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1. Hidden Picture Illustrations

Below are some glimpses of hidden picture illustrations either published or fresh off the drawing board. These are a challenge but really fun to do!

april8 work 1

(c) Highlights For Children

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2. Here Comes Peter Cottontail – Easter Reviews

Is your freezer full of hot cross buns? Are you feeling bilious after over-eroding the stash of chocolate eggs you’ve had hidden for weeks from the kids? If so, you may already be over Easter. But wait. There’s more! While you won’t find a great deal of religious meaning in the following titles, they do bubble and burst with frivolity and interactive verve, perfect for sharing with your family, which for me, ticks at least one of my Easter boxes.

Easter Egg expressFirst egg out of the basket – Easter Egg Express by Susannah McFarlane and Caroline Keys, is part of the cute and clever Little Mates A-Z series. Unashamedly Australian, abundant with alliteration and more colour than you’d find in a rainbow, Little Mates rarely fail to deliver. Fortunately, thanks to the help of their bush mates, Easter bilbies Ellie and Eric deliver as well, just in time for an Easter extravaganza. Easter Egg Express epitomises Easter eggactly; egg hunts, egg painting, egg eating and eggceptionally tasty hot cross buns. Eggcellent! (Sorry for the lame yolks)

10 Hopping bunnies10 Hopping Bunnies by winning team, Ed Allen and Simon Williams, serves up more frantic fun for 3 year olds. As with other titles in the series, including 10 Smiley Crocs, this is a zany rendition of the popular ditty, Ten Green Bottles. Counting to ten has never been so energetic and hilarious. William’s illustrations race, hop, bound, swing and bounce across the pages in a riotous countdown that is never boring but plenty bonkers. There’s a touch of Graeme Base on every page too, as readers are encouraged to spot hidden numbers. Practical, merry good fun.

There was an old Bloke who Swallowed a BunnyHow about another well-known tune, now that your vocal chords are all limbered up? There was an Old Bloke who Swallowed a Bunny! by series duo P Crumble and Louis Shea, will keep you singing. It seems incredible that, that old bloke and lady are able to look at another morsel after stuffing themselves silly with stars, thongs, chooks, mozzies and spiders. But these non-sensical characters in this nonsense nursery rhyme appear to have plenty of life and room in them yet.

Our old bloke finds himself famished whilst on the farm. The usual gastronomic gobbling ensues until ‘kapow!’ farmyard calm is restored. Again, it’s the in-your-face, brighter than day illustrations that steal the show. Simultaneous bonsai stories blossom on every page guaranteeing repeated readings and plenty of contemplative pausing and pointing out. But that’s okay because ‘Crikey!’ it’s funny.

We're going on an Egg HuntFinally, because Easter is slightly prone to exploitation, We’re Going on an Egg Hunt by Laine Mitchell and Louis Shea, is included in this fun and frivolous round-up for pre-schoolers. You’ll recognise the rhyme from the title and appreciate the vibrant illustrations accompanying the playful text as you sing along with the kids.

The look on our big-eyed, baby animal friends’ faces as they finally end their hunt in a choc-egg induced stupor is priceless; one we are all familiar with I’m sure. High energy plus high interactive potential = very morish. (There’s even a CD by Jay Laga’aia)

Bounce over here for more great Easter titles for young and old.

Scholastic Australia March 2014



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3. 7 Things How I Met Your Mother Can Teach Us About Writing

How I Met Your Mother

If you’re like us on the WD staff (okay, maybe just Brian and I—internet high five!), then you were enthralled, captivated, and head over heels in love with the television show How I Met Your Mother. For nine years, this legend- (wait for it) -dary sitcom was unlike anything else. It could get audiences to roll with laughter, but it also had a soft side. And there were tough moments, like the death of Marshall’s father, where I found myself choking up.

And the show is so unique in its storytelling that it’s hard to see anything else mimicking it and having success. In case you don’t know (and if you don’t, for shame!), the show is essentially told in flashbacks as Ted, in 2030, is describing to his two children how he met their mother. The story arc, all told from Ted’s memory (which allows for some awesome moments and gaps), follows the hijinks of Ted and his friends, Barney, Robin, Lily, and Marshall. And, like any group of friends, they have their inside jokes, stories, and special moments that recur and build over the course of the series. The audience is let into all of these stories and jokes, making it even funnier when something that happens in an early season gets brought up years later. The audience is part of the gang.

With the series finale airing this past Monday night, I couldn’t help but reflect on the past nine years—and realize how incredibly smart the writing is. And there’s more than a little bit any writer can learn from this show. (Major spoilers follow.)

1. Everything Happens for a Reason
This is probably something that Ted, as a hopeless romantic endlessly (to the frustration of his friends) searching for “the one,” would agree with. Almost everything that was used in HIMYM ended up coming back around later. Throughout the series, Barney, who takes the bachelor lifestyle to the extreme, uses a “playbook” full of different pickup lines and schemes to find women. When Barney eventually falls in love with Robin and intends to propose, he uses an extremely elaborate scheme that lasts the course of multiple episodes. Robin finds the last page of his playbook that details this scheme, and she accepts his proposal.

When you introduce something in your novel(s), make sure there’s a reason for it. Yes, Barney had the playbook because he’s juuust a little bit shallow and manipulative, but there ends up being a larger reason for it, too. Consider all of your choices while writing. How can something that seems insignificant now be important later? Don’t add the little details unless they’re important and you plan to use them!

Suit Up

Suit up!

2. Reward Your Readers
HIMYM constantly rewarded its audience for sticking around from the very beginning. This is similar to the previous point. When you drop bread crumbs early in a story, make sure you come back around to them. It keeps things interesting to have a recurring element, particularly in a long series.

In the show, Robin hides the fact that she used to be a teen pop star in Canada. Barney, however, eventually discovers the fact and shares this embarrassment with the rest of the gang. Over the course of the series, they find a couple of her music videos and an educational television program she starred in. The audience never knew when one of these moments was going to pop up in an episode, which made it funnier when it happened. But if we hadn’t known early on that Robin had a secret, or if we missed the episode with the first music video, it would seem pretty random.

Or, in the third season, Ted goes on a date with a girl whose name he can’t remember. So, since he’s telling this story to his children, he replaces the girl’s name with Blah Blah every time. Whenever she’s referred to throughout the rest of the series, she’s called Blah Blah. Finally, in the last season, Ted remembers her name is Carol. This is something I had completely forgotten about over the course of the series, but it was rewarding to finally know this random woman’s name. (And another neat way the frame narrative works for this show!)

So it’s okay to reuse moments or quirky character points from earlier in a novel or a series. In fact, it shows a little humanity in the characters. And it will reward those loyal readers for sticking with a series or paying sharp attention throughout the novel. Remember, all of these little details add up when you use them correctly!

3. Never Write Yourself Into a Corner
One of the glaring mistakes left out of the series finale of HIMYM was a resolution to the pineapple incident. Everything else was neatly wrapped up (though, perhaps not necessarily the way fans would have liked), except this moment. In one of the most watched episodes of the series, Ted is criticized by his friends for over-thinking everything and not just acting on a whim. One thing leads to another and Ted ends up blackout drunk. He wakes up the next morning with a phone number written on his arm, a partially burned jacket, a sprained ankle, a woman he doesn’t know with him in bed, and a pineapple on his nightstand.

Unable to remember anything, Ted is filled in about the night from the perspectives of each of his friends. Together, they’re able to piece together what happened over the course of the night. Except for the pineapple. Thus, the pineapple incident (which is actually the name of this episode from the first season). Ted tells his kids that they never figured out where the pineapple came from. HIMYM writer Carter Bays would later admit that he wrote himself into a corner with that line, and learned to never do it again.

