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1. Thoughts on Veterans Day by Veteran’s Wife, Carrie Daws

by Sally Matheny

Photo: Carrie Daws
Today, I’m delighted to introduce to you, Carrie Daws. She’s the wife of a military veteran and a mother of three teens. An award-winning author of eleven books, Carrie uses words to encourage and equip.

After subscribing to Carrie’s wonderful blog, I won a choice of one of her books. I chose The Warrior’s Bride: Biblical Strategies to Help the Military Spouse Thrive. I loved it, and I’m not even a military wife! I also love her blog where she challenges “every Christian to live abundantly, to dream big with God, and to believe you are meant for more.”

Carrie kindly accepted my request to guest post here for Veterans’ Day. And, as usual, she has gone above and beyond the norm. She’s giving away an enormously generous gift. One reader will win five copies of The Warrior’s Bride: Biblical Strategies to Help the Military Spouse Thrive to distribute however they wish. More details about that later. For now, enjoy reading Carrie’s thoughts on Veterans Day.  
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2. A Night of Great Joy- Children’s Book Review & Giveaway

Photo: Make it A Night of Great Joy

Christmas is less than seven weeks away. Can you believe it?
Before the little ones become enraptured with twinkling lights and toy displays, snuggle them in for a story. The picture book, A Night of Great Joy, written and illustrated by Mary Engelbreit, would be a delightful choice. Allow me to share with you a little about the book, and how you can possibly win it.

This beautifully illustrated book is sure to captivate young children's attention. Engelbreit chose to tell the nativity story through a children’s Christmas pageant.  Children of all ethnicities, clad in colorful costumes, tell the story of Christ’s birth, on a stage using handmade props.
The story unfolds with one to three free verse sentences per page. The message is sweet and simple.
The illustrations are precious. Two children tug over a stuffed lamb. Another child seemingly wants to draw attention to herself. And one is an eager participant in the beginning, but later loses interest.
How fitting for Christmas to illustrate our sinful nature and our need for Christ.
Who wants to win this book?
All you have to do to get your name in the drawing is share something you’ve done, or plan to do, to help children focus on the Reason for the season.
I’ll announce the winner of the book on Saturday, Nov. 12. Leave a comment and get your name in the drawing!
**(Make sure you visit the blog on Veterans Day! I have a wonderful guest blogging for me that day and she has an AWESOME giveaway planned.) 


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3. Pablo and His Chair + Giveaways!

Meet Pablo and take an adventure in Delphine Perret's book as he travels the world!

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4. Guest Post: Author-Illustrator Ambelin Kwaymullina on Ethics, Process & Own Voices

By Ambelin Kwaymullina
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

The first of a four-installment dialogue with Ambelin and Cynthia. 

Our focus is on the creative life and process, speculative fiction, diversity, privilege, indigenous literature, and books for young readers.

I am an Aboriginal author, illustrator and law academic who comes from the Palyku people of Australia.

And I am an Own Voices advocate, by which I mean, I promote the stories told by marginalised peoples about our own experiences rather than stories told by outsiders.

I’ve written before that I don’t believe the absence of diversity from kids lit to be a ‘diversity problem.' I believe it to be a privilege problem that is caused by structures, behaviours and attitudes that consistently privilege one set of voices over another.

Moreover, the same embedded patterns that (for example) consistently privilege White voices over those of Indigenous peoples and Peoples of Colour will also work to privilege outsider voices over insider ones, at least to some degree.

The insider voices, of those fully aware of the great complexities and contradictions of insider existence, will always be more difficult to read and less likely to conform to outsider expectations as to the lives and stories of ‘Others’.

Insider stories can therefore be read as less ‘true’ or trap an insider author in a familiar double-bind – if we write of some of the bleaker aspect of our existence we’re told we’re writing ‘issues’ books; if we don’t we’re accused of inauthenticity.

I would like to think that as an Indigenous woman, I have some insight into marginalisation not my own. I have always thought that any experience of injustice should always increase our empathy and push us towards a greater understanding of injustice in other contexts.

