001, Jazz Appreciation Month celebrates the rich history, present accolades, and future growth of jazz music. Spanning the blues, ragtime, dixieland, bebop, swing, soul, and instrumentals, there's no surprise that jazz music has endured the test of time from its early origins amongst African-American slaves in the late 19th century to its growth today.

The post A Jazz Appreciation Month Playlist appeared first on OUPblog.

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12. 30 Days of Teen Programming: The NILPPA Study: What We are Hearing about Teen Programming

As a librarian, you probably see the impacts of programming every day. You know your work is important based on interactions with your teens. And they probably make it clear – through their words or behavior – when a particular program has hit or missed the mark.

But what if you had more than anecdotal evidence? What if you had data to tell you what works, what doesn’t, and why?

In December, ALA’s Public Programs Office released a first-of-its-kind research study to quantify the characteristics, audiences, outcomes and impacts of library programming. The National Impact of Library Public Programs Assessment (NILPPA) describes the current state of library programming and proposes an ambitious, eight-year research plan for further study. NILPPA also poses a number of questions, including: What counts as “success” in library programming? What impact does programming have on participants and communities? What skills must programming librarians hone to maximize impact and reach underserved communities?

But let’s back up for a moment. What is the Public Programs Office (PPO)? Located one story up from YALSA in ALA’s Chicago headquarters, PPO promotes cultural and community programming as an essential part of library service. Operating on grant funding, our 10-person staff offers professional development activities, programming resources, and grant opportunities to help libraries fill their role as community cultural centers — places of cultural and civic engagement where people of all backgrounds gather for reflection, discovery, participation and growth.

Library programming has changed since PPO was founded more than 20 years ago. Back then, support for library programs for adults was limited and fragile, and the title “programming librarian” was most likely to refer to someone in tech services. Today, there is a robust community of librarians whose job descriptions include the creation of programs for all ages.

The fast-changing nature of the library field is one motivation for the NILPPA study. We want libraries to have the knowledge and tools they need to successfully reach their communities through programming. We want to help libraries develop best practices to advance the field; enable them to “make the case” for funding and resources; and most importantly, foster support for lifelong learners of diverse backgrounds.

After the NILPPA report was published, we asked readers to weigh in with their own experiences on the NILPPA website, listservs and social media. We collected more than 170 comments – feedback that will help us decide where resources are needed most as we move into future phases of this project.

One question we asked – “What are your library’s greatest strengths and weaknesses in regard to programming?” – elicited several responses about teen programming. Below is a sampling:

“At [library name], our programming strengths are programs for children.  We can almost always get an audience and they are up for anything.  We still struggle to find audiences for tween and teen programs.”

“Our weakness is providing programming for the millennials. We have a lot of things for youth, but once they graduate we have nothing for them…”

“Strength - programs for younger children and families; Weakness - programs for middle school/teens…”

“Strengths: children's programming including story time and summer reading. There is great awareness of what is happening in the library regarding this age group.  Weaknesses: YA and Adult programming.  Our YA programming does not exist and we get limited participation in our adult programming attempts.  Our library is in an affluent area and there are many distractions for teens and adults outside the library.”

“Strength: all baby, kid, tween and teen programming. We bring it and they come. After school clubs for school-age kiddos is particularly hot these days. As is our monthly lunch-time book club hosted at the high school.”

“Strength: Lots of good programming for kids & teens (i.e. Children's Book Club, Teen Writing Club, SDC Storytime, etc.).  Weakness: Non adult programming (due to lack of interest).”

“Youth and Teen Services manage their programming themselves and balance staff time with program needs well.  Our Teen Librarian constantly looks for programs that will bring Teens into the Library.  We are looking to increase tech services available to them.  YS librarians reach out to schools, summer camps, and youth program organizers to increase our outreach to underserved youth.  Our membership of the [program name] brings every kindergarten class in [School District 1], [School District 2] and [School District 3] into the Library at least once a year for special programming.”

While at some libraries, teen programs appear to be thriving, others seem to struggle with this young adult demographic. Do these comments resonate with you? How is your situation similar or different? What is making your teen programming successful? Please share your reactions in the comments below. You can read the full report and comment at http://NILPPA.org.

YALSA’s Future of Teen Library Service report and the new Teen Programming Guidelines are so valuable to the Public Programs Office’s work in this area. We are eager to hear from you about how you are working with these resources as well.

You can also stay up-to-date on PPO programs and initiatives at our website, www.ProgrammingLibrarian.org, or sign up for a PPO listserv

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13. Query Question: I can't use social media, am I doomed?

Last summer, you covered a question about whether or not someone should bother writing when they have terrible social anxiety. When you closed out your answer, you added, "And if her writing requires her to have a public presence, well, we'll solve that problem when we get there." That's where my question comes in.

What suggestions would you have for someone who does not want (feel free to add capitals and emphatic full stops between words there) to use Twitter and Facebook and those kinds of tools? My reasons are personal -- a sociopath who worked a long, twelve year con on me and my family, something along the lines of a Janna St James situation -- and have soured me on dealing with the internet, even if it means having to work harder other ways. I was a private person before, but now, it's taking a big leap just to ask this question. Thanks to words like "friending", people tend to see even people they've never met on the other end of Facebook and Twitter discussions as friends. Details shared even in comments here make people feel like they're friends. It's oddly public and intimate at the same time and something, after what I went through, I can't open myself up to again.