Follow that same advice. Whatever you’re writing (especially if it’s the beginning novel of a series, or a novel you think could have a sequel), don’t kill off story lines, plot points, or characters unless you’re absolutely sure they’re resolved or you’re done with them. Leave yourself some wiggle room if you decide to change something later. Novels and series are always developing and changing as the author writes. So it’s okay to change how you’re attacking something as you write a sequel, or work deeper into a work. Stories take on a life of their own and change. Just don’t leave something unresolved or inaccessible later.

No one wants an unexplained pineapple sitting around, no matter how delicious they are.

4. Use Smaller, Compelling Story Arcs

Part of the beauty of writing is weaving multiple story arcs together. You usually have the one, overarching goal/theme/question/story, but there’s so many other tiny ones, too. And these smaller story arcs can be just as compelling as the others. In a seemingly off subject digression that is actually appropriate because Star Wars is Ted and Marshall’s favorite movie, Luke Skywalker didn’t set out to find his father; he wanted to defeat the Empire alongside the Rebel Alliance. But throwing in the twist that Darth Vader is his father added a little extra oomph to the story.

Take advantage of the numerous details you’ve added throughout your writing to create other compelling plot points. Give your main character secondary goals, or expand on a secondary character’s story. Having these extra arcs can create good tension and keep the reader on his toes at the same time.

Lily, Marshall, Barney

Acknowledge your readers and reward them with the highest of fives.

In HIMYM, there are tons of these little story arcs. One of my personal favorites is Barney and Marshall’s slap bet. When the gang discovers Robin doesn’t like going to malls (actually, this ties back into her time as a pop star in Canada—see how cool details are?), Barney and Marshall make a slap bet over why. When Marshall wins, Barney is given the option to take ten consecutive slaps immediately, or have five be delivered at any time Marshall decides. He chooses the second option, which leads to random moments where Marshall will slap Barney, as well as hilarious episodes like “Slapsgiving.” The slaps often come without warning, but the audience is always waiting for the next one. Compelling and rewarding!

5. Tragedy is Compelling

It’s easy to see that Ted is a tragic character. He’s a hopeless romantic searching for true love that doesn’t seem to exist. He’s left at the alter. He falls in love with his best friend, who doesn’t really return the same feelings. He spends years and years searching for the one, only to find her, have two kids with her, and watch her fall ill and pass. Almost nothing ever goes right for him.

And as sappy (and sometimes annoying) as Ted can get, he’s compelling. We want to see him find the one. We want to see him finally find happiness. In many ways, he (and some of the other characters) becomes a caricature of himself by the end of the series. But his character kept the audience going. Even as the show started to decline, fans still watched.

Not all of your characters need to be tragic, but they should all be relatable, in some way. Sprinkling in some tragedy here and there for the important ones only makes it better. You need to make your readers care about these characters. One of the best ways to do that is to tug at those emotional chords. And once you have your readers hooked, you’ve got them.

6. Endings Are Hard

Coming up with a perfect ending is nearly impossible. You will always have readers and fans that disagree with your decisions and criticize you for how you wrap something up. And as hard as it is to wrap up a single story, imagine an entire series. You need to make sure everything is finished. No more open doors (unless you’re planning more books, but then it’s not really finished, is it?).

But the hardest thing is getting the ending right. Mainly because you just don’t want to get it wrong. I’m not saying HIMYM got its series ender wrong. Yes, finding out the mother had passed away was heartbreaking, especially since the audience had grown to know her in the final season. And Ted ending up with Robin, when it seemed like for nine years he was meant to not be with Robin, was frustrating. But in many ways, it made sense, for the show. Ted had his true love. He learned life and love isn’t always perfect. And he decides to give it one more shot with someone he does care about. The episode wrapped up almost everything in the series (damn you pineapple!) and circled around to so many of the inside jokes and even the very first episode. But it just felt unsatisfying, in some way. The door still felt open. It just felt off.

I think the easiest solution to an ending is just to go with the logical choice. Don’t go for a big, “in your face” ending. But you also don’t want it to be weak. There’s a natural balance. And, I think, deep down writers always know what the ending to their story is. Go with that first instinct. And don’t change it. Just make sure you wrap everything up first.

The Gang

Bring the reader back to something familiar, a constant.

7. Circularity

A lot of these points all tie together. But I think that’s because HIMYM was tied together in such a unique way.  At the end of your story, you might want to consider bringing everything back around in a nice circle. In most novels, that means wrapping it up by ending that overarching story arc. There’s closure. I think you can also take it a step further with a scene that recalls back to the beginning of the story, or some sort of grounding point.

Most episodes of HIMYM used places like Ted and Marshall/Marshall and Lily’s apartment, or MacLaren’s Pub as a grounding point. Episodes would often start and end there. It felt familiar and provided circularity for each episode. Plus, that’s how it works in real life, too. Groups of friends have hangout spots. There’s a little extra realness sprinkled in there.

And the series ends with a nearly identical scene from the pilot episode. Ted steals the same blue french horn that he stole after their first date, which Robin had admired. In the pilot, he presented the horn to her and confessed his love for her (after one date!!). She rejects him. In the finale, he’s just seen holding it, below Robin’s apartment as she looks on in awe from her window as the screen cuts to black. While this is far from a perfect (or ideal) ending, it does tie everything together. Ted is still the hopeless romantic. Robin still finds Ted’s romance attractive. Nothing has changed from the first episode, but everything has changed. They’ve both grown for years, even if the audience only had minutes to digest it (an obvious flaw within the construct of a television show).

It does, unfortunately, leave the proverbial door open.

Just remember not to do that. But don’t stress the endings. Remember to be careful with the details, they’ll make or break your story. And, for God’s sake, don’t mess up the pineapple!

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4. The Holy Trinity of Boys

Passing over the bridge to the park Saturday, I heard laughter mixed with threats from the creek below. It took a few steps to get a view of the action between the dense limbs forming a canopy above the slow moving water. But what I saw brought an instant smile to my face: a real, knockdown, drag-out mudfight.


Four shirtless combatants

No distinct sides or teams

Eight handfuls of muck and sludge, ducking, slinging, flailing away.

Goo and gunk flying in every direction.

Filthy joy pigs would be proud of.

The Holy Trinity of Boys – Filth in all three forms: Dirt, Mud, & Dust


One Mom – a lax referee, sat on the bank chuckling along. I wanted to take a picture of the fun, but was afraid to be labelled some sort of park whacko. So I just watched, a little jealous of them, wondering if I could have been as cool a parent to sons. Would I let my boys get that dirty, despite the inconvenience of taking them home? Or if I had boys, would I be more worried about the cleanliness, my car seats, and the waste of time?

(Nah, I’m pretty sure my shirt would have been on the bank with theirs…but who knows.)

I don’t know who you are, lady. All I know is; you are the official Mother of the Weekend. You get no award besides the joy you allowed your boys. But that’s enough.

Artwork credit: Harold W. Olsen (www.haroldolsen.com)

10 Comments on The Holy Trinity of Boys, last added: 3/18/2014
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5. Ask Us Anything! Join Our Reddit AMA (Mar 21, 2pm EDT)


On Friday, March 21 at 2 p.m. EDT, editors from our Ohio office will answer reader and community questions on Reddit. We’re conducting the “Ask Me Anything” session in /r/writing, Reddit’s writing-discussion-only community.

If you are already a redditor, you’ll likely know how this process works: We will announce our AMA on Twitter with a link to the Reddit post; registered users will be able to leave questions in our thread and editors from the magazine and website will be around to answer and address that commentary in real-time on Friday afternoon. You can ask us just about anything: questions about craft, marketing, publication, magazines, our magazine, books of all shapes and flavors … anything writing- or reading-related is welcome.

If you are not a Reddit user yet and you would like to participate, you will need to register and create an account

. It’s free and anonymous (you don’t even have to supply an email address). Once you’ve finished the 30-second process of creating an account, you can join discussions on thousands of topics with millions of people all over the world.