But that does not mean my experiences equate to that of other peoples.

In an Australian context, I have said that I do not believe non-Indigenous authors should be writing Indigenous characters from first person perspective or deep third, because I don’t think a privilege problem can be solved by writers of privilege speaking in the voices of the marginalised.

And I apply the same limitation to myself in relation to experiences and identities not my own.

Ibi Zoboi recently wrote powerfully to the perils of the desire to ‘help’, noting that White-Man’s-Burdenism is not limited to White people. I run writing workshops for peoples who come from many different backgrounds of marginalisation, and as a storyteller, it is tempting to enact that instinct to ‘help’ into a narrative, to highlight the struggles of workshop participants in one of my own stories.

But between the thought and the action must come the process by which I determine if I am really helping at all.

So I ask myself, is the story mine to tell? The answer is no, of course; their stories are their own and their pain is not my source material.

The only way in which I would write from someone else’s perspective is in equitable partnership with someone from that group (where copyright, royalties and credit are shared).

This would not necessarily mean we each wrote half a novel. The other person may not write a word; their contribution could be in opening a window onto insider existence and correcting the mistakes an outsider inevitably makes.

I’ve had people tell me that this is the job of a sensitivity reader. But I am cautious about the boundaries of that relationship because I think there are cases where the input of an insider advisor infuses the narrative to such a degree that they are really a co-author and should be treated as such.

I don’t think the question is who wrote what words, but whether the story could have been told at all but for the contribution of the insider.

Someone once told me that I was restricting myself as a storyteller. I don’t believe I am.

I am acknowledging boundaries, but boundaries do not necessarily limit or restrict. Boundaries can define a safe operating space, for myself and for others, and respect for individual and collective boundaries is part and parcel of acknowledging the inherent dignity of all human beings.

I have begun co-writing a speculative fiction YA novel that is told from the perspectives of two girls: one Chinese, and one Indigenous. I am writing the Indigenous girl, and Chinese-Australian author Rebecca Lim is writing the Chinese girl.

The original idea for the story was Rebecca’s, but already it is changing as we each negotiate our own identities and experiences.

This is not a story that is restricted by boundaries; it is one that would not exist without them. In the writing of it, Rebecca and I are creating something that is greater than the sum of both of us – and in such stories, I see the future.

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5. Giveaway & New Voices: Erin Petti & Christina Soontornvat on How to Be a Debut Author

Christina & kiddos
By Erin Petti & Christina Soontornvat
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Today Erin and Christina talk about their new releases and lives as newly published authors.

Then offer tips as to how to survive and thrive your literary debut experience.

Erin Petti is the first-time author of The Peculiar Haunting of Thelma Bee (Mighty Media, 2016). From the promotional copy:  
Eleven-year-old budding scientist Thelma Bee has adventure in her blood. But she gets more than she bargained for when a ghost kidnaps her father. 

Now her only clues are a strange jewelry box and the word "return," whispered to her by the ghost. 

It's up to Thelma to get her dad back, and it might be more dangerous than she thought--there's someone wielding dark magic, and they're coming after her next.
 
Christina Soontornvat is the first-time author of The Changelings (Sourcebooks, 2016). From the promotional copy: 
All Izzy wants is for something interesting to happen in her sleepy little town. But her wish becomes all too real when a mysterious song floats through the woods and lures her little sister Hen into the forest...where she vanishes. 

A frantic search leads to a strange hole in the ground that Izzy enters. But on the other side, she discovers that the hole was not a hole, this place is not Earth, and Hen is not lost. 

She's been stolen away to the land of Faerie, and it's up to Izzy to bring her home.

CHRISTINA: The Peculiar Haunting of Thelma Bee (Mighty Media, 2016) hit the shelves this fall. Has life changed for you now that you are a published author?

ERIN: Life is busier now with events and all that good stuff, but I wouldn't trade it for anything.

Also, it's totally and completely amazing to walk into a bookstore and see something I wrote on the shelves.