How would you help someone work around an internet presence to still be a worthwhile business relationship for you?

Your question comes at an interesting time. I'm having ongoing discussions with my publicist and with my clients about the utility of social media.

More and more I'm thinking that the old-fashioned tools, the ones we thought we wouldn't use again, are more effective.

And by old-fashioned tools I mean shoe leather.  Visiting bookstores in person, writing a newsletter for fans, going to bookstore events to support other writers.

I think many of us were willing to discard those tools because then (as now) we weren't ever sure how effective they were.  In fact, there's almost no reliable method to predict the effectiveness of publicity efforts (one of the things that drove me out of the field.)

Being unwilling or unable to do social media isn't a deal breaker, but you're going to have to be willing to do SOMETHING. If I love your book, I'll be willing to help you figure out what that something is.

Thus, the first step here is to write a really great book. I have to love it with the passion of a thousand suns cause there's going to be some heavy lifting here.

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14. If We Were Having Coffee - Quiet Moments

I came across Eclectic Alli 's post this weekend and followed the link to others who have joined the very relaxing and beautifully written posts. 

It seems to have been found by Part Time Monster, do visit the blog, and has increased from there.  Whoever had the first idea, it is well worth spending a quiet time sharing a coffee. Very therapeutic. 

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15. Pete Hautman, author of EDEN WEST, on reading your work out loud

We're thrilled to have award-winning author Pete Hautman stop by to share more about his latest novel EDEN WEST.

Pete, tell us about your inspiration for writing EDEN WEST.

I began Eden West back in 2002, at the same time I was working on Godless. Both books deal with the differences and relationship between religion and faith, both are coming-of-age stories, and both are about a young man in conflict with his father. But in Godless, the conflict is generated intellectually—it is Jason’s thoughts that create dissonance—whereas in Eden West, Jacob’s apostasy is impelled by external forces. One might say that Eden West is an inside-out version of Godless.

As for the specific inspiration that got me started on Eden West, I was thinking about fences—chain-link fences in particular—and imagined two people meeting through such a barrier, and I wondered why the fence was there, why they were on opposite sides of it, and what it takes to make them climb over.

What scene was really hard for you to write and why, and is that the one of which you are most proud? Or is there another scene you particularly love?

Scenes involving multiple characters—such as the banquet scene, or the scene where Father Grace announces his betrothal—are always difficult for me, and I am never completely at ease with the result. Probably my favorite passage in the book is when Jacob is alone, following the gray owl through the Mire. I’ve spent a lot of time alone in bogs hunting for mushrooms. That scene feels particularly vivid to me.

What book or books would most resonate with readers who love your book--or visa versa?

That’s a tough one, since I try hard to write books that are different from what is out there. I would NOT point them to other “cult books.” Maybe something like Lois Lowry’s The Giver, or Kindred, by Octavia Butler, whose work I recommend at every opportunity.

How long did you work on EDEN WEST?

Twelve years, with several starts and stops.

What did this book teach you about writing or about yourself?

Every book is an education, yes? Working on Eden West, I discovered I have more empathy for those who are immersed in nonstandard belief systems than I expected to be. It’s easy to be snarky or intolerant of people-of-not-my-faith, and to forget that we are all fellow travelers. I think often of a line from Gene Wolfe’s The Shadow of the Torturer: “That we are capable only of being what we are remains our unforgivable sin.”

What do you hope readers will take away from EDEN WEST?

I don’t really think that way. I’ve come to accept that I cannot control what happens once a book leaves my hands. When people start reading Eden West (or any book), they will make it into something new, something I never intended. Books continue to be “written” by readers after publication—the act of reading is a part of the creative process. I’ve done my bit as a writer; now I pass the baton.

How long or hard was your road to publication? How many books did you write before this one, and how many never got published?

Pretty much all of my extant work has been or will be (I hope) published. Keep in mind that I wrote and destroyed thousands of pages before I ever submitted anything to a publisher. I was pretty tough on myself, in retrospect. But once I thought I’d gotten good enough, I sold my first novel (Drawing Dead) fairly quickly: six months to find an agent, twelve months for the agent to find a publisher, then another eighteen months for the book to come out. It felt like forever, but by industry standards, that’s pretty typical.

Was there an AHA! moment along your road to publication where something suddenly sank in and you felt you had the key to writing a novel? What was it?

It was a long road, so there were too many AHA! moments to count. There were also a lot of AAARGH! moments when I thought the novel had crashed and burned. At one point I went AAARGH! and set it aside for two years.

What's your writing ritual like? Do you listen to music? Work at home or at a coffee shop or the library, etc?

I’m kind of boring that way. I do all my writing at home sitting at my desk. In a coffee shop I am more interested in watching the people and eavesdropping when possible. I guess that’s part of writing, but not the part where words are being put on the page. I love the library, of course, and I spend many hours there doing research. That’s part of writing too. But I don’t “write” while I’m there.