In the days between this post and the official beginning of our casual AMA, we recommend joining Reddit

and participating a bit to familiarize yourself with the site’s format and function. Some great subreddits we love are /r/books, /r/writing, /r/shutupandwrite, /r/WritersGroup, /r/WritingPrompts and /r/sixwordstories.

This post will be updated with a link to the event on Friday, March 21.

Please note that questions left on this post and directed to our Twitter feed are not part of the AMA and we can’t guarantee that they’ll be answered satisfactorily during the allotted time period. For in-depth answers, we recommend jointing the AMA; 140-character limits don’t allow for comprehensive feedback.

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6. They Turned My Book into a Movie


There’s definitely something about having your book turned into a movie.

My friends have all known for years that I make my living as a writer of fiction. But sometimes I think that even they didn’t really take me seriously until the movie deal was announced—especially when the film ended up starring well-known actors like Scott Bakula and Ana Gasteyer.

Then again, the movie experience was enormously validating even for me. The book in question, Geography Club, was first published back in 2003, at a time when people didn’t want to talk about gay teens very much. As a result, it had taken ten years to find a publisher. And while the people at HarperCollins liked it a lot, no one had any big expectations for it at all.


It ended up being a big hit anyway, and then there I was nine years later, on a film set in Los Angeles in a football stadium with a thousand extras. I looked around at all those people—two football teams! a marching band! opposing cheerleaders!—and I thought, “All this for my little book? Now I know how it felt for the Pharaohs to watch them build the pyramids!”

The process of having your book turned into a movie is just as exciting as you’d think—with premieres, and casting announcements, and the aforementioned set visit. And that doesn’t even touch on a wider readership for my books than I’ve ever had before.

But the experience is also more mundane and frustrating than you’d think. The book was first optioned in May of 2003, just weeks after it was released. Who knew it would take so long to get financing, and go through so many different producers along the way?

And now that the movie’s out, everyone has a very definite opinion about it—and everyone assumes I had some control over the finished product (which I didn’t, at all).

All that said, the whole process has still been one of the most interesting of my life. (I have a couple of other film projects in the works now, so I’m hoping I get to go through it all again very soon!)

A lot of writing gurus will tell you that no one will take you seriously as a writer until you take yourself seriously, and that’s definitely true as far as it goes.

But there’s something to be said for external validation too. And take it from me: having your book turned into a movie is just about as validating as it gets.



BRENT HARTINGER is the author of a number of novels, mostly for and about teens, including Geography Club (HarperCollins, 2003) and three sequels: The Order of the Poison Oak (HarperCollins, 2005); Double Feature: Attack of the Soul-Sucking Brain Zombies/Bride of the Soul-Sucking Brain Zombies (HarperCollins, 2007); and The Elephant of Surprise (Buddha Kitty Books, 2013).

His other books include The Last Chance Texaco (HarperCollins, 2004); Grand & Humble (HarperCollins, January 2006); Project Sweet Life (HarperCollins, 2008); and Shadow Walkers (Flux Books, 2011).

Geography Club is currently available for rent or purchase in all video platforms, and available on DVD. Visit the author at brenthartinger.com


More on Brent’s book-to-movie experience

More photos, including shots from the set

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7. Flipping all year long

Today is Pancake Day! Also called Fat Tuesday or Shrove Tuesday if you take part in Lent. It’s traditionally a day to eat up all sorts of yummy things in your house that you are promising not to eat during Lent, like chocolate. It’s a long month if you’re giving up your junkiest habit so first of all you need to eat a shed-load of pancakes.

It’s strange people MAKE and EAT pancakes only one day a year.

HOW ODD?! Why only eat such a great food one day out of 365? We must change this silliness once and for all.

But how? …Time for a Seed Agent Mission.

WHAT IF?! We rename pancakes Flippers! Every time we make a pancake we call it a Flipper. Everytime we eat a pancake we call it Flipper. Everytime we see a pancake we call it a Flipper. Soon the world will call pancakes – Flippers!! And then we can eat Flippers ALL year round, and not just on Fat Tuesday.

There’s nothing that can’t be used to fill a flipper, sweet or savoury, hot or cold, the choice is yours Seed Agents! Try some veg-flippers! “Move along old-school lemon and sugar”, “Bye-bye gooey joys of chocolate”, “Hello pongy cheese, spinach and mushrooms!”

Have a go at making your own flippers here and experiment eating them with different fillings. Discover which one you like best!

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8. Just thinking

I would like to think that I could come up with some Geo-Terra-forming-hyper-thoughts but can only come up with the belief that I am correct to feel immortal and know that even after I go to the next eternity, that itself will end, and “I” become some horrific to these “Now ” eyes, some specimen of thing unknowable to this consciousness, yet another “thing” that feels correct to it’s nature and has no thought of being not correct, that after an eternity of these formations and resurrections and deaths I will sink into the opposite sludge of nonexistence but after a time, that is not time, will again float to the surface *POP* out and start all over again.

0 Comments on Just thinking as of 2/4/2014 6:17:00 PM
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9. What’s The Scariest Book You’ve Ever Read?

October marks the time of year when I go out of my way to read something scary, and not in a “Why did any publisher support this hot mess of a novel?” way, but in a “When am I ever going to sleep without the lights on again?” kind of way. I haven’t selected this year’s addition to that annual bookshelf, but if I had to choose the scariest book I ever read, I’d pick Jay Anson’s The Amityville Horror.

I know it’s now generally accepted that Amityville is a fake “true story,” but that didn’t make it any easier to descend into the basement after reading the book in the 9th grade. We had an old garage door opener on the wall down there with two red dots that glowed like the eyes of an evil doll, spirit, demon, the Devil, or what have you. The book—absurd as it was in spots—combined with those lights and a creeping dread that my mother’s house might contain a secret red room created a cacophony of horror in my brain, and the side effects manifested in equally absurd habits of safety and precaution for months afterward.

Since that first sample of terror, I became a fan of thrills, chills, and things that go bump in the night—be it eerie fiction, true crime, or the paranormal unknown—and when deciding what book to tackle this October, I grew curious about what other authors and editors I know would select as the scariest book they ever read, and so I asked…

What was the scariest book you’ve ever read, and how did it affect your writing and/or your life after you put the book back on the shelf?  

Helter Skelter, by Vincent Bugliosi. When I was a kid, my best friend didn’t read fiction, and I rarely read nonfiction, so we made a pact to exchange books we each thought the other would like. I gave him IT. He gave me Helter Skelter, Vincent Bugliosi’s account of the Manson Family murders. No offense to Stephen King, but Helter Skelter messed me up in ways IT never could. Both books deal with the madness that lurks beneath the thin veneer of modern society—but while King wrote of monsters, Bugliosi convinced me that the monsters were us.”

Chris F. Holm

, author of The Big Reap and Dead Harvest


“It was the right book at the right time—1968: I was 22, doing my student teaching, and my supervising teacher lent me I Am Legend by Richard Matheson. Utter claustrophobic terror—zombie-vampires—some of whom might happen to be your friends, loved ones, etc., back from the dead to get you. I’d read and loved Matheson’s collections of short horror stories, but this short novel built the nightmare and sustained it and sustained it until you were saying, “I want out of this” even as you knew you’d stick with it to the bitter yet triumphant end. Once I knew that a “modern writer” could do it without ghosts or ghoulies or an English moor and Gothic trappings, I was there. It was an epiphany, and strengthened the desire I’d had to write horror, which began in grade school with “The Pit and Pendulum” and “Tell Tale Heart.”

Mort Castle

, author of the Bram Stoker Award-winning New Moon on the Water and the upcoming Dracula: The Annotated Classic, from Writer’s Digest Books


The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood horrified me. The scariest part is that it becomes more and more evident that Atwood may have been forecasting the future of the North American female experience. The thing I take with me after I set it down is always the same: I should keep writing my experience, and never let the bastards shut me up.”