Pretty much a lifelong dream come true!

CHRISTINA: Yeah, seeing my book on the shelf is still kind of a shock. When friends snap a photo of The Changelings (Sourcebooks, 2016) in a store halfway across the country, that’s when it hits me that all of this really happened.

Because otherwise life isn’t too different, you know?

It’s not like publishing a book gets you out of doing the laundry or the dishes! And meanwhile I can’t help putting even more pressure on myself to write the next thing.

ERIN: Oh absolutely, but writing that next thing is exactly what you have to do. That’s the biggest piece of advice I share with writers who are querying or about to debut - "keep writing!"

It took me a long time to write, revise, and query and there were moments where it was hard to get back to the actual writing part.

But the writing is really all you have control over so as long as you're creating and getting words on the page, you're doing your job.

Erin
CHRISTINA: That’s a good reminder – the author’s job is to write the books!

And you’re so right – there is a lot you don’t have control over, which can be stressful but also liberating in a way.

Speaking of “jobs,”you have a young daughter and another baby on the way as well as other work that you are passionate about.

How do you juggle life and writing?

ERIN: It's not super easy to schedule, and I've definitely had a measure of trouble keeping the house clean and my kid’s shoes on the right foot - but we're getting by.

My husband is more or less super-dad, and I rely on him an awful lot. But you are one to talk with your own work and two young kids!

CHRISTINA: Well, meeting other writers – like you – who have similarly jam-packed lives has been good for me. It’s a reminder that the vast majority of us have to purposefully and doggedly carve time out from our crazy lives to write, even after we get published.

Some days I get a couple hours, other days just enough time to jot down notes. But I’ve found that if I don’t write every day I get into trouble, and it’s harder to pick it back up. Oh, and I definitely gave up on having a clean house years ago!

Readers are going to fall in love with The Peculiar Haunting of Thelma Bee. Your book isn't just for the Halloween season, but it definitely explores the paranormal.

Do you have a favorite spooky scene from the book?

ERIN: One of my favorite scenes is when the three young heroes are walking alone through the cold, dark New England woods searching for a certain (possibly haunted) cottage.

I got to play with the environment a lot--exploring just what is lurking in those tall shadows--and it really shows the kids at their bravest.

CHRISTINA: And those illustrations really build the suspense! They remind me of Edward Gorey’s drawings, which I totally love.

ERIN: I love the illustrations, too! We’ve both talked about how we lucked out with our books’ art. Your beautiful cover jumps off the shelf! It definitely gives you the feeling that these fairies are no Tinkerbelles, that there is something darker going on.

CHRISTINA: Yes, the story was inspired by old folktales of fairies who steal babies and swap them with Changelings, so definitely a little dark. Their motivation for doing that was one of the most fun things to explore in the book. Why would they want human babies? And why would a Changeling sign up for that exchange?

Tips for Debut Authors

1. Enjoy the moment: As much as we hate to start things off with a sentiment that should be cross-stitched onto a pillowcase, this one happens to be very true.

Celebrate the big and small milestones – your first signing, seeing your book on the shelf for the first time. And then there will be a moment when a reader loves your book so much that they tell you.

Soak that in. Don't skim over the beautiful moments. You only do this debut thing once.

Christina with authors Lindsey Schiebe, Madeline Smoot & P,J, Hoover
2. Connect with a community: Other authors are the best and most supportive people to have in your corner, and sometimes the only way to maintain your sanity.

Twitter, conferences, and debut groups are wonderful ways to connect with other debut authors who are going through the same ups and downs as you are.

It also feels so satisfying to cheer on their successes and root for people whose books you love.

3. Turn that dang thing off: Social media can help keep you connected when you need it. But it can also suck the hours right out of your day – and time is going to be your most precious resource when your book comes out.

So as much fun as it is to chat and retweet clever "Stranger Things" gifs, know when to put down the phone and work/read/rest.