I do get work done while running. That’s when many plot issues are resolved. When I get home from a run I often head straight for my computer where I drip sweat on the keyboard while recording dialogue that came to me during my run.

I don’t listen to music while writing, but I often have an informal playlist—songs I find myself listening to repeatedly that seem to get me into whatever headspace a particular story requires. For Eden West I listened to a lot of K.D. Lang and Dr. Dre. I know that’s weird; I can’t explain it.

What advice would you most like to pass along to other writers?

Other than the usual—read, write, observe, rewrite—I’ll suggest one technique that has worked for me: Read what you’ve written out loud and record it, then wait a day or two and listen to yourself reading your own work. I use my cell phone to record, then play it back over the car stereo while I’m driving around. Painful and time consuming, yes, but I learn a lot about pacing, and I catch a lot of mistakes.

What are you working on now?

As I write this (in mid-March), I’m working on a rather unusual unboxing video. I just got my first author’s copy of Eden West, but I haven’t yet opened the scary package. I have the chainsaw, the goggles, and the mask. I am at this moment waiting for my camera operator to show up.

{Pete sent us the unboxing video of the scary package - click here to view it.}

I have a middle-grade sci-fi comedy coming out this fall (The Flinkwater Factor), and I’m putting the final touches on a YA novel about birth order and eating contests.


Eden West
by Pete Hautman
Released 4/14/2015

Tackling faith, doubt, and transformation, National Book Award winner Pete Hautman explores a boy’s unraveling allegiance to an insular cult.

Twelve square miles of paradise, surrounded by an eight-foot-high chain-link fence: this is Nodd, the land of the Grace. It is all seventeen-year-old Jacob knows. Beyond the fence lies the World, a wicked, terrible place, doomed to destruction. When the Archangel Zerachiel descends from Heaven, only the Grace will be spared the horrors of the Apocalypse. But something is rotten in paradise. A wolf invades Nodd, slaughtering the Grace’s sheep. A new boy arrives from outside, and his scorn and disdain threaten to tarnish Jacob’s contentment. Then, while patrolling the borders of Nodd, Jacob meets Lynna, a girl from the adjoining ranch, who tempts him to sample the forbidden Worldly pleasures that lie beyond the fence. Jacob’s faith, his devotion, and his grip on reality are tested as his feelings for Lynna blossom into something greater and the End Days grow ever closer. Eden West is the story of two worlds, two hearts, the power of faith, and the resilience of the human spirit.

Purchase Eden West at Amazon
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View Eden West on Goodreads


2762Pete Hautman is the author of Godless, which won the National Book Award, and many other critically acclaimed books for teens and adults, including Blank Confession, All-In, Rash, No Limit, and Invisible. Mr. Was was nominated for an Edgar Award by the Mystery Writers of America. Pete lives in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Visit him at petehautman.com.

What did you think of our interview with Pete Hautman, author of EDEN WEST? Let us know in the comments!

Happy reading,

Jocelyn, Martina, Jan, Shelly, Susan, Lisa, and Erin

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16. The Day is Waiting - a bookwrap

A jack of all trades, Don Freeman was an accomplished painter, print maker, cartoonist, children’s books author, illustrator and jazz musician. Initially his illustrations depicted daily life in New York City, and he left no one out of his drawings. As his career went on, he began to draw more light hearted subjects and eventually begin illustrating books for children’s. His wife was also an accomplished artist, but she typically authored the books and let her husband illustrate them. Together they eventually released more than 20 books, including Chuggy and the Blue Caboose and Pet of the Met. They believed that simplicity was the key to creating excellent books.

Linda Zuckerman grew up in Brooklyn and has lived in the Pacific Northwest for almost fifteen years. She has been a children's book editor for more than forty years on both coasts, having held executive editorial positions at several major publishing houses. Linda is the editor of three books that were awarded the Caldecott Medal and two that received Newbery Honor citations.

I Will Hold You 'Til You Sleep is her first work as an author.  "I don't know how, why, or when, but when the phrase 'I will hold you while you sleep" came to me, it seemed like the beginning of something," says Linda.  "I put it aside for several years and did other things.  Then at one point I looked at it again.  Although I liked the alliteration of "will/while," it seemed to me to be uncomfortably obsessive to hold a child 'while' he/she slept, so I changed it to 'I will hold you 'til you sleep.'  Not as musical, but better for the child." she states.  " I wanted to write something that expressed a heartfelt ideal of the adult-child bond: that by loving and respecting all children, we provide a foundation in empathy and caring that they can pass along to others throughout their lives."

Linda Zuckerman lives with her husband, an artist, near Portland, Oregon.

-source:  scholastic.com

The author of  The Day is Waiting—Linda Zuckerman.

I first met Don Freeman in 1972, shortly after I joined The Viking Press (now Viking Penguin) as an editor in the children's book department. Don had already published more than 15 books at Viking, including the classic, Corduroy. Since we knew in advance when Don would be arriving in New York from Santa Barbara, we cleared our desks. He always arrived with arms full of gifts for secretaries and designers; he took everyone out to lunch. He demanded, and received, all our attention. We loved it; he loved it.
I worked on five books with Don, including A Pocket for Corduroy, a title I suggested to him. (His startling response was, "I've always wanted to do a book set in a laundromat." And so he did. Check it out: the artist in the beret, doing his laundry, bears an 
uncanny resemblance to the author.) 

