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1. Storytelling

Skip over to the Storytelling Page for news of our Winter events!!!

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2. Del campo socio-urbano al visual: La periferia como espacio simbólico-cultural

Eder Castillo: Mecánica Nacional (vista exterior) Artistas/Videos: Jason Mena: Fault Line (línea de falla), Eder Castillo: Mecanica Nacional, Karmelo Bermejo: -X, Guillermo Vargas “Habacuc”: Persona sin educación formal caminando con zancos hechos de libros apilados, Nadia Granados “la Fulminante”: La Fulminante Detonando Montreal / Cabaret Callejero, Victor Hugo Rodriguez “Crack”: Planas, Andrea Mármol: Otros Paramos / Julia, Jorge Linares: Trafico Aéreo Las [...]

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3. Self-Published Bestsellers List

Maude by Donna Mabry continues to lead the Self-published Bestsellers List this week.

To help GalleyCat readers discover self-published authors, we compile weekly lists of the top eBooks in three major marketplaces for self-published digital books: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords. You can read all the lists below, complete with links to each book.

If you want more resources as an author, try our Free Sites to Promote Your eBook post, How To Sell Your Self-Published Book in Bookstores post and our How to Pitch Your Book to Online Outlets post.

If you are an independent author looking for support, check out our free directory of people looking for writers groups.

Amazon Self-Published Bestsellers for the Week of January 28, 2015

1. Maude by Donna Mabry: “In 1906, I was barely over fourteen years old, and it was my wedding day. My older sister, Helen, came to my room, took me by the hand, and sat me down on the bed. She opened her mouth to say something, but then her face flushed, and she turned her head to look out the window. After a second, she squeezed my hand and looked back in my eyes.”

2. Stepbrother Untouchable by Colleen Masters: “Calling Nate Thornhill a rich, cocky, arrogant asshole would be an understatement. He also happens to be stunningly handsome, popular, intelligent, and captain of both the Crew and Lacrosse teams at UVA. I hate him for thinking he’s untouchable—not because he’s a narcissistic, privileged, borderline-misogynistic heartbreaker—but because he’s right.”

3. One Night Stand by J.S. Cooper: “It was only supposed to be one night! We met at a wedding. He was hot. And I’d been in a year’s drought.”

4. Departure by A.G. Riddle: “Harper Lane has problems. In a few hours, she’ll have to make a decision that will change her life forever. But when her flight from New York to London crash-lands in the English countryside, she discovers that she’s made of tougher stuff than she ever imagined.”

5. Stepbrother Billionaire by Colleen Masters: “I’ve hated him since middle school. The effortlessly popular, lacrosse superstar, beautiful, blue-eyed nightmare Emerson Sawyer. Funny thing is, he didn’t even know I existed until our senior year, when his mom started hooking up with my dad.”

6. 50 Fitness Tips You Wish You Knew by Derek Doepker: “I wrote “50 Fitness Tips You Wish You Knew” because I’ve seen so many people needlessly struggle to stay healthy and fit because they don’t understand a few simple insights.”

7. Dare (Brothers of Ink and Steel Book 1) by Allie Juliette Mousseau: “Josh North – a risk-it-all bad boy – sexy dirty talker – bad ass defender and UFC’s Light Heavyweight Champion— is about to meet his match. Sophie Garner is a single mom who’s been raising her daughter on her own, fighting for both of their lives ever since going into hiding to escape her abusive husband.”

8. Kaleidoscope Hearts by Claire Contreras: “He was my older brother’s best friend. He was never supposed to be mine. I thought we would get it out of our system and move on.”

9. Fall by Cora Brent: “I was a lost girl, a child bride. Now, to most people I appear to be just an average college student. They would never guess my strange history. But secretly I’m still held down by my past. I cannot bring myself to trust men.”

10. A Shade of Vampire 9 by Bella Forrest: “Derek will rip Caleb’s heart out the moment he lays eyes on him for what he’s done. Rose is convinced that the vampire is innocent. But my daughter has been fooled. Nobody but Caleb could have stolen away our dear friend.” 

Smashwords Self-Published Bestsellers for the Week of January 28, 2014

1. Health Promotion Pathways: Applied Activities for the Collegiate Classroom By Jennifer J. Edwards, Ph.D.

2. Neuropsychopharmacology By Nicoladie Tam, Ph.D.

3. Research Methods: Functional Skills By James H Cauraugh

4. Strong Brains, Sharp Minds: The Definitive Guide to the MINDRAMP Method For Brain Health & Mental Development By Michael C. Patterson

5. Negotiating for Success: Essential Strategies and Skills By George J. Siedel

6. Digital Media Skills By Donna Eyestone

7. Economics for Smart Citizenship By Mikel Cohick

8. Nonprofit Animal Law By Russ Mead

9. The First Book of Michael By Syl Mortilla

10. Lady Master Pearl – My Teacher By Peter Mt. Shasta

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out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about. Ideas, language, even the phrase each otherdoesn’t make any sense. - RumiThere's a... Read the rest of this post

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5. Photo: Pause


Slow down.

Savor the little moments.

Turn off the distractions.


What do you hear?

What do you see?



We took this photo in a Vancouver park while we were waiting to board our cruise ship to Alaska. Kevin took this photo because he’s way better at spotting abstract moments than I am.

Filed under: Cruise 13

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6. New Trailer Unleashed For The DUFF Film Adaptation

A new trailer has been unleashed for The Duff film. The video embedded above offers glimpses of Bella Thorne as Madison, Robbie Amell as Wesley, and Mae Whitman in the titular role.