Dena Rash Guzman

, author of Life Cycle


“Aside from the user’s manual for the first printer I got, I’d say the scariest book I ever read was James Dickey’s Deliverance. I was really too young when I first read it (about 14). My mom, a high school English teacher, had brought it home and told me not to read it, so of course I grabbed it and read it in secret as soon as I could. The impact on me was: the world is a much more dangerous place than I’d thought. Since then, as an author, I’ve remembered it and tried to write as well and as frankly as Dickey. And to not shy away from uncomfortable scenes and topics!”

Elizabeth Sims

, author of Holy Hell and You’ve Got a Book in You


“Horror’s like Erotica—imagination is key. Don’t rob it by giving every last grisly detail. Exercise some subtlety and restraint. As a writer, I learned this and more from Henry James’ truly haunting The Turn of the Screw.

David Comfort

, author of The Rock & Roll Book of the Dead and An Insider’s Guide to Publishing, coming soon from Writer’s Digest Books

As you can see from the answers above, there are all kinds of ways we can scare ourselves—everything from hack-and-slash stories to tales that make us see the horror in our ourselves and in our potential futures. Tell us what you think in the comments below…did we select your favorite frightful tome? Is nonfiction scarier than fiction? Is there a book we should consider reading that will keep us awake in the dead of night?

James Duncan is a content editor for Writer’s Digest. He is also the author of The Cards We Keep: Ten Stories

, and is in the process of submitting a handful of novels to agents for traditional representation, just like everyone else on the planet. For more of his work, visit www.jameshduncan.blogspot.com.

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10. Before They Were Famous: The Oddest Odd Jobs of 10 Literary Greats


by Alex Palmer

Plenty of acclaimed and successful writers began their careers working strange—and occasionally degrading—day jobs. But rather than being ground down by the work, many drew inspiration for stories and poems from even the dullest gigs. Here are 10 of the oddest odd jobs of famous authors—all of them reminders that creative fodder can be found in the most unexpected places.

#1.#2.#3.#4.#5.#6.#7.#8.#9.#10.Alex Palmer

is the author of Literary Miscellany: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Literature and Weird-O-Pedia: The Ultimate Book of Surprising, Strange, and Incredibly Bizarre Facts about (Supposedly) Ordinary Things.







This piece originally ran in Writer’s Digest magazine. For more from WD, check out the latest issue

—which features an exclusive dual interview with Anne Rice and Christopher Rice, and a feature package on how to improve your craft in simple, effective ways—in print, or on your favorite tablet.


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11. How to Find the Perfect Names for Your Characters

No matter what genre of fiction you write, be it horror like King or Lovecraft, crime like Patterson or Spillane, or more literary fare like Sontag, Roth, or Updike, there’s one very basic thing all fiction writers have in common—we love coming up with perfect place and character names, and we all (assuming you’re a fellow fiction writer) pull them from various sources.

I know some writers who seem to pull names of people, towns, rivers, roads, and ranches out of thin air, as if these fictional locales have always existed in the recesses of their minds. I can’t do that, and maybe you can’t either, so here are some ways I go about gathering names for the characters and places in my own books and stories.

The Book of Names

First of all, I suggest all writers get a fancy schmancy leather-bound notebook with a golden “The Book of Names” title written on the cover or spine. Something to make people who walk into your office and see it think it’s some sort of magical tome that predicts the fate of each and every creature who walks the earth, because in a sense, it is. Mine isn’t as fancy, just a beat-up spiral pad with the above title written in sharpie on the cover. Awe inspiring it is not, yet powerful it remains.

Road Trippin’

When I go on road trips, I take a pad and pen along, just like every other writer who has ever existed. I love the names of small towns, of valleys, and historical regions, and they all go into my Book of Names. The first time I did this as a young teenager, I felt as if I had stumbled upon a mine filled with diamonds. Just look at the place names I picked up on a drive from San Antonio to Corpus Christie, Texas: Castle Hills, Braunig Park, Poteet, Jim Brite Road, Whitsett, Choke Canyon, Three Rivers, Mathis, Beeville, Nueces Bay, and Mustang Island. To my ears, that’s a novel waiting to happen. It’s landscape poetry.

Spin the Globe!

Maybe not literally, as a globe doesn’t get too specific, but I am a map lover, and I love to open an oversized atlas to a random page and start scouring the landscape. There are always interesting little towns, rivers, lakes, and roads that no one outside of the 26 residents of page 65, grid section G-2 have ever heard of. For example, a little slice of the British Columbia, Canada reveals: Tom Thumb Mountain, Paddy Peak, Jack Peak, Klondike Highway, and Maude Lake. Not bad for the “middle of nowhere.”

Rest Your Name In Peace

Some may find this a little creepy, but I know for a personal fact that I’m not the only writer who does this. Visiting old cemeteries—especially those from the era and in the region of the story you are writing—can deliver perfect names for your pre-Revolutionary settlers, Depression-era farmers, or turn-of-the-century robber barons. I still recall the first time I saw the name Otis Havermayer on a tombstone. Now that guy sounds interesting. You can do the same thing without leaving home by reading the obituary pages in local newspapers. Or if you prefer to let the honorable departed take their names with them to the other side, old phone books in your local library are another trove of names, and they’re already in alphabetical order. How convenient!

Places as People/People as Places

Just as many people are named after months, seasons, holidays, and various flora and fauna, places are often named after people. So if you find a name that you like, you can use it for either. For example, I published a short story called “The Cards We Keep” about hobos traveling along the California coast in the 1940s, but I named the characters directly or partially after place names from where I grew up—the Hudson Valley region in New York, places such as Ghent, Wilbur Flat, Oriole Mills, Claverack, Chatham, and Whitlock. Not all of those characters made it into the final version, but as character names, don’t they give those hobos a delightful vagabond quality? I think so, and you can use the same trick with your own people and places.

And of course, you can always look up popular baby names online, but putting yourself to work to find the right name for the right character is often half the fun. The next time your plotting a novel chock full of characters and places, instead of firing up Google, hop in your car and drive down an unknown road, or head to the library with pen and notepad in hand, or take your red marker to a newspaper and start circling names. You never know where you’re going to find your own personal Otis Havermeyer!

Do you have a unique tip for finding the perfect character and place names? Share your thoughts below!

James Duncan is a content editor for Writer’s Digest. He is also the founding editor of Hobo Camp Review, poetry & prose from the road

, and is in the process of submitting a handful of novels to agents for traditional representation, just like everyone else on the planet. For more of his work, visit www.jameshduncan.blogspot.com.


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12. 13 Quirky Workplaces of Famous Writers

The following piece by Celia Blue Johnson is currently in the October 2013 issue of Writer’s Digest. Check out the full issue here.


Many great writers have found creative comfort while sitting at a desk. (Charles Dickens was so attached to his that he had its contents shipped to his vacation home.) But a surprising number of literary luminaries have ventured beyond the traditional perch to create their ideal writing spots, whether that meant stepping into a bathtub or trekking into the wilderness. Here are 13 of the most memorable.

• Every weekday, Wallace Stevens walked 2.5 miles to the offices of the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Co., where he served as vice president. Between his doorstep and the office door, Stevens composed poetry. He observed, “I write best when I can concentrate, and do that best while walking.”

• A 90-minute commute is a painfully tedious necessity for many people, but for John le Carré it was an uninterrupted opportunity to write. As an MI5 officer, le Carré spent his long train rides from Buckinghamshire to London penning his debut novel, Call for the Dead. Le Carré quipped, “The line has since been electrified, which is a great loss to literature.”