After Don's death in 1978, I flew to Santa Barbara to meet with Lydia, his widow, hoping to find a last book that might be ready for publication. Don's studio was crammed with several hundred sketches and incomplete dummy books, all in different media and sizes, but nothing we could publish. Lydia and I spent hours sorting through the material. In the end, I picked about 75 individual images that appealed to me. Lydia sent black-and-white copies to New York.
One early Saturday morning I came into the quiet office and spread the copies on the floor. I looked at them, thinking, "Tell me what you want to be." Don's spirit hovered above; the Muse listened. By the end of the day, I had written a short, simple verse to go with the 26 pieces of art I had selected.
Now, with the support of Roy Freeman, the artist's son, and the excellent staff at Zonderkidz, the book is available again, 35 years later. I like to think Don would be as pleased as I am.
- Linda Zuckerman

                                                          -source: Zonderkidz.com


The Day Is Waiting, illustrated by New York Times bestselling illustrator of Corduroy, Don Freeman, takes readers on a tour of our wonderful world and reminds us that no matter how far we roam, we always have home to come back to.

Read on and read always!

It's a wrap.

Contact me at:  storywrapsblog@gmail.com

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17. Delilah S. Dawson, author of HIT, on being inspired by South Park and an iPod update

HIT is the latest novel by Delilah S. Dawson, and we're delighted she's joining us to share more about it.

Delilah, what was your inspiration for writing HIT?

It was inspired by South Park, believe it or not. One night, I watched the Human CentiPad episode, in which accepting Apple's terms of service legally contracts you to be sewn into a human centipede. The next day, my own iPod downloaded a new version (without my permission, I might add) and forced me to accept a new TOS. Basically, either you Accept it, or you throw away your useless piece of tech and lose all your music and songs forever. I pressed Agree and prepared myself to be sewn to another foolish iPod owner.

And then I started to think about how easy it would be to slide something sneaky into a long, unreadable Terms of Service agreement. What if, when signing up for a new credit card, they tweaked the wording so that instead of "This agreement may be terminated at any time," to "This cardholder may be terminated at any time?" Would anyone notice? And if they agreed anyway, what would happen when the bank took advantage of that stipulation?

That was the story seed: What if you could be legally killed for not paying your debts?

What scene was really hard for you to write and why, and is that the one of which you are most proud? Or is there another scene you particularly love?

The opening scene was actually the hardest to write. Part of Patsy's problem is that the more people you kill, the easier it gets, but that first one's a doozy. As I've never killed anyone (Promise!), it was hard putting myself into the shoes of someone standing there, gun in hand, watching the clock count down.

I'm super proud of the scene between Patsy and Jeremy. It wasn't in the first draft, but it always makes me emotional.

What book or books would most resonate with readers who love your book--or visa versa?

I would say that if you want to read about the first step of a dystopia, this is the book for you. I mean, I love The Hunger Games and Divergent, but you look at those worlds and think, "Uh, how did we get to the point where we're all divided up by arbitrary lines and wearing gray tunics?" I wrote this book as the first event that changes the core of America and sends us down a path that gets increasingly twisted. My pal Trent Reedy is doing something similar in his Divided We Fall Trilogy about the war that could happen tomorrow, if we're not careful. No tunics necessary.

What are you working on now?

Right now, I'm writing the sequel to HIT, which is called STRIKE and will be out in 2016. It picks up right where HIT ends, but... it's got an even higher body count. The good news is that Patsy doesn't go to the Capitol to take on the New Government, which is one of my pet peeves in dystopia. The bad news is that she loses someone very close to her...

I'm also in edits for WAKE OF VULTURES, a Fantasy I recently sold to Orbit in a two-book deal. It's the book that inspired the vulture feather tattoo on my right forearm, and it will be out this October under the name Lila Bowen. Which is still me. :)


by Delilah S. Dawson
Simon Pulse
Released 4/14/2015


The good news is that the USA is finally out of debt. The bad news is that we were bought out by Valor National Bank, and debtors are the new big game, thanks to a tricky little clause hidden deep in the fine print of a credit card application. Now, after a swift and silent takeover that leaves 9-1-1 calls going through to Valor voicemail, they’re unleashing a wave of anarchy across the country.

Patsy didn’t have much of a choice. When the suits showed up at her house threatening to kill her mother then and there for outstanding debt unless Patsy agreed to be an indentured assassin, what was she supposed to do? Let her own mother die?

Patsy is forced to take on a five-day mission to complete a hit list of ten names. Each name on Patsy's list has only three choices: pay the debt on the spot, agree to work as a bounty hunter, or die. And Patsy has to kill them personally, or else her mom takes a bullet of her own.

Since yarn bombing is the only rebellion in Patsy's past, she’s horrified and overwhelmed, especially as she realizes that most of the ten people on her list aren't strangers. Things get even more complicated when a moment of mercy lands her with a sidekick: a hot rich kid named Wyatt whose brother is the last name on Patsy's list. The two share an intense chemistry even as every tick of the clock draws them closer to an impossible choice.