Author Kody Keplinger made her authorial debut with this young adult novel back in September 2010. CBS Films has scheduled the movie release date for February 2015.

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7. Case of the Velvet Claws (1933)

The Case of the Velvet Claws. (Perry Mason #1) Erle Stanley Gardner. 1933. Random House. 215 pages. [Source: Bought]

AUTUMN SUN BEAT AGAINST THE WINDOW. Perry Mason sat at the big desk. There was about him the attitude of one who is waiting. His face in repose was like the face of a chess player who is studying the board. That face seldom changed expression. Only the eyes changed expression. He gave the impression of being a thinker and a fighter, a man who could work with infinite patience to jockey an adversary into just the right position, and then finish him with one terrific punch.

The Case of the Velvet Claws is the first book in the Perry Mason series by Erle Stanley Gardner. Though it is unlikely that contemporary readers will be unfamiliar with Perry Mason, Paul Drake, and Della Street, this would have been their introduction to the world. There are plenty of establishing details and descriptions about these characters. Especially Perry Mason.

The book opens with a mystery woman seeking Perry Mason's help. She's married, and she was out on the town with another guy. This 'other guy,' whom she claims is just a friend, is a politician, a Congressman, I believe. They were together--at a club, at a restaurant?--when a crime was committed. Neither wants to be known as being there, being a witness, both are seeking to avoid all attention. But she fears that blackmail is certain, almost inevitable. She wants Perry Mason to handle it for her, for them both. The blackmail will come/does come from a tabloid-ish publication with a mystery-secret-owner. It is only after Perry Mason involves himself thus far, that he realizes that this owner is the husband of his client. Murder is inevitable. It is a Perry Mason book, after all. Who will be the victim? Who will be accused? How messy will it get?

I loved this one. I really loved it. It has a very different feel to it in a way. Most of the Perry Mason novels I've read were published a decade or two later. And, of course, I'm most familiar with the television show.

Perry Mason continued to speak, slowly and forcefully, yet without raising his voice. “All right,” he said, “I’m different. I get my business because I fight for it, and because I fight for my clients. People that come to me don’t come to me because they like the looks of my eyes, or the way my office is furnished, or because they’ve known me at a club. They come to me because they need me. They come to me because they want to hire me for what I can do.”
Perry Mason made a gesture with his shoulders. “Why should I care if she makes it easy for me?” he asked. “She’s the one that’s paying for my time. Time is all I’m investing.” Della Street said, slowly: “Are you sure that time is all you’re investing?” “Why not?” “I don’t know,” she said, “the woman’s dangerous. She is just the kind of a little minx who would get you into some sort of a jam and leave you to take it, right on the button.” His face didn’t change expression, but his eyes glinted. “That’s one of the chances I have to take,” he told her. “I can’t expect my clients to be loyal to me. They pay me money. That’s all.” She stared at him with a speculative look that held something of a wistful tenderness. “But you insist on being loyal to your clients, no matter how rotten they are.” “Of course,” he told her. “That’s my duty.”
“To your profession?” “No,” he said slowly, “to myself. I’m a paid gladiator. I fight for my clients. Most clients aren’t square shooters. That’s why they’re clients. They’ve got themselves into trouble. It’s up to me to get them out. I have to shoot square with them. I can’t always expect them to shoot square with me.” “It isn’t fair!” she blazed. “Of course not,” he smiled. “It’s business.”
“When you’re representing clients, Della,” he said, “you can’t pick and choose them. You’ve got to take them as they come. There’s only one rule in this game, and that is that when you do take them, you’ve got to give them all you’ve got.”

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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8. Time Management Tips For Illustrators

In this video I share my strategies for getting it all done! I hope some of it might help you in your quest to take over the world with your art...or at least get more finished.

0 Comments on Time Management Tips For Illustrators as of 1/28/2015 2:49:00 PM
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9. Need outlining help

Question: In my story, I have the beginning and end figured out, but I am needing help putting it all together. Try as I may, it just doesn't seem to work

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10. Comic Cover

via Illustrations and Comic art http://ift.tt/1DaQWtW

Wild Blue Yonder featuring my cover~!

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11. Sitting on the Stairs in Castleford Library

I took the train to Castleford yesterday, to work in the library for the day, running the drawing workshops I was telling you about, with local, Y4 school children. They did me proud and I'll show you some examples next time, once I've sorted through them all.

In my lunch break, I sat in the glass stairwell and sketched the view from the window, using my favourite Sailor Pen and some watercolour. I'm not much into drawing cars, but I liked the long view right across the car park, across the shopping street, towards a river and distant hills: 

I was using an A5, grey-paper, concertina sketchbook which a fellow member of Urban Sketchers Yorkshire, Lucie Golton, made for me as a present, because I loved my tinted-paper Strathmore so much and she noticed how I've recently been getting into the extendable space of the concertina format. How lovely is that? Concertinas are great for longer views like this, when there's loads to fit in, especially if you don't like drawing small.

Ignore the candlestick by the way: that was part of some sketching I did during a recent SketchCrawl day in Buxton.

I did everything but the white, pastel highlights on the spot, but ran out of time before I could get them added (white chalk really lifts things when you are sketching onto a tinted ground). I added the pastel on the train and so got into a lovely conversation with a young man and his mum who were sitting across the aisle. They had been talking about his baby daughter previously so, with an apology for ear-wigging, I signed him a copy of Baby Goes Baaaaa!, passing on the present vibe:

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12. How We Do Social Media

Social Media Nightmare © Sparky Firepants

If you arrived here from our seminar Debunking Social Media Myths, welcome! Thanks for being there for our lil’ ol’ seminar, we appreciate it.