Sir Walter Scott crafted “Marmion,” his bestselling epic poem, on horseback, in the undulating hills near Edinburgh, Scotland. Though one might assume a leisurely pace is necessary for creative concentration atop a horse, Scott preferred to contemplate the lines of the poem at a faster clip. “I had many a grand gallop among these braes when I was thinking of ‘Marmion’,” he recalled.

Gertrude Stein discovered that the driver’s seat of her Model T Ford was a perfect place to write. Shopping expeditions around Paris were particularly productive for the writer. While her partner, Alice B. Toklas, ran errands, Stein would stay in their parked car and write.

D.H. Lawrence preferred to write outdoors, beneath the shade of a tree. He found a trunk to lean against wherever he went, from pine trees in New Mexico to great firs in Germany’s Black Forest. Discussing his predilection, Lawrence noted, “The trees are like living company.”

• In 1917, Virginia Woolf and her husband, Leonard, started a small publishing company in their basement. Despite the new venture, Woolf did not give up writing. Every morning she walked down to the basement, and strode past the printing press and into a storage room with a cozy old armchair. Her pen would fly while the press whirred in the next room.

Agatha Christie had two important demands for the renovation of her mansion. She informed her architect, “I want a big bath, and I need a ledge because I like to eat apples.” Christie constructed her plots in a large Victorian tub, one bite at a time.

• Instead of hopping in an actual tub, every morning Benjamin Franklin took what he called “tonic baths” in the open air of his bedroom—he’d shed his clothes and work naked, for up to an hour.

Edith Wharton spent her mornings in bed, but she wasn’t dozing. She’d sit up and work, still nestled beneath the covers, with an inkpot by one arm and a little dog snuggled near the other. Wharton let each page flutter to the ground, and the pile was later retrieved by a maid for the secretary to type.

Marcel Proust spent his nights writing in bed. However, the busy Parisian street outside his apartment window began to take its toll on his nocturnal routine: Noise drifted up to his room while he was trying to sleep during the day. Proust’s solution was to line the walls with cork, and it worked.

James Joyce, for several years, wrote in bed at night while lying on his stomach. He used a blue pencil and wore a white coat. According to Joyce’s sister, the coat “gave a kind of white light,” which helped the author, whose sight was failing, see the writing on the page.

Maya Angelou writes in the isolation of a hotel room. To ensure there are no distractions, she requests that everything be removed from the walls. Her own essential tools, which she brings into the bare room, include yellow pads, a dictionary, a thesaurus and a Bible. She used to also bring sherry and an ashtray.

Dame Edith Sitwell had a ritual of lying down before she set pen to paper. Rather than reclining on a bed or a couch, though, she chose to climb into an open coffin. In those morbidly tight quarters, the eccentric poet found inspiration for her work.

—Celia Blue Johnson is the creative director of Slice, a Brooklyn-based nonprofit literary magazine. She is the author of several books, most recently, Odd Type Writers: From Joyce and Dickens to Wharton and Welty, the Obsessive Habits and Quirky Techniques of Great Authors.




For more from WD, grab a copy of the latest issue. And if you need some help surviving and thriving in the writing life, check out James Scott Bell’s The Art of War for Writers

Successfully starting and finishing a publishable novel can be like fighting a series of battles—against the page, against one’s own self-doubt, against rebellious characters, etc. Featuring timeless, innovative, and concise writing strategies and focused exercises, this book is the ultimate battle plan and more—it’s Sun Tzu’s The Art of War for novelists.


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13. Review: Under a Graveyard Sky by John Ringo



Title: Under a Graveyard Sky

Author:  John Ringo


May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:


Zombies are real. And we made them. Are you prepared for the zombie apocalypse? The Smith family is, with the help of a few marines.

When an airborne “zombie” plague is released, bringing civilization to a grinding halt, the Smith family, Steven, Stacey, Sophia and Faith, take to the Atlantic to avoid the chaos. The plan is to find a safe haven from the anarchy of infected humanity. What they discover, instead, is a sea composed of the tears of survivors and a passion for bringing hope.

For it is up to the Smiths and a small band of Marines to somehow create the refuge that survivors seek in a world of darkness and terror. Now with every continent a holocaust and every ship an abattoir, life is lived under a graveyard sky.


When I saw Under a Graveyard Sky on Netgalley, I immediately clicked the request button.  I just can’t get enough of zombie books (you won’t catch me watching zombies shows, though – too gross!), and this sounded intriguing.  It takes place right as a plague is decimating the human population, causing chaos and countless, bloody loss of life.  The first 15% of the book felt a little draggy, as the author expounded on the science behind the man-made illness that was causing the infected to attack and eat their fellow humans.  The biology of it exhausted me, but not to worry!  Once things got underway with the out of control sickness, I was hooked, hooked, hooked!  I was reading this everywhere – when I was filling the gas tank, standing in line at the store, even making extended visits to the bathroom so I could have a little peace and quiet time away from the puppers so I could find out what happened next!

This is a blast to read.  The Smith family has fled to the sea in an attempt to escape the certain death that comes after contracting the virus, which is a modified form of  rabies.  The Smiths have been training for the end of the world for years, and they are more than prepared for the challenges ahead.  What they didn’t really count on was their daughters getting caught up right in the thick of things back on shore.  Steve’s brother has promised to keep the girls safe – and occupied – if they are allowed to help back in New York.  While this section of the tale didn’t make much sense to me, it did  get the action firmly moving forward.  Faith, the youngest daughter, seems to have a zombie beacon strapped to her back, because everywhere she turns, there’s another one, ready to bite her face off.  The fact that Steve and Stacey allowed their girls to go ashore once they were relatively safe on their boat didn’t seem like a smart idea to me, especially when they decide to go to a concert in the park. In the dark.  In the middle of a zombie apocalypse.   But no matter, it got my heart racing at the mere thought of being in that much danger, self-inflected or not, and made for very entertaining reading.

Once the family gets back on the water and sets sail for parts unknown, things really get nuts.  After rescuing a young girl, the only survivor after her family turns and tries to eat her, from their yacht, Steve has a new mission in life.  He isn’t going to take this zombie thing sitting down.  No way!  Steve is going to save as many people as he can, and take out as many zombies as he can, because there are people out there trapped and starving on boats just like Tina’s.  Now, I never stopped to think about what it would be like to be trapped in a cabin with no food or water while my family was locked outside, noisily eating each other.  Now that I have, well, I don’t know that being on a ship in the middle of the ocean would be such a good idea after all.  Especially if someone was infected, but we didn’t find out until it was too late.  What do you do?  Try to throw them overboard before they bite your brains out?  Not a pleasant thought, any way you contemplate it.

The sea rescues did get a little repetitive, at least until they got to the cruise ship.  Then it was Holy Crap, you have GOT to be kidding me!  How are a handful of people going to wade through that many zombies?  Despite some lags in pacing, I found this a fun, fun read.  The challenges faced by the small band of survivors made for compelling reading.  I couldn’t put my reader down, and I blew through this book in no time flat.  My one, major complaint?  Those three dreaded words on the last page – To Be Continued.  NO!! Really???  Why couldn’t there be just a teeny tiny bit of closure?!  The wait for To Sail a Darkling Sea isn’t THAT bad, but come on!  It won’t be out until February of next year!

Grade:  B+

Review copy provided by publisher

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14. Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction: An Interview with Philip Athans


With the release of our updated edition of Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, I figured it was the perfect time to catch up with one of our newest contributors to this classic tome from Writer’s Digest Books—the right honorable Philip Athans.

Phil was one of the first people we reached out to when we contemplated updating the book, and as the editor who worked with him, I must say I was highly impressed with his knowledge and passion for fantasy and science fiction, and also highly entertained by his advice and observations! Here are a few more questions I threw Phil’s way, and if you like what he has to say, you’ll find his contact information below, and you can read all about the newest, most exciting developments in the fantasy and science fiction genres in his chapter in Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction

—available now!