Delilah S. Dawson offers an absorbing, frightening glimpse at a reality just steps away from ours—a taut, suspenseful thriller that absolutely mesmerizes from start to finish.

Purchase Hit at Amazon
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Delilah S. Dawson writes whimsical and dark Fantasy for adults and teens. Her Blud series for Pocket includes Wicked as They Come, Wicked After Midnight, and Wicked as She Wants, winner of the RT Book Reviews Steampunk Book of the Year and May Seal of Excellence for 2013. Her YA debut, Servants of the Storm, is a Southern Gothic Horror set in Savannah, GA, and HIT is about teen assassins in a bank-owned America. Her Geekrotica series under pseudonym Ava Lovelace includes The Lumberfox and The Superfox with The Dapperfox on the way. Look for Wake of Vultures from Orbit Books in October 2015, written as Lila Bowen.

Delilah teaches writing classes at LitReactor and wrote the Island of Mesmer world for Storium.

Delilah lives with her husband, two small children, a horse, a dog, and two cats in Atlanta. Find out more at www.whimsydark.com.

What did you think of our interview with Delilah S. Dawson, author of HIT? Let us know in the comments!

Happy reading,

Jocelyn, Martina, Jan, Shelly, Susan, Lisa, and Erin

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18. The Wren and the Sparrow by J. Patrick Lewis, illustrated by Yevgenia Nayberg

It's hard to imagine that such a lyrical story could be written about a time as terrible as the Holocaust, but that is exactly what J. Patrick Lewis has done in this new picture book allegory.

The story takes place in a small town in Poland that has shriveled up under the occupation of the Tyrant and his Guards.   Living in shadow, an old man nightly plays his hurdy-gurdy, singing so beautifully, he is called the Wren by his neighbors.  He has on music student - a young girl called the Sparrow with fiery red hair.

One day, the Guards order all the residents of the town to turn in their musical instruments.  The Wren brings his beloved hurdy-gurdy but begs to allowed to play one more song before handing it in.  As he plays, the whole town begins to sing.  At the end of his song, the old man gives his instrument to the Guards and disappeared himself, never to be seen again.

The instruments are all thrown into a pile to be destroyed later.  But later that night, the Sparrow sneaks into the storage area and finds the hurdy-gurdy.  Inside it is a hidden note from the Wren to the Sparrow.  She takes the instrument and note and hides the them in the hope that they will survive the war and be found in the future and that the finder will know exactly what happened in this small town in Poland and the world will never forget.

I think this is a wonderful example of an allegorical story, Allegory, you will remember, is typically used as a literary device that uses symbolic figures, events etc for revealing a more complex issue or meaning in a work with a moral or political message.  Here, Lewis uses symbolic types rather than realistic characters, - the Wren, the Sparrow, the Guards, the Tyrant - in an abstract setting - a small town in Poland - to achieve maximum impact of this Holocaust story about the Nazi occupation and the the fate of Europe's Jews.   The result is a powerful multi-layered picture book for older readers that should not be missed.

Patrick's words and text reminded me of the way Expressionist writers sought to convey feelings and emotions in an anxious world.  Here his words are simple and elegant in contrast to his topic, but at the same time so very ominous.  Unlike Eve Bunting's excellent Terrible Things: an Allegory of the Holocaust, another picture book for older readers, which ends on a note of hopelessness, The Wren and the Sparrow sees hope for the future.

Perhaps following Patrick's lead, Yevgenia Nayberg's expressionistly styled illustrations are painted in a dark palette of yellows, greens and browns that ends in a lighter illustration done in bright blue-green at the end, symbolizing a message that even in the darkest of days, hope can survive.  Illustrations and text compliment and enhance each other throughout this allegory.

And be sure to read the Afterword at the end of the story that explains how Lewis was inspired by the street musicians and performers in the Lodz Ghetto.  In fact, performers and music were a sustaining force in ghetto life under the Nazis and Lewis has written a beautiful homage to them in The Wren and the Sparrow.

This book is recommended for readers age 8+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL

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19. Niall Leonard, author of SHREDDER, on the importance of hard work

SHREDDER is the last novel in the Crusher trilogy, and we're pleased to have Niall Leonard stop by to tell us more about it.

Niall, what was your inspiration for writing SHREDDER?

Shredder was the culmination of a trilogy that started with Crusher. I suppose the driving idea for this part of the story was of one guy caught between two or three unstoppable forces and how with wits and courage he manages to play one off against the other.

What scene was really hard for you to write and why, and is that the one of which you are most proud? Or is there another scene you particularly love?

The last scene was the hardest to write for reasons that will become apparent to the reader.  But at the same time it had a poetic rightness to it.

What book or books would most resonate with readers who love your book--or vice versa?

Any of Lee Child's Jack Reacher novels, I think.  Though his are a little longer than mine and my hero is less convinced of his own rightness.

How long did you work on SHREDDER?

It took about six months to write but a year or two to plot out and daydream before that.

What did this book teach you about writing or about yourself?

That when you put your imagination to work there are no limits on what you can depict.