If you found this by any other means, get out. Just kidding. You may have missed the seminar, but we’ll share the PowerPoint slide show online, along with the audio from the event. If you want to be updated with the link when it’s live, send us an email: sparky@sparkyfirepants.com

As we promised during the seminar, here is a short list of social media sites we use and how we use them. We acknowledge that our way is not THE way. You’ll find that things that work for us won’t work for you and vice versa. We think that’s just fine and dandy. Use this as a guideline and sally forth into Social Media Experiment Land.

From here on out I’m going to start abbreviating Social Media as SM. Cheese and crackers, that gets tiring to type.

FacebookFB monster

Let’s start with the most popular SM network out here right now. Jenni and I both use Facebook personally, Jenni being the more active one. Frankly, FB makes me crazy but Jenni has a super force field that allows her to peruse without clenched teeth and nightmares.

That said, so many people we know use FB regularly that we created a Sparky Firepants fan page (right here). We’ve been using it for several years, but our activity has tapered off in the past six months or so. The reason is that because of FB’s new algorithms, our customers just aren’t seeing our fan page posts in their feeds as well as they used to. The interaction was declining and we found we were working very hard to push those fan page posts in our FB friends’ faces. It just wasn’t effective anymore. If you were at our seminar, you remember how we talked about being where your customers are. For us, it’s not our fan page.

So, we post here and there to keep things active for those who really enjoy seeing us on FB. That’s about it.

Twittertwitter monster

This is my personal favorite. I’ve been active on twitter since 2007. For Sparky Firepants customers, we’ve found that Twitter is the numero uno place where our people hang out.

For the uninitiated, Twitter looks like a hugely random stream of meaningless thoughts and way too many links to click on. It looks daunting. It’s like a loud cocktail party where you don’t know anyone.

Take a deep breath. Very little of what you see in your twitter stream matters. Here’s a great tutorial of how to use Twitter.

Now, if you’re already tweeting like an eagle, here’s how we use Twitter. In two words, building relationships. Just like in the real world, it’s about making a real connection with your customers. Sparky Firepants has about 2,800 followers. It took about seven years to get that many. We estimate that we connect personally with about 10-20% of our followers over the course of a year. Some more than others, some not at all. The numbers are not the most important factor. What’s important.is how well you connect with real people on twitter.

Do we want more followers? Sure. We prefer to build that number organically. When you pay SM experts to get you thousands of followers instantly!, it will probably work. What you’ll get is a giant list of people who don’t know you or care about what you do, which is a waste of your tweeting time and marketing efforts.

LinkedInlinkedin monster

Fancy online resume. That’s how most people see LinkedIn. While your user profile is essentially your resume, there’s private messaging, articles, and groups you can be involved in.

I’m very protective of my LinkedIn network. The only people you’ll see in my network (if we’re connected, that is) are people I’ve either worked with or know personally (and would recommend them for work in their field). While on Twitter I may connect with a lot of people I don’t even know, I keep my LinkedIn connections very tight.

LinkedIn groups are key for your business. Participating in a group that’s relevant to what you do makes you more visible than just putting up a profile. I’ve met a lot of great people, made new customers and learned from others in my career field through groups.

Instagraminstagram monster

Why eat when you just scroll through photos of what everyone else is eating? Instagrammers get a lot of flack for posting pics of every meal and multiple selfies a day, but it can really boost your online presence.

It’s the easiest marketing you’ll ever do. Hosting an event or just attending an event? Take photos, post to Instagram, add a hash tag that’s relevant to your business or event. Just one example.

Beyond posting your own stuff, you really need to be active in other people’s accounts. Favorite things you like, comment on posts, and share others’ posts with friends. That’s how you organically build a following. Like all SM and personal relationships, it’s not all about you.

But wait, there’s more!

So much more. There are new SM networks popping up almost every day. Like we covered in the seminar, we don’t think every network is right for us and one network could be perfect for you that we just don’t use.

I’m a tech geek and I like to experiment with new apps and networks all the time. That’s me. If that’s not you, then let it go. However, I will say that if you find your customers are talking about a new SM network, it’s probably in your best interest to at least check it out. Remember our social media marketing slogan:

Be where your customers are.


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13. Hand lettering Artist :: Linzie Hunter

Posted by Jeanine




UK based artist Linzie Hunter’s typographic illustrations are so fun to look at! Her bright and playful work often has a vintage flair, and she mixes unique type styles with color and pattern to create whimsical pieces from often complicated, text-heavy content. Linzie’s started 2015 with a very cool personal project—she’s been accepting new years resolution submissions from folks around the internet and illustrating one per day throughout the month of January. The full series can bee seen on her website, Twitter, and Instagram.

Linzie’s work can be seen on book covers, magazines, and in ad campaigns, and clients include Time magazine, The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Hallmark, Nike, VH1, Gillette, The BBC,Penguin Random House, and Chronicle Books. Her work has also been featured in Communication Arts, 3×3, and How magazine.


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14. Margaret Bloy Graham Has Died

9780060268657Children’s books illustrator Margaret Bloy Graham has died. She was 94 years old.

Graham became well-known for collaborating with Gene Zion, a writer and her husband, on the Harry the Dirty Dog picture book series. She went on to work on projects with other writers and author her own books. Altogether, she earned two Caldecott Honors for All Falling Down and The Storm Book.