Writer’s Digest: What are some of the things that an apprentice writer within the genres of science fiction and fantasy typically “gets wrong,” or at least gets under your skin? Or, to put a positive spin on the question, what should a padawan scribe focus on if he or she wants to “get it right” when it comes to speculative fiction?  

Philip Athans: Your own rules you must follow, young Skywalker!

In terms of the SF and fantasy genres in particular, consistently applied internal logic is absolutely essential. Genre readers want to believe, and your readers are happy to suspend their disbelief while your characters travel through hyperspace or battle the twenty-headed liger, but where they’ll start to turn on you and begin to complain that your SF and fantasy is “unrealistic” is when your characters spend three days in hyperspace to travel eight light-years in chapter one then get home again in fifteen minutes in chapter nine. You’ve established that the trip takes three days, how can they suddenly go faster and why didn’t they do that before? Now our entirely created FTL drive is “totally unrealistic.”

And beyond the SF, fantasy, or horror genres, I continue to advise authors of ANY genre to spend real effort learning the CRAFT of writing. I’ve seen some manuscripts come across my desk that have interesting characters, unique settings, and creative original ideas, but the author obviously has no idea how to punctuate a sentence, the manuscript is riddled with run-on sentences and/or sentence fragments, and spelling and style rules are out the window. And honestly, there are very few (read: NO) editors and agents willing to wade through a sea of errors to discover the heart of your story. Read newer published books with an eye toward where the commas go, where the quotation marks come in and out, or better yet, find a good English class either at your current school or at your local college’s continuing education program. A lot of the rules of English grammar and usage are “made to be broken” but there’s a big difference between intentionally bending or even breaking a rule, and just not knowing the rule in the first place.


WD: If given the power to greenlight a summer blockbuster, what unrepresented or “unknown” (to the mainstream, at least) science fiction or fantasy book or series would you love to see on the big screen?

PA: In honor of the great Frederik Pohl, who just recently passed away, I’d love to see a $200 million dollar version of his classic novel Gateway, but that’s hardly “unknown.” In general I think that in the same way that special effects have finally caught up to the vision of the comic book writers and artists, there’s now a huge backlist of classic SF and fantasy novels just begging to be filmed. I could probably rattle off a hundred off the top of my head. But as for the more obscure or older titles, I’d love to see a TV series that mines the classic Ace SF Doubles for Twilight Zone-style episodes. Tonight’s episode… “Gunner Cade”!

Get goin’ Hollywood!


WD: Which speculative theme do you feel is the most played out at this point: zombies, vampires, or superheroes? Or do you think these still have a leg to stand on?

PA: To some degree, every trope is equally played out or fresh. I’ve been saying for almost twenty years that we need a ten-year moratorium on vampires, but then there’s 30 Days of Night and Let Me In, and I think, okay, THOSE were fantastic, but the rest are … whatever. Zombies had lost it for me, too, until The Walking Dead hit AMC. I’m starting to see an awful glut of minimally-creative post-apocalypse stories now, but again, it’s not the fault of the genre or the sub-genre but the author. If all you’re doing is assembling Teen Vampires vs. Zombie Apocalypse in a ‘one from column A, one from column B’ sort of way, then you’re going to end up with a lifeless blob of text. But if you have something original to say and use those archetypes in a fresh, creative way, nothing is ever entirely out of style or off limits.


WD: Who is the greatest science fiction or fantasy villain who has yet to become a household name in mainstream pop culture? Do you think this dog will have its day?

PA: The bigger mainstream audience has yet to be really effectively introduced to the drow of the Forgotten Realms world. With Hasbro now a force in the movie business post-Transformers, there’s more reason to hope for a Drizzt movie now more than ever, and I think that’ll be what it takes to make the drow, and in particular characters like Matron Baenre and Malice Do’Urden, into pop culture icons beyond the Salvatore/Forgotten Realms/D&D fan communities. These are smart, sexy, powerful, and Evil (with a capital E) women that, if portrayed correctly, will knock people’s socks off.


WD: What is the first book you read that made you think, “I have got to write something like this someday!”

PA: I had this great illustrated SF anthology when I was a kid and in it was a short story by Harlan Ellison called “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream” that literally made my head spin. That single short story took me from a kid who loved space opera entertainment and wrote and drew his own comic books to someone absolutely obsessed with the full spectrum of the genre. Harlan Ellison didn’t just raise the bar for writers of speculative fiction, he stole the bar, used it to beat people up, then jammed it into the genre sideways to permanently prop it open.


WD: Are there any new books or authors in science fiction or fantasy (or both!) have you excited? What are you reading right now?

PA: I’m always reading multiple books, jumping back and forth from five or six, and one of them tends to be some classic, golden age SF novel like Edgar Rice Burroughs’s John Carter of Mars, which I’m reading, and loving all over again right now. On the other end of the spectrum, I think Paolo Bacigalupi might save science fiction. If you haven’t read The Windup Girl, consider this an assignment. On the fantasy side, I’m eagerly awaiting the third book in J.M. McDermott’s Dogsland Trilogy and I will read anything by Catherynne M. Valente.


WD: Any new projects of your own around the corner?

PA: I’m hard at work on The Guide to Writing Monster & Aliens, a follow-up to The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction that’ll concentrate on monsters (of course). I love monsters of all genres and media, and I’m having a ball putting this together. My other current work-in-progress is a dark high fantasy that I have high hopes for. It’ll be full of demons, and I plan to take all my own advice on creating great monsters, and get as much additional advice as I can from some friends and associates, too. Writing the novel and the monster guide at the same time should make both of them better!

Philip Athans is the New York Times best-selling author of Annihilation and more than a dozen other books including The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, and the recently-released How to Start Your Own Religion and Devils of the Endless Deep. His blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook, (http://fantasyhandbook.wordpress.com/

) is updated every Tuesday, and you can follow him on Twitter @PhilAthans.


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15. Waiting on Wednesday–To Sail a Darkling Sea by John Ringo

Waiting On Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we’re eagerly anticipating.

I enjoyed the heck out of Under a Graveyard Sky, so I am quite eager to get my hands on To Sail A Darkling Sea by John Ringo.  Check back tomorrow for my review of the first book in his zombie apocalypse series!


BOOK II IN THE BLACK TIDE RISING SERIES FROM THE NEW YORK TIMES BEST-SELLING AUTHOR. Sequel to Under a Graveyard Sky. A family of survivors fights back against a zombie plague that has brought down civilization.
A World Cloaked in Darkness
With human civilization annihilated by a biological zombie plague, a rag-tag fleet of yachts and freighters known as Wolf Squadron scours the Atlantic, searching for survivors. Within every abandoned liner and carrier lurks a potential horde, safety can never be taken for granted, and death and turning into one of the enemy is only a moment away.
The Candle Flickers
Yet every ship and town holds the flickering hope of survivors. One and two from lifeboats, a dozen from a fishing village, a few hundred wrenched by fury and fire from a ship that once housed thousands…
Light a Flame
Now Wolf Squadron must take on another massive challenge: clear the assault carrier USS Iwo Jima of infected before the trapped Marines and sailors succumb to starvation. If Wolf Squadron can accomplish that task, an even tougher trial waits: an apocalyptic battle to win a new dawn for humanity. The war for civilization begins as the boats of the Wolf Squadron become a beacon of hope on a Darkling Sea.

What are you waiting on?

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16. Fall 2013 Studio Update Part THREE - Drink Blots!

Today I am skipping PART TWO of this series until later in the week and instead I'm bringing you Part Three today. Today's video features the set of Winter Whimsy Drink Blots coasters I did with Studio M/Magnet Works! Take a peek. I share a couple of ideas for ways to use them, too. (They're the coolest and they are more than just coasters!)

Come back tomorrow for another cool Christmas treat!!

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17. Kids!!!!


Childhood, The Grand Adventure! Kids just wanna have FUN!