What do you hope readers will take away from SHREDDER?

A feeling of exhilaration, and maybe some regrets…

How long or hard was your road to publication? How many books did you write before this one, and how many never got published?

Funny you should ask that question - I just cleared out the attic of my old house and found a few copies of the first book I ever wrote, finished when I was 20 years old.  It never got published, and for that I am extremely grateful - not because it's bad (though it's not very good) but because it's gushingly autobiographical.

When I first started writing professionally it was for TV because I'm good at dialogue, and good at taking notes from producers and making script changes quickly and efficiently.  All the same I got a bit of a reputation after a while for being 'difficult' because I got more and more frustrated at the compromises I had to make and the way my ideas got mangled to fit the demands of television.  After all that pressure, writing a novel was amazingly liberating - no-one messes with your work or tells you to do it differently.  Sometimes your editor might make a suggestion, but they never change anything without your permission.

Many people know I wrote the first novel of this trilogy, Crusher, in about a month.  What's less well known is that I had been plotting it on and off for about three years before I finally set pen to paper. If you've planned your story properly it's not such a challenge to write it quickly. That said, every author has their own approach.

Was there an AHA! moment along your road to publication where something suddenly sank in and you felt you had the key to writing a novel? What was it?

They key to writing a novel is to sit down and write the blasted thing.  If you wait for an AHA! moment you may be waiting the rest of your life.  Aha moments come from focusing for ages on the problems of your story until you come up with an answer - from hard work, in other words.  Inspiration is for poets - unpublished ones.

What's your writing ritual like? Do you listen to music? Work at home or at a coffee shop or the library, etc?

I never listen to music, it's too distracting. I usually work at my desk but sometimes the temptations of the Internet and email are too great - then I go work longhand in the kitchen, or very rarely to a café.  I like to write trickier scenes out in longhand, where I can tear out pages and crumple them up and throw them away in anger like a proper author.  Then when the scene is in a shape I like I put it onto a PC and carry on working.  I try to set myself a quota of words or scenes each day, and to get to the end of that one way or another.

What advice would you most like to pass along to other writers?

A quote I read this morning from Steven King, which goes something like 'talent is cheaper than table salt - what separates the talented individual from the successful is a lot of hard work'.  In other words, talent ain't enough - don't count on it to get you where you want to be.

What are you working on now?

I am finishing off a period detective novel based on a genuine historical character so amazing nobody will believe he existed.


by Niall Leonard
Delacorte Press
Released 4/14/2015

In the gut-wrenching third and final novel in Niall Leonard’s Crusher series, Finn Maguire is lured back into the warring factions of the underworld by way of blackmail.

Finn “Crusher” Maguire has one simple task: to set up a meeting. But when that meeting is between the Guvnor and the Turk, two psychotic criminals vying for control of London’s underworld, Finn’s task proves to be anything but simple. As the city cracks under a blistering heatwave and the UK is rocked by a series of terrorist outrages, Crusher finds himself caught up in a gang war full of carnage, corruption and treachery. To save himself and the girl he loves from being shredded to a bloody pulp between opposing factions, Finn faces horrifying risks and impossible choices.

Purchase Shredder at Amazon
Purchase Shredder at IndieBound
View Shredder on Goodreads


Niall Leonard grew up in Newry, Northern Ireland. In 1977 he attended the University of York to study English, and from there went on to The UK National Film and Television School where he trained as a screenwriter and director. His first film was Absolution, an old-fashioned revenge thriller with a supernatural twist, filmed on location in Newry in 1983 and starring Derek Halligan. Niall returned to Newry In 1985 to shoot locations for his graduation movie, the black comedy No Man’s Land, starring Patrick Bergin and Des McAleer.

After graduating from the NFTS in 1986 Niall’s first broadcast work as director was the comedy series Phil and Arthur Go Off for Channel Four, followed by stints on ITV’s long-running cop show The Bill. Meanwhile Niall pursued his own projects, writing and directing the one-off black comedy Rotten Apples starring BJ Hogg and Ian McElhinney, and developing Over The Wild Frontier, a six-part comedy drama set on the Irish border, for Channel Four.

Niall’s first TV script to be broadcast on the network was an episode of Jimmy Nail’s cop show Spender, closely followed by Pie In The Sky with Richard Griffiths.

In 1994 Niall took up a year-long contract as a Script Editor at BBC Northern Ireland, where he got to work with his long-time hero Graham Reid on Life After Life and made the acquaintance of Belfast’s Hole In The Wall Gang. His work as script associate on their pilot for Give My Head Peace led to a partnership that continued for ten years, with Niall contributing to every episode of the immensely successful satirical sitcom and its spinoff stage productions.

In 1995 he returned to full-time writing with a script for the groundbreaking Irish comedy drama Ballykissangel and went on to create episodes of Silent Witness, Hornblower, Sea of Souls, Second Sight, and Holby City. Niall adapted the Minette Walters thriller The Dark Room for BBC1, and wrote numerous episodes over several series of Monarch of The Glen, Wire In The Blood and Wild At Heart.