Here’s more from School Library Journal: “Though Harry remains Graham’s most well-known collaboration, it was far from her only one. Her illustrations for legendary children’s book author Charlotte Zolotow’s The Storm Book (Harper, 1951), a gentle look at a child’s first thunderstorm, won her a Caldecott Honor. A versatile artist, she also provided the illustrations for renowned poet Jack Prelutsky’s humor collection Pack Rat’s Day (Macmillan, 1974), while in the 1980s, she collaborated with longtime friend and Little Bear author Else Holmelund Minarik on What If? (1987) and It’s Spring (1989, both Greenwillow).”

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15. Flogometer for Roo—are you compelled to turn the page?

Submissions Wanted. . If you’d like a fresh look at your opening chapter or prologue, please email your submission to me re the directions at the bottom of this post.

The Flogometer challenge: can you craft a first page that compels me to turn to the next page? Caveat: Please keep in mind that this is entirely subjective.

Note: all the Flogometer posts are here.

What's a first page in publishingland? In a properly formatted novel manuscript (double-spaced, 1-inch margins, 12-point type, etc.) there should be about 16 or 17 lines on the first page (first pages of chapters/prologues start about 1/3 of the way down the page). Directions for submissions are below—they include a request to post the rest of the chapter, but that’s optional.

A word about the line-editing in these posts: it’s “one-pass” editing, and I don’t try to address everything, which is why I appreciate the comments from the FtQ tribe. In a paid edit, I go through each manuscript three times.

Mastering front 100WshadowBefore you rip into today’s submission, consider this checklist of first-page ingredients from my book, Mastering the Craft of Compelling Storytelling. While it's not a requirement that all of these elements must be on the first page, they can be, and I think you have the best chance of hooking a reader if they are.

Download a free PDF copy here.

Were I you, I'd examine my first page in the light of this list before submitting to the Flogometer. I use it on my own work.

A First-page Checklist

  • It begins connecting the reader with the protagonist
  • Something is happening. On a first page, this does NOT include a character musing about whatever.
  • What happens is dramatized in an immediate scene with action and description plus, if it works, dialogue.
  • What happens moves the story forward.
  • What happens has consequences for the protagonist.
  • The protagonist desires something.
  • The protagonist does something.
  • There’s enough of a setting to orient the reader as to where things are happening.
  • It happens in the NOW of the story.
  • Backstory? What backstory? We’re in the NOW of the story.
  • Set-up? What set-up? We’re in the NOW of the story.
  • What happens raises a story question—what happens next? or why did that happen?

Caveat: a strong first-person voice with the right content can raise powerful story questions and create page turns without doing all of the above. A recent submission worked wonderfully well and didn't deal with five of the things in the checklist.

Roo sends the first chapter of No More Heros. The rest of the chapter is after the break.

At 3pm the clock on the town hall of Ostere struck four times. No one seemed to notice. The folk present in the town square at the time were battering down against the first chill wind blown directly from the frozen North. Snow had been predicted and people were dreaming of a white Christmas. Bugger their white Christmas. Me and my tatty coat stood no chance of surviving December if snow was dumped on our town.

It was the same icy breath that swept Marvin into the square. Two years, at a guess, since he married the love of my life. I was huddled on my seat, giving the clock on the town hall a dismissive, contemptuous glare when he approached my seat, dragging a long black carry all behind him. I remember looking at the bag and cursing, knowing the luggage was a bag of trouble and I didn’t need it being dumped in my life.

The wind flapped at his grubby trousers. It swept down Smelly Alley sharing the aroma of fish gone past its sell by date. Stall covers flapped, napkins skipped up into the air as a whirlwind of grit invited me to dance. Marvin wore a suit jacket, thinner than my useless summer coat. His hands looked raw and there were issues with mucous leaking from his nose.

I grabbed my bottle of vodka from my bag and took a quick slug.

Walk on by.

Were you compelled to turn Roo's first page?

Some nice phrasing and a voice I liked were inviting, but there was no story question raised on this page. Well, I guess you could say there were a couple—what’s in the bag and why is it trouble for him—but for this reader they didn’t approach compelling. If we had been told the nature of the trouble he anticipated, that might have worked. As it is, there’s no serious hint of jeopardy or a problem for the narrator, at least none with any serious consequences. And he doesn’t seem overly concerned about the trouble the bag brings. Gets an almost from me. Oh, and the plural of "hero" is "heroes." Notes:

At 3pm the clock on the town hall of Ostere struck four times. No one seemed to notice. The folk present in the town square at the time were battering down against the first chill wind blown directly from the frozen North. Snow had been predicted and people were dreaming of a white Christmas. Bugger their white Christmas. Me and my tatty coat stood no chance of surviving December if snow was dumped on our town.

It was the same icy breath that swept Marvin into the square. Two years, at a guess, since he married the love of my life. I was huddled on my seat, giving the clock on the town hall a dismissive, contemptuous glare when he approached my seat, dragging a long black carry all behind him. I remember looking at the bag and cursing, knowing the luggage was a bag of trouble and I didn’t need it being dumped in my life. How does he know it’s trouble? What kind of trouble? This is a chance to add some tension with a specific threat to the character. Also echo/repetition of “my seat.”

The wind flapped at his grubby trousers. It swept down Smelly Alley sharing the aroma of fish gone past its sell by date. Stall covers flapped, napkins skipped up into the air as a whirlwind of grit invited me to dance. Marvin wore a suit jacket, thinner than my useless summer coat. His hands looked raw and there were issues with mucous leaking from his nose. Couple of things: the echo of “flapped” from the first sentence, look for another word. And, while nicely written, the description of the wind’s effect on Smelly Alley could be cut in half or deleted—it takes up space that could be used to create a story question.