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Draw a stick man.  That's it for today.

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19. Haiku on Instagram for National Poetry Month 2013

Here is a collection of my Instagram photos, updated daily. I am afraid you will have to click on the photo to go to Instagram to read the haiku. Unless I find a photo editor that works on my iPod and figure out how to put the haiku directly onto the image, that is. Anyone help with that? If you are using Instagram and know how to do it can you share? <!-- SnapWidget -->

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20. Spring! Cometh!




Winter is on the way OUT!  I say this as a huge storm is coming into Colorado right NOW!!  No, I did not go to the grocery store in freak out mode stocking my cupboards. Instead, I spent a bit of time today digging in my garden resisting the urge to acknowledge the storm at all!  ha!

Alas, tonight I will hunker down with my pens and paper and continue to work towards deadlines for up and coming trade shows. That is the good thing about storms!  They keep me focused.  I wonder how many artists are like me?

I have one problem.  I can’t seem to go out to my studio to work.  It’s covered with papers, receipts, file folders etc.  It is my new book-keeping system in progress. Eeeeek!  My friend is helping me set up my Quick Books program.  She entered all my checks, deposits etc, and sent me the disk. I bought the program, installed it, imported my files… … then I went to reconcile the two bank statements that my friend did not add and suddenly I am thirty dollars off!  What on earth?  What could I have done?

So, I did what I do best,  I locked the studio door and went in the house. ha!  My right brain is not in the mood for numbers!  Happy Spring everyone!


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21. A Warm Heart

What warms your heart on a cold day?  What warms your heart when the tides of change come crashing in?  What warms your heart when the” no’s” become overwhelming? What warms your heart when the crowd scatters and you are “Home Alone”?

I have a whole list of favorite things I like to look at periodically.  These are things that Warm My Heart.   I found myself smiling and even laughing. They are things I feel that God has blessed me with.  When I look at them I see stories! I see people, I see events…  and more.  Life is so much more than what we see during our day.  Life is a tapestry of stories that intertwine and make memories for us.  Some are so real we can almost re-live them just recalling them to our memories.

Favorite Things

  1. God my Father, Jesus my elder brother, the Holy Spirit my helper.
  2. All my Family
  3. Friends / art friends
  4. People
  5. Rosie and Violet
  6. Coffee with cream
  7. Purses
  8. Odd things for the house
  9. Floor Pillows
  10. Blankies
  11. Coffee Shops
  12. Art galleries
  13. Hankies
  14. Sketch books
  15. Lists
  16. Personal chef
  17. Trip to Maine and beyond
  18. Jeep
  19. Toys
  20. Children’s books
  21. Goat yogurt and blueberries
  22. Zinnias
  23. Colors : purply blue, raspberry, Yaya green
  24. Good movies with popcorn
  25. Breakfast in bed with a good magazine.
  26. grandsons!
  27. my SONS.
  28. a zillion best friends!
  29. colors
  30. the valley between Kenosha and BaileY
  31. the mountains
  32. a crackling fire in the stove
  33. falling snow
  34. deep snow and 4wheel drive
  35. My cozy studio
  36. a good book
  37. a comfy chair
  38. writing a story
  39. a bike ride . . …… and today…. Matthew!

Today’s Warm Fuzzy came from a friend.  She took this wonderful picture of her son sleeping with my Peepsqueak plush.  He is so cute!  Matthew is on my list!


What are your favorite things?  I am sure mine will grow!!

Filed under: Kicking Around Thoughts

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22. Deductive Detectives


“Eliminate all other factors, and the one which remains must be the truth,” Sherlock Holmes has said about his method of detective work. In Sylvan Dell’s new picture book, Deductive Detective, our hero Detective Duck shows that he’s learned from the best! He dons his best deerstalker hat, his much-too-big magnifying glass, and solves the case of the missing cake with the same methods the pros use!

That is, a style of logical thinking called “deductive reasoning.” In deductive reasoning, someone finds an answer they’re looking for by first finding out what the answer isn’t. When Detective Duck examines the clues and finds out which of his friends couldn’t have stolen the cake, it leads him closer to what really happened!

Of course, you don’t need a weird hat and a magnifying glass to use deductive reasoning. These methods come in handy every day! If you lose a toy, for example (or car keys), you may make your search easier by determining where the item isn’t.

“Oh yeah,” you may say, “I didn’t bring it to my friend’s house; I wasn’t holding it when I walked to the living room, or landed on the moon. I wouldn’t have brought it to my parents’ room or under the ocean or into Mordor.” By deciding where you shouldn’t look, you now have a better idea of where you should.

This kind of logic process happens throughout the day, sometimes without you even being aware of it; you might say your brain is always on the case as much as any detective!

Apply deductive reasoning the next time you’re in the bookstore: subtract the books that don’t meet the highest educational standards, offer pages of activities and facts, offer online supplements, are fun to look at and fun to read! You’ll be left with books by Sylvan Dell like The Deductive Detective!

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23. Join Me For A Cup?


There is nothing like a nice cup of steamy hot coffee with cream and conversation with friends.  Since all my friends are working or busy, I am having coffee with my other friends.  Today it is Toola.  … and no,  she is not sharing that second cup with me.  She likes two cups of coffee at one time.  It’s kind of hard to get her to sit down (obviously), but we must love our friends no matter what!!  It takes a lot of interesting people to make a world.    Enjoy your day!

~ Leslie Ann


Filed under: breakfast, morning, My Characters

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24. Cinco de Mayo!


photo by D. B. King

On May 5th, around the United States and Mexico, colorful decorations will hang, mariachi bands will play, and people will party in the street to celebrate Cinco de Mayo. This holiday celebrates Mexican culture – the music, the traditions, the food, but why, exactly, are we celebrating on this day? Some people think that Cinco de Mayo marks the day when Mexico became independent from Spain, or when the Mexican Civil War ended. Nope! Actually, Cinco de Mayo celebrates a battle in a war that Mexico lost!  

Mexico had a tough start as a country, enduring war after war, first against America in 1846, then against themselves in the Mexican Civil War. When all this was over, the country had spent so much on war that there was very little money for regular people to spend in their lives; in other words, the economy was hurt. As countries sometimes do, Mexico borrowed money from other nations in order to help itself. And, as friends sometimes do when you borrow a toy or book from them, those countries got tired of waiting for Mexico to give their property back and came over to collect. No, their moms didn’t drive them over in the van or anything like that; fleets of warships representing England, Spain and France crossed the Atlantic Ocean, entered the Mexican coastline and demanded that Mexico pay them back.

Mexico didn’t have the money to pay them though! What’s a young country to do?! All they had were vouchers to give to the representatives from these countries, papers that double-super-promised to someday pay them back. This satisfied England and Spain and they went home, but to France, this meant war! Sacre bleu!

Under the command of Napoleon III, France invaded Mexico with the intention to totally control it. They marched from the coastline to Mexico City, and on the way passed the small Mexican state of Puebla. The Mexican soldiers at Puebla were vastly outnumbered, but in this fight on May 5, 1862, called La Batalla de Puebla, Mexico somehow overcame the odds and defeated the French forces! Now that’s reason to celebrate!

France eventually managed to occupy Mexico, but they were delayed a whole year by this surprising Mexican victory. The shocking, underdog victory at Puebla has come to symbolize the Mexican spirit of resilience and tenacity. Therefore, on its anniversary every year, Mexico and places with many people of Mexican descent play Cumbia music, wave the Mexican flag, eat tamales, hit pinatas, and generally celebrate all things Mexico!

Of course, at Sylvan Dell we celebrate Mexican people and culture every day! Each and every one of our dozens of titles are available in Spanish, such as Los árboles de globos and La naturaleza recicla—¿Lo haces tú? and El detective deductive!