Recently Niall completed screenplays for two big-budget two-part thrillers for US cable TV, loosely adapted from novels by Alastair Maclean. Air Force One is Down started shooting on location in Luxembourg in May 2012, with Puppet On A Chain slated to go into production later the same year.

As part of the 2011 Nanowrimo novel-writing event Niall wrote Crusher, a gritty crime thriller set in London featuring Finn Maguire, a dyslexic young offender investigating the murder of his father. The novel was picked up by Random House for publication in October 2012, and Niall is currently working on its sequel.

Niall has led seminars and workshops on screenwriting and script editing for the BBC, the Northern Ireland Film Council and the Irish Screenwriters’ Guild, and lectured on the creative process at the University of Reading.

He is married with two kids and a rather smelly dog and lives in West London.

What did you think of our interview with Niall Leonard, author of SHREDDER? Let us know in the comments!

Happy reading,

Jocelyn, Martina, Jan, Shelly, Susan, Lisa, and Erin

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20. New Adult Fiction Genre - Contemporary Romance - #WriteTip

There is a new genre emerging..."New Adult" fiction for older teens aka college-aged readers. You never stop growing up, but little in the market seems to address the coming-of-age that also happens between the ages of Nineteen to Twenty-six. Life changes drastically once high school is over, you have college, first jobs, first internships, first adult relationships…

Part of the appeal of NA is that the storylines are about characters who are taking on adult responsibilities for the first time without guidance from their parents. And the storylines generally have a heavy romance element. 

Keep this in mind as you revise your wonderful story, New Adult books are mostly about that specific time in every person's life—the time when the apron strings are cut from your parents, you no longer have a curfew, you're experiencing the world for the very first time, in most cases, with innocent eyes. New Adult is this section of your life where you discover who you want to be, what you want to be, and what type of person you will become. This time defines you. This is the time of firsts, the time where you can't blame your parents for your own bad choices. 

An NA character has to take responsibility for their own choices and live with the consequences. Most storylines are about twenty-something (18 to 26) characters living their own lives without any parents breathing down their necks, and learning to solve things on their own as they would in real life. New Adult fiction focuses on switching gears, from depending on our parents to becoming full-fledged, independent adults.

I am a firm believer that if you’re going to write a certain genre that you should read it, too. So I’m going to recommend that you start devouring NA novels to get a real sense and understanding of the genre before you write one.

Here are some great recommendations: https://www.goodreads.com/genres/new-adult-romance and http://www.goodreads.com/genres/new-adult and https://www.goodreads.com/shelf/show/new-adult-romance

Just as YA is fiction about teens discovering who they are as a person, New Adult (NA) is fiction about building your own life as an actual adult. As older teen readers discover the joy of the Young Adult genres, the New Adult—demand may increase. This, in turn, would give writers the chance to explore the freedom of a slightly older protagonist (over the age of 18 and out of high school, like the brilliant novel, "BEAUTIFUL DISASTER" by the amazing talents of author, Jamie McGuire) while addressing more adult issues that early 20-year-olds must face.

Older protagonists (basically, college students) are surprisingly rare; in a panel on YA literature at Harvard’s 2008 Vericon, City of Bones author talked about pitching her novel, then about twenty-somethings, as adult fiction. After several conversations, Clare realized she had to choose between adults and teens. She went with teens.

Quote from the publisher, St. Martin’s Press: We are actively looking for great, new, cutting edge fiction with protagonists who are slightly older than YA and can appeal to an adult audience. Since twenty-somethings are devouring YA, St. Martin’s Press is seeking fiction similar to YA that can be published and marketed as adult—a sort of an “older YA” or “new adult.” In this category, they are looking for spunky but not stupid, serious but not dull, cutting-edge, supernatural stories.

Quote from Georgia McBride, author (Praefatio) and founder of #YALitChat and publisher at Month9Books: "New Adult is a fabulous idea in theory, and authors seem to be excited about it. But in a world where bookstores shelf by category, to them, it is either  Adult or Young Adult. Some booksellers even call their YA section “teen.” And when you have a character who is over a certain age (19 seems to be the age most consider the start of New Adult), it is received as Adult. In some cases, the designation by publishers causes more confusion than not.
Let’s face it, YA is associated with teens, and at 19, most no longer consider themselves teens. So, it would support the theory of placing these “New Adult” titles in the Adult section. However, with the prevalence of eBook content, it would seem that the powers that be could easily create a New Adult category if they really wanted to...."

There’s also a list on goodreads of New Adult book titles. These books focus on college age characters, late teens to early twenties, transitioning into the adult world.

Some popular authors of the NA category include:
  • Jamie McGuire
  • Jessica Park
  • Tammara Webber
  • Steph Campbell
  • Liz Reinhardt
  • Abbi Glines
  • Colleen Hoover 
  • Sherry Soule

Would you buy New Adult books? 
Does the genre appeal to you? 

Does it sound better than YA (teen novels)? 
Or are you happy with YA as it stands?

Do you consider YA to include characters that are over the age of eighteen? 

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21. Darwin’s “gastric flatus”

When Charles Darwin died at age 73 on this day 133 years ago, his physicians decided that he had succumbed to “degeneration of the heart and greater vessels,” a disorder we now call “generalized arteriosclerosis.” Few would argue with this diagnosis, given Darwin’s failing memory, and his recurrent episodes of “swimming of the head,” “pain in the heart”, and “irregular pulse” during the decade or so before he died.