I grabbed my bottle of vodka from my bag and took a quick slug.

Walk on by.

Comments, please?

For what it’s worth.



Submitting to the Flogometer:

Email the following in an attachment (.doc, .docx, or .rtf preferred, no PDFs):

  1. your title
  2. your complete 1st chapter or prologue plus 1st chapter
  3. Please include in your email permission to post it on FtQ.
  4. Note: I’m adding a copyright notice for the writer at the end of the post. I’ll use just the first name unless I’m told I can use the full name.
  5. Also, please tell me if it’s okay to post the rest of the chapter so people can turn the page.
  6. And, optionally, include your permission to use it as an example in a book on writing craft if that's okay.
  7. If you’re in a hurry, I’ve done “private floggings,” $50 for a first chapter.
  8. If you rewrite while you wait for your turn, it’s okay with me to update the submission.

Were I you, I'd examine my first page in the light of the first-page checklist before submitting to the Flogometer.

Flogging the Quill © 2015 Ray Rhamey, story © 2015 Roo


But Marvin wasn’t hearing my thoughts.

‘What do you want?’ I said, wiping the dribble of alcohol from my chin.

He wasn’t offended by my greeting. He released his grip on the canvas bag and kicked it beneath the bench I was warming. He went to sit next to me, but I refused to move my backpack. Instead he turned and pointed at the large screen dominating the town square. ‘Penguins are cool,’ he said.

‘What?’ I said, shaking my head as if I hadn’t heard him right. Two years as number one on my hate list and he opens with a line about penguins. He’d gone mad. She’d kicked him out and he’d gone mad. For sure. Maybe it was going to be a good Christmas.

‘They can fight, penguins can.’ The damn fool was pointing with his arm fully extended. People, vendors, punters and god knows who else had begun to notice our presence in the square. I couldn’t have people notice me. Next thing you know the army are involved and guns are drawn, your hands are shackled, and you’re never seen again.

I replaced my vodka and pushed my backpack to the ground. ‘Sit down. No one cares about the bloody penguins.’

He sat to the side of the wooden seat, his long, thin legs crossed away from me and stared at a short dark man sprinkling strands of saffron into his large flat pan. A rich aroma of chicken and chorizo had banished the smell of rotten fish from my nostrils and my stomach was beginning to grumble. The man looked up from his work and scowled at Marvin as he wiped his hands on a cloth strung from his apron cord.

‘What a grump,’ Marvin said, he said turning away, his eyes looking for a new target.

Sam the snake charmer sat against the pale trunk of a naked tree to our far right. I nodded to Sam as he retrieved a battered flute from his pocket. He smiled, waved and pointed the flute at the large cane basket sat in the cold dirt. He began to play a lively, but flat tune. I cringed at the off notes fearing his snake might not be happy to sway to the syncopated song.

‘They steal from each other,’ Marvin said. He was talking about Sam, but was looking back at the screen and the damn penguins. ‘Oh yeah, they’re right old thieves penguins are. And if one of the eggs roll free from their pebbled nest no one’s bothered. I mean you’d expect uproar, but penguins don’t give a damn. Except the parent, obviously, who’s meant to be nursing the damn thing? And they can’t pick it up because they haven’t got hands so they have to watch it freeze and die. And have you seen what they do to a lost penguin. A baby one, I mean.’

He looked at me waiting for an answer, but I couldn’t help him. I didn’t care. To be honest I was only half listening. Sam and his inept efforts on the flute were making me feel uneasy. I turned my back on Marvin and watched a group of old boy’s huddled by the betting shack wondering why Bob the bookie hadn’t opened. I’d never known him to close. If there was a horse or a dog circling a track anywhere in the world Bob wanted to offer odds on which number crossed the line first.

‘It’s not like the other penguins point out the way back home,’ he said, nudging my back. ‘No way. They peck at the wee tyke and kick and ruck and give the fluffy fellow right old grief.’

All afternoon they’d been stood there waiting for Bob to open. Every so often a hunched figure deserted the group, pulled his coat tight about his body and approached the rickety wooden door to the shack. Hands and face were pressed to the small dark window before the handle was tugged then pushed and tugged again. The shop remained closed and the body returned to the group, worming deep inside the tight mass.

‘But when it’s cold,’ Marvin continued, turning to face me. ‘They take turns suffering the full force of the cold blizzard. Blizzards are bad where penguins live.’ He looked at me like he’d made a point of importance. I was beginning to tire of his intrusion on my day.

‘Who are those blokes?’ Marvin was pulling at his tie, rolling the end up and letting it fall down all curled up. ‘Why are they standing there?’ Again he pointed. ‘And what is it with that wreck of a shop?’ He wanted an answer from me but I wasn’t interested in getting deep with what was wrong with the day. The hour was ticking by and I was fearful the town hall clock was going to get it wrong again. And no one was going to care. ‘It’s obviously closed, so why do they keep trying to get in?’

‘They’re gamblers.’ I sighed as I said the words. Marvin come from Upper Ostere and had no right to be asking questions of folk in Ostere town centre. People didn’t like questions. ‘They want to lay a bet. Or play the machines. Or just get out of the cold.’

‘But it’s fucking closed.’

‘What are the odds on that, eh?’

Marvin was pacing again. He couldn’t help himself. And he’d started to scratch. Like all over. At least he’d stopped pointing.

‘So why don’t they move on?’ He stopped in front of me and stared at them.

‘Where?’ I asked.