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25. Weekend Literary Festival


Illustrator Gregory Myers from Syndey, Australia sent in this illustration. He is a freelance illustrator. Studied under Czech artist Petr Herel at Canberra School of Art, and Akira Kurosaki at Kyoto Seika University. Hand-coloured scraperboard artworks like this has proven to be popular with his clients. www.gregorymyers.me

Mt. Airy Kids’ Literary Festival

Friday, May 17, through Sunday, May 19, 2013

Big Blue Marble Bookstore is proud to present its seventh annual Mt. Airy Kids’ Literary Festival! All events are FREE and open to the public!

This year, our festival includes events at the Color Book Gallery, 6353 Germantown Avenue (215-844-4200).

All Weekend

The Craft Table! Big Blue Marble Bookstore will have our special craft table open all weekend, stocked with brightly colored paper, collage materials, and all kinds of other supplies to create your own books! (In our Community Room, All Ages. Adult Supervision Required.)

Special Door Prizes! Winners will be randomly selected throughout the entire weekend to win free books, promotional goodies, and more. Stop by with your family and get a chance to go home with all kinds of special treats. (All Ages)

Friday, May 17

10:30am – Big Blue Marble Story Time with Amanda Hendricks. Join us for our regular Friday morning story time! (Ages 18m-4y)

6:30pm – Philadelphia Youth Poetry Slam. Share your words in a welcoming literary environment in the Big Blue Marble Bookstore cafe! Light refreshments will be served, and local poets will be invited to help decide the winners. Prizes include bookstore gift certificates for an overall winner, a middle school winner, and one runner-up. (Ages 12-18) Special Guest Judge/Host: Ms. Alyesha Wise

Alyesha Wise was raised in the city of Camden, N.J. She began writing at the age of 11 and eventually developed a passion 4 Poetry. The founder of “Love, Us,” she is on a mission 2 spark a LOVE REVOLUTION, holding a strong belief that unity and compassion is the healing force to all that exists. She’s the co-host of the longest running weekly open mic in Philadelphia, “Jus’ Words.” In addition, she’s the co-founder & co-host of “The Pigeon Presents: The Philadelphia Poetry Slam,” voted “Best of Philly” for Literary Activity in 2012, by Philadelphia Magazine.

Saturday, May 18

10:30am – Nature Yoga for Kids with Deirdre Vezirov-Kilkenny. Join yoga teacher Deirdre Vezirov Kilkenny as she reads from The Yoga Game, and incorporates yoga postures. (Ages 3-7)

Deirdre Vezirov-Kilkenny trained with the Radiant Child Yoga Program at Karma Kids NYC. She is also certified in Storytime Yoga levels 1 & 2 and Yoga4Teens, and has been teaching kids yoga since 2004.

Deirdre’s classes at Springboard Studio are 45 minutes on Tuesdays: Nature Yoga for 4-7 year-olds takes place from 4:00pm–4:45pm, and for 8-12 year-olds from 5:00pm–5:45pm. Spring classes will be April 2nd–June 4th. Nature Yoga for Teens and Tweens (10+) on Fridays from 4pm-4:45 pm this Spring will be April 4th–June 7th. The 10 session cost is $100; drop-ins are $12 per session. For information, call 267-241-4810 or e-mail natureyoga@comcast.net. Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/NatureYogaforKids.

11:15am – Festival Storytime with Lauren Grace. Come join us for a special Mt. Airy Kids’ Literary Festival storytime! Together we will sing songs, play games, and read some books, of course!  (Ages toddler to 4)

Lauren Grace is a local mom who enjoys knitting, sitting outside, laughing with her two daughters, and reading!

12:00pm – Harry Potter fun with Grace Gordon.

1:00pm – Afternoon Drawing Workshop with Mark Mattson. (Ages 6 and up)

Mark Mattson is a Philadelphia-based artist, writer, illustrator, and designer. A graduate of Columbus College of Art and Design, he also makes video games and kids’ products; and is a member of The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. He’s made everything from books based on famous red monster puppets, to Easter baskets starring martial-arts mutant turtles, to educational games prominently featuring deep-voiced tooth fairies. It is all true.

2:00pm – Reading and crafts with Ame Dyckman, author of Boy + Bot and Tea Party Rules. Join author Ame Dyckman for a cool Boy + Bot reading, with robot crafts and giveaways, and a special sneak peek into her forthcoming book, Tea Party Rules(Ages 4 and up)

Ame Dyckman

3:00pm – Creating Graphic Novels/Comic Books with Marta Rose and Judy McCoubry. Text (Ages 7 and up)

Festival Events at Color Book Gallery

All day – Face painting and activity table!

12:00pm – C. Getti, author of Bear’s Prayer

1:00pm – Melissa Conroy, author of Poppy’s Pants

2:00pm – Baba Abiodun, Storyteller

3:00pm – Rhiannon Richardson, author of Model Friendship

4:00pm – A. R. Bey, author of Netherworld of Kemet

Sunday, May 19

1:00pm – Reading with , author of .

10:30am – Music with Gina Ferragame! Join local musician Gina Ferragame for a fun-filled round of kid music and interactive fun. (Ages toddler to 5)

Gina Ferragame is a trained Music Therapist who has extensive experience working with children, special needs children, hospice care, and in-patient hospital care with emotionally disturbed adolescents. Gina is also a preschool Music Teacher in Mt. Airy, Philadelphia. “Music With Gina” is a class designed for babies/toddlers (ages 6mo to 3yrs) and caregivers. The intention for each class is to allow your little one the freedom to express themselves in a positive and compassionate setting through the use of movement, playing, and singing. Music classes are meant to enrich, enliven, and entertain your little ones! it’s just fun! 10:30am Tuesdays, Mt. Airy Yoga: 610 Carpenter Lane Philadelphia, 19119. $12 drop in $100 for 11 classes. Contact musicwithgina@gmail.com.

11:00am-12:00pm – Free Creative Writing Games Workshop with Cordelia Jensen. This workshop is for any kid who wants to get creative. We will play four or five writing games that focus on different aspects of the storytelling process, such as dialogue and character development. So, come and get wild with words! (Ages 7 and up)

Cordelia Jensen is a YA Writer; her novel in verse SKYSCRAPING is forthcoming from Philomel/Penguin. Cordelia graduated in 2012 with a MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Cordelia graduated from Kenyon College where she majored in English, with a Concentration in Creative Writing. Cordelia was Poet Laureate of Perry County in 2006 & 2007. She has also had nonfiction work appear in Literary Mama. Cordelia has worked with young people for most of her career; with a Masters of Education in Counseling, she has worked as a counselor, teacher and spent ten summers as a camp counselor in Central PA. She works at The Big Blue Marble Bookstore and loves being surrounded by books and people who love stories and language. Cordelia lives in West Mt. Airy with her husband, Jon, and twin seven-year-olds, Tate and Lily.

12:15pm – Reading with Kit Grindstaff, author of The Flame in the Mist. Join Kit for themed refreshments and a special reading from her new book The Flame in the Mist, a fantasy-adventure for fans of Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass. (Ages 9 and up)

Kit Grindstaff was born near London and grew up in the rolling countryside of England. After a brush with pop stardom (under her maiden name, Hain) she moved to New York and embarked on her career as a pop song writer. Kit now lives with her husband in the rolling countryside of Pennsylvania. She is a member of the SCBWI. The Flame In The Mist is her first novel. You can also find her at http://www.kitgrindstaff.com , http://www.facebook.com/kitgrindstaff  and on Twitter: @kitgrindstaff.

Check the Big Blue Marble Bookstore for additions and changes: http://bigbluemarblebooks.com/kidslit13.html

Talk tomorrow,


Filed under: Events, News, opportunity, picture books Tagged: Ame Dyckman, Big Blue Marble Bookstore, Fun, Kid's Literary Festival, Kit Grindstaff, Mt. Airy Phildelphia PA

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