The post Darwin’s “gastric flatus” appeared first on OUPblog.

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22. Social Media Etiquette

What not to do when using social media.

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23. Juliana Romano, author of FIRST THERE WAS FOREVER, on really listening when people give you notes

We're pleased to have Juliana Romano stop by to tell us more about her debut novel FIRST THERE WAS FOREVER.

Juliana, what is your favorite thing about FIRST THERE WAS FOREVER?

My favorite thing about “First There Was Forever” is how girl-centric it is. Even though it’s a story of two girls fighting over a guy, the book is really an exploration of the inner lives of these two friends: Lima and Hailey. Even though Nate, the guy they both like, is a big character, the book really isn’t about him. Lima and Hailey are complicated and thoughtful, much more so than Nate. Grappling with sexuality and jealousy is part of growing up, but that doesn’t define these girls. And the friendship between them, even though it’s platonic, is as loving, demanding and rewarding as any romantic relationship.

Also, for me personally I think I like that the book is embedded with threads from my own life, like the music and the places they go! I loved being able to reference my own high school experience for those things. Meredith’s cat is named Leonard Cohen, and me and my friends were obsessed with Leonard Cohen’s music in high school. Especially the early stuff, like “Suzanne” and “Bird on a Wire” and “Chelsea Hotel.”

What scene was really hard for you to write and why, and is that the one of which you are most proud? Or is there another scene you particularly love?

Emotionally, the hardest scene for me to write was when Hailey and Lima say all the things to each other that they’ve kept bottled up. I put off writing it for a long time, I think because I knew it would be hard. And during the writing process, I was back and forth with my agent, she kept encouraging me to take it further. But now, it’s one of my favorites. Also, the sex scene!

What book or books would most resonate with readers who love your book--or visa versa?

I’d like to think that people who love my book would also love “The Summer I Turned Pretty” by Jenny Han, and “Uses for Boys” by Erica Lorraine Scheidt. Also, “Anna Karenina” by Leo Tolstoy. Can I say that?! That book inspired me so much because Anna hurts so many people but I love her so much anyway. And her choices are so limited. In high school, your choices are very limited, too.

What did this book teach you about writing or about yourself?


What's your writing ritual like? Do you listen to music? Work at home or at a coffee shop or the library, etc?

My best experience writing has been when I’m juggling it with other things. When I started writing “First There Was Forever” I was just plopping down at my computer in between other responsibilities. It didn’t matter where I was or what time of day it was, or if I had the perfect music on. I think when I’ve started to get to precious about how and when to write, my writing suffers. I always try to remember that special time when I first began and I felt like writing was my secret escape.

What advice would you most like to pass along to other writers?

Write what you want and don’t let anyone tell you that your content isn’t important! But on a more practical level, learn how to take notes. We can never be objective readers of our own work, so we really need to listen to people when they tell us what they think. Notes, even hard ones, are a generosity from the person who is giving them. It can be challenging because writing is so personal and it’s frustrating when people don’t take away what you want them to, but on the flip side, people also take away amazing things that you didn’t intend.

What are you working on now?

My second book is about a girl growing up in New York City who wants to go to art school. I went to art school, and I’m really glad to reflect on that experience. This book is a summer-in-the-city book, and I love New York in the summer. It’s so hot and it can be dirty, but that just adds to its romance.


First There Was Forever
by Juliana Romano
Dial Books
Released 4/14/2015

Perfect for fans of Jenny Han’s The Summer I Turned Pretty and Huntley Fitzpatrick’s My Life Next Door, Juliana Romano's expressive debut is an absorbing and bittersweet story about first love, first loss, and the friends that carry us through it all.

Lima and Hailey have always been best friends: Lima shy and sensitive, Hailey funny and free-spirited. But Hailey abandons Lima to party with the popular kids and pursue Nate, her disinterested crush. As their friendship falters, Lima and Nate begin spending more time together. And before Lima knows what she’s feeling, she and Nate do something irreversible. Something that would hurt Hailey....if she knew it happened.

Lima thinks she’s saving her friendship by lying, but she’s only buying time. As the secrets stack up, Lima is forced to make a choice: between her best friend forever, and the boy who wasn’t meant to be hers.

Purchase First There Was Forever at Amazon
Purchase First There Was Forever at IndieBound
View First There Was Forever on Goodreads


julianafromanoJuliana was born in 1982 in New York, New York and grew up in Santa Monica, California. She received a B.A. from Wesleyan University in 2004 and an M.F.A. in Painting from U.C.L.A. in 2008.

What did you think of our interview with Juliana Romano, author of FIRST THERE WAS FOREVER? Let us know in the comments!

Happy reading,

Martina, Jocelyn, Shelly, Jan, Lisa, Susan, and Erin

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24. Storymaker - Don Freeman

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25. The Reading Strategies Book

Have plans mid-June? Cancel them and prepare to run to your nearest bookstore. The Reading Strategies Book by Jen Serravallo is a must and is intended for grades K-8!

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