He looked at me as if I was daft. He body flopped down on the seat, pushing his hands beneath his thighs for warmth. He looked at me shaking his head. ‘What is going on with today?’ he said. His voice was whiny and every word over-emphasized. ‘Everything’s closed.’

We both looked about the square where close on thirty food vendors were in the process of prepping and cooking for the nights trade. The big screen, the penguins and their traumas were replaced by still pictures of missing children and the tearful pleas from their parents. Marvin was up off the seat again horrified at the plight of the wee brats. I pulled my thin coat tight about my body and attempted to concentrate on the small band to our left warming up with a slow ponderous tune.

Another man joined the group by the betting shop. He had a limp. Lots of blokes had limps or walked with sticks or worse. The war was taking the piss out of able bodied folk. The man had to swing his right leg. His right hand aided the process by gripping his trousers and pulling with each step. His ginger hair was buzz cut short. He wore a mid-length, aged, black leather jacket and faded combat trousers of campaigns long forgotten. His old boots were polished to reflect the grey day. He accepted a cigarette and turned to look at the betting shop.

Up on the screen a journalist was reporting on the recent casualties in a war far, far away. Soldiers pushed their faces onto the screen with ‘V’ signs before the cameras panned across children in rags huddled amongst the rubble, hiding from the guns and the bombs.

‘There was trouble earlier,’ I said.

Marvin wasn’t listening. He’d forgotten about his question and was focusing on the group of men by the betting shack. He’d gone quiet on me.

‘The man in the Hi-Vis yellow jacket didn’t show,’ I continued. ‘He doles out the day’s work to the lad’s on community service. No yellow jacket meant zero work and that was a disaster ‘cause the lad’s in their orange overalls had a day to fill without adult supervision. Vodka, dope and desperation and the day went tits up in a hurry.’

I looked up at the video screen as images of war had turned to a lecture on the vibrant state of our economy. ‘Good Times’ was the refrain.

‘The screen went live,’ I said. ‘Camera’s zoomed onto the lads giving attitude to the day time vendors and their customers.’

‘What?’ Marvin said. He pushed his hand through the thin brown hair on his head before he turned back to the men by the shed. ‘What did you say?’ he muttered.

‘The screen showed the lads pissing about, nicking stuff and pissing off the vendors. The weed had been smoked and the vodka guzzled and they didn’t like the screen showing them at play.’

‘I don’t think I’d like it myself.’

‘The ‘Man’ likes to remind us he’s watching. Me,’ I laughed. ‘Couldn’t get away quick enough. I didn’t need my mug up on the screen. I decided my grandmother’s grave needed attention and got out before the army were called.’

Marvin was back up and pacing. Twice he’d stumbled blindly into the vendor setting up his pork spit for the evening’s trade. Twice I’d watched the half roasted pig dive for the ground before the vendor caught and repositioned the beast on the rotisserie.

‘As I left the square chaos had erupted. The vendors were abusing the guys in the orange community service garb. The punters were running about screaming as they were pelted with stolen veg and fruit and slapped with the odd skinned rabbit. The screen was all over the place trying to track the mayhem. Squashed veg as far as you could see. It was bizarre. And then the stall holders struck back. Don’t ever take on a man with a paring knife or a meat cleaver or a supply of fruit to launch. It isn’t pretty.

‘And then the army arrived. I was well gone.’

The screen changed to a weather map with animated dark clouds covering our part of the small island. Yellow lighting flashes promised a storm. An advertisement for umbrellas followed before the screen went local, zooming down on the square with images of the vendors setting up and citizens strolling about with drinks waiting for a feed.

‘I’ve heard,’ I said kicking at Marvin’s leg to get his attention. ‘The cameras have got facial recognition, eh?’

‘Jesus no,’ Marvin said. ‘That’s definitely wrong. You got to be wrong about that.’

He pulled his jacket collar up about his ears and hunched his shoulders. We both looked about the square noting the many cameras craning outward from their high vantage points on several of the buildings. ‘Yeah, but we’re okay here. We like this seat.’

Marvin sat down, lit up a cigarette and sighed. I failed to mention the drones. He didn’t need to know there were drones up there above the clouds making sure we were all behaving.

‘What do you care, eh?’ I said. He shrugged and began to look about him, staring up at the closest camera. ‘I’ve got the bloody army chasing me. You did your time.’

Marvin turned to face me. His hand touched my arm. It felt creepy having him touch me. ‘Stuff’s going down, Ben.’

Like that was news. The army, a rag, tag bunch of conscripts including the long-term unemployed and the serial criminal, ruled our streets. And the ‘Man’ had grown tired of the unrest. He was desperate to stop the rioting and the looting. The Scarlet Scum were being shot on sight and he’d increased the price on the heads of the urban guerrillas from the Projects to a tidy sum. ‘Wanted’ posters for Jackie John, the leader of the Projects had replaced the posters of missing children plastered all over our town. ‘Dead or Alive,’ they said. The ‘Man’ was getting tough on his rebellious citizens and he wasn’t keen on taking prisoners.

I grabbed my backpack and fished my bottle of vodka from its depths. A large serrated bread knife clattered to the pavement.

‘Jesus Ben, that’s a serious knife.’

I pulled two switchblades from my right leg trouser pocket and a rusty cutthroat and a hunting knife from my left, smiling as Marvin sat back and edged away from me. I held the flick knife up as an exhibit. ‘I took this off a child,’ I said. ‘Seriously he was wee, and tried to take me for a fool. He was playing this stupid card trick, ripping the tourists off down Smelly Alley, but I showed up and got it right like five times in a row and was holding his money in my hand when he pulled this knife on me. I thought taking money off him was easy, but I had the knife to his neck before he realized I’d moved. I should’ve gutted him, but he started crying, eh?’

I fingered the rusty cut throat and smiled. ‘This nasty mother,’ I said pointing the knife at Marvin. ‘Had been held to my throat while I was robbed. By a bloody wino from the back lots near Blacky’s shed by the overpass. He thought we were asleep. A bloke called Billy Two Guns smacked him over the head with the pointy end of a half brick. He’s small, is Billy, but he can employ a brick better than most.’

I returned the knives to their hiding places in my black combat trousers. He was looking at the bread knife sitting on my lap.

‘And that one?’

It had massive serrations and chips out of the blade. ‘This one’s just for bread, but it cuts good.’ I put it back in my bag. ‘Well armed, eh?’

‘Against what?’

I showed him the half loaf of bread wrapped in brown paper and the pack of ham. ‘Folk are hungry. You live up in the posh clouds in Upper Ostere. And you’ve been away, haven’t you? If you haven’t got the coins then you have to fight for the crumbs. And if you don’t fight you die.’

Marvin sat back, wrapping his jacket tight to his body. People were arriving for the night-times trade. A couple had sat down on our seat pushing Marvin closer to me. ‘You’ve changed,’ he said. ‘You’re all cynical and bitter.’

‘Fuck you.’

He turned away from me as the man led his lady from our seat. I still didn’t know why Marvin was sitting with me in the square. He looked like shit. His dark woollen trousers had a cut across the knees and his shoes were scuffed and muddy. The jacket was dusty, the left breast pocket ripped and his white shirt was creased and grubby. A tie clung to his throat and he appeared to have lost weight. I mean he was a skinny kid when we hung out, but now he was like a hunger victim with a wasting disease.

I knew he was no rebel or criminal. Marvin fought for his country. He probably received medals. I’d heard he’d finished his tour and been offered a serious job. But something was bothering the boy and when you lived the dirty life on the streets you weren’t so keen on dealing with other folks ‘bother.’

‘I need a favour,’ he said.

‘After two years out of my life, you ask me for a favour.’

‘I need you to look after this bag.’

I grabbed the vodka and drank long and hard. I wanted to get drunk. Something felt wrong. A clock who that can’t tell the time. Betting shop closed. No work. And a childhood mate turning up had me shackles up and itching. Marvin’s arrival in my life after two years missing didn’t feel right. He had no business dumping his baggage on me.


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If you don’t care much for football but want to do a crash course before this weekend’s Superbowl party, Ninja Essays has an infographic for you.

The NFL Reads graphic outlines a number of influential books written about football, any of which could help increase your understanding of the game. Check it out:

You want to impress your friends with your insight and interest in the game? The first thing you need to do is understand the rules. No one likes people who interrupt the fun with silly questions. Once you learn the basics, you can research the history of different teams and impress everyone with random facts.

We’ve got the entire infographic for you after the jump.NFL-Reads-by-NinjaEssays


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17. Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy Gets Sequel

Swedish author Stieg Larsson may have passed away in 2004, but that hasn’t stopped his bestselling crime series from living on.

In fact, the Millennium crime trilogy is getting a new book this coming August. Author David Lagercrantz wrote the latest edition, That Which Does Not Kill.

The Guardian has more about the story:

The book will continue the story of the troubled but resourceful heroine Lisbeth Salander first made famous in Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. But the author remained tight-lipped about the meaning of the title or what direction the action-packed political thriller – 500 pages long in Swedish – will take.

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18. when you can still call it yours

when it still belongs mostly to you and the handful of souls who have made time to read.

when it is as beautiful as this, all thanks to the design and editorial team.

before anything else can be said or done.

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19. Magic Tree House Super Edition #1: Danger in the Darkest Hour by Mary Pope Osborne, illustrated by Sal Murdocca

One warm June day, Jack and Annie, siblings living in Frog Creek, PA, receive a message via carrier pigeon.  The message is from their friend Teddy, asking them to come to Glastonbury, England immediately, their help is needed.

When Jack and Annie arrive in Glastonbury, they are met by Teddy who tells them they have arrived on June 4, 1944, two days before the D-Day invasion at Normandy, France by the Allies forces and the beginning of the end for the Nazis.

Teddy and Kathleen, who iare really young enchanters from Camelot, have been made agents in the Special Operations Executive (SOE) by Winston Churchill to do undercover work in countries occupied by the Nazis.  But now, Kathleen is still in Normandy, France and needs to be rescued, but they only clues to her whereabouts is a coded riddle she sent Teddy by carrier pigeon.

Jack and Annie's job is to parachute into France and find Kathleen within 24 hours - they need to be gone by the time the invasion begins.  Jack and Annie are told to try to find members of the French Resistance to help them, but to avoid the Nazis, who are everywhere.  But when they land in a French field, they are spotted and chased by Nazis using a dog.  Jack and Annie hide in a barn, calm the dog down and are found by a man and his wife, whose sons were members of the Resistance.

The couple feeds them, and help to figure out the riddle from Kathleen, then they give Jack and Annie two bikes and some money, and send them on their way.  The road to Kathleen is fraught with both friend and foe, but eventually the two find her and now, they must figure out how to get her back to England. It seems Teddy forgot to give them the magic wand Kathleen needs, since her innate magic seems to have disappeared.  Not only that, but Kathleen has acquired some fellow travelers she is determined to get out of France, a group of very young Jewish orphans, which means a bigger, more noticeable plane will be needed for the rescue.  Oh yes, and a large vehicle to get all of them to the pickup point.  And there is only a few hours left before the invasion begins, with all its bombing and shooting.

Can everyone be rescued in time and will Jack and Annie find their way back to Frog Creek?

This is an interesting chapter book.  It is longer than the previous Magic Tree House books and the subject matter is much darker.  And since the magic wand was forgotten, Jack, Annie and Kathleen have to rely on their own skills to solve problems and figure out how to escape France before the invasion.

Osborne gently introduces the reader to Hitler and the Nazis, and though she never uses the word Holocaust, Teddy does tell Jack and Annie that "[the Nazis] have killed countless innocent civilians, including millions of Jewish people." (pg 25)  This may sound a little watered down, but consider the age of the reader and that for many this may very well be an introduction to that "darkest hour" of modern history.

i didn't expect to really like this book, but I did.  With a willing suspension of disbelief, I found the story compelling and exciting, and I felt it was very clear that Osborne is comfortable with her characters and knows her audience.  Things do work out nicely in the end, which is OK when you have magic on your side (and yes, there was some surprising magic used in the end).

At the back of the book, there is a "Track the Facts Behind Jack and Annie's Mission" that includes lots of information ranging from the use of pigeons in war, the German Enigma machine, and other interesting facts, all age appropriately described.

Besides the colorful cover illustration, showing Jack, in all his fear, and sister Annie parachuting into France, there are some wonderful black and white double page illustrations throughout the book, all done by Magic Tree House illustrator Sal Murdocca.

I have to confess, I have never read a Magic Tree House book before this.  Sure, my Kiddo and all her cousins read and loved them when they were in elementary school.  So did the kids in my classes, which made me happy since most of them were not yet reading at grade level.  But I did hear Mary Pope Osborne speak at a BEA Children's Author Breakfast one year, so I knew that author Mary Pope Obsorne is a very generous donor of her books to kids who might not otherwise get copies of them.  And I could help but wonder how many kids have become readers thanks to the Magic Tree House books?

You can read a two chapter sample of Danger in the Darkest Hour HERE

This book is recommended for readers age 7+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL

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20. Sure Signs of Crazy by Karen Harrington

Continuing on my quest to find books for my soon to be nine-year old niece, I read Karen Harrington's Sure Signs of Crazy last week. While I enjoyed the book a lot and recommend it for the over ten crowd, I think I'm going to hold off my girl until she's a wee bit older.

Protagonist Sarah is 12 and new in town. She and her father move around a lot as Sarah's mother was the object of a notorious trial and is now committed to a mental hospital. Her father was also tried but found innocent; he still struggles a decade later to cope and while a loving father, definitely self-medicates with alcohol.

In the course of one summer, Sarah fulfills an English assignment by writing letters to Atticus Finch, crushes on the college boy across the street (we've all been there) and builds up her courage to challenge the family secrets. She's smart and funny and determined which makes for a great protagonist. Most interestingly though, considering her family drama, Sarah is also very easy to identify with and I'm sure many young readers will like her a lot.

For my purposes though, I think the alcohol and the reasons behind her mother's trial, are just too much for my particular nine-year old. At least a year, maybe two and she will be ready. I'll be keeping Sure Signs of Crazy for the future.

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21. *FREE* Printable Valentine's Day card

Hey there, friends! I have a fun, free, printable Valentine's Day card to share with you today. I've been wanting to create something with a vintage typewriter image for awhile now and I finally did it. This card was created as part of a challenge with my awesome blog group, We Love to Illustrate Studio. There are other free downloads available over there, so check those out, too!

By clicking on Download Here, below this image, it will open up in a separate window, with a high res image in a greeting card format. It fits into a A6 envelope.


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22. Mike Lemanski Update

Mike Lemanski

New site + work to boot from grain edit favorite Mike Lemanski.




Mike Lemanski


Mike Lemanski

Mike Lemanski

Mike Lemanski



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23. John Adams Creates a Writing Board Game Illustration

first book board gameDid you make a New Year’s resolution to complete your first book this year?

Illustrator Jon Adams has created the “It’s Time to Write Your First Book Board Game.” Adams feels that playing this “game” can really test a person’s resolve.

According to BuzzFeed, hitting milestones like “getting an agent” and sacrificing “social interaction for weeks” can allow one to advice on the board. Just beware that discarding ten drafts and crying in public compels the writer to either lose a turn or take a few steps back. What do you think?

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24. Reality Star Jaime Primak Sullivan Inks Memoir Deal

SullivanReality star Jaime Primak Sullivan has landed a memoir deal with Simon & Schuster’s Touchstone imprint. Sullivan (pictured, via) has become well-known for starring in the Jersey Belle Bravo TV series and the “Cawfeetawk” digital series.

Author Eve Adamson will collaborate with Sullivan on this project. The publisher will release the book, entitled Saved by the Belles: The Southern Education of a Jersey Girl, in Fall 2015.

Sullivan gave this statement in the press release: “Growing up in Springsteen’s New Jersey, I thought I had life and love all figured out. It wasn’t until I fell in love with a Southern gentleman and moved my life to the Deep South that I learned the most important lesson of all: real women are a work in progress.”

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A few weeks ago Adam and I were driving on the highway during late afternoon the day after a snowstorm. I always love to scan the trees looking for deer while we drive and thanks to the bright white snow, I had no trouble spotting a large female laying comfortably, enjoying the view of passing cars. I kept it in mind to make a piece inspired by that moment. Here is a quick limited palette color block sketch interpretation.

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