Social media can sometimes also make you feel like everyone in the world is getting a book deal/winning awards/getting a movie contract/selling millions of copies – everyone but you. If you ever feel that way, turn off that app for a little while, and see Tip #2.

4. Make it easy on your publicist: Your publicist will be your ally in helping to set up events, pitch you for conferences, and make connections for a blog tour.

But as much as they love you and your book, they will have other authors they are also working with and new books continuously coming down the pipe. Do what you can to help them help you.

During your first meeting or conference call, ask them for concrete ways you can help. Maybe you know of a local area children's book festival that your author friends rave about. Or perhaps your critique partner has a great blog and she wants to do a giveaway for you. Doing your research ahead of time will make everyone's jobs easier.

5. Get ready for things to change: Have you ever gone to a SCBWI Conference and sat next to a debut author who told you, "Just enjoy the freedom of not being published yet. You can write so unselfconsciously," and you wanted to stab them with the pen that came in your registration tote bag? Turns out there's a little bit of truth to that.

For a lot of authors, getting published creates this paradox of delusional thinking that now they will never be published again. I blame some of this on the overemphasis of "being a debut." and the accompanying feeling that once your debut is over, you are used goods.

But whatever the reason, there are expectations now, real and imagined, from you, your agent, your publisher about you as a professional author. And you may find yourself longing just a little for the days when you wrote just to write, and there was less expectation, less self criticism, more freedom. (But don't say that to unpublished writers at conferences. Those pens are sharp).

6. Get ready for things to be exactly the same: After the initial sparkly, Instagram-worthy swirl of launch date subsides, life is likely going to feel pretty same-ish.

Yes, there may be events and school visits, book signings and festivals. But for most of us, the bulk of our days will carry on as before.

Your non-writer friends will assume you are out shopping for a Tesla Roadster or having brunch with Ann Patchett when really you are cleaning a lint trap or scraping an exploded baked ziti off the oven door.

If in that moment you think to yourself, "I shouldn't be doing this – I'm a published author," you are in big trouble.

7. Keep writing: The best way to simultaneously get over your anxiety and celebrate your newfound authordom is to write more things.

If you have gotten to this point of having a book published, you must love the work of writing. There is no other reason that a sane person would endure the long, unpaid hours, the sting of rejection letters, the glacial delay of gratification, if that person didn't love to write.

You may have to write more things because you signed a contract for another book. If so, lucky you! But even if that's not the case, start on a new project before your debut comes out. You may have to set it aside during the busy days of your launch, but it will feel so good to open up your laptop and have something ready and waiting for you.

8. Find joy in other things: These things may be hobbies or your day job or your daily walk, or art museums or jiu jitsu. Or they may be people, like your spouse or your friends or your children.

These things matter very much, just as much as writing. And unlike writing, these things will hug you and they will eat your cruddy, over-baked ziti. And when you are having a hard day, they will hold up your new book and smile and say, "Look what you did! You did this!"

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6. Heart Maps: A Review and a Giveaway

"My hope is that as you explore heart mapping with your writers, you will fall in love with the stories and poems, truths and courage that will unfold--both theirs and your own." Georgia Heard in her newest book, Heart Maps.

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7. Operation Birthday Celebration--Book Review & Giveaway

 by Sally Matheny

Photo: Operation Birthday Celebration--
A Journey to the Manger


I stumbled upon a gem for you all while reading Vonda Skelton’s blog the other week. 


She was interviewing author/illustrator, Angelika Martin, about her Christian children’s book, Operation Birthday Celebration—A Journey to the Manger.








I knew I wanted to review this book when the author said,

“Christian parents want creative resources that capture a child’s imagination and fuel curiosity while staying true to biblical teaching. Operation Birthday Celebration is entertaining while supporting Christian values and doctrine.”

Martin initially wrote the book for her grandchildren because she “didn’t want Christmas hijacked by an elf.” 

Soon, however, other families, and writing professionals, were reading her book. They highly recommended she offer it to the public. I think many Christian families will be glad to hear Martin has Operation Birthday Celebration ready to go for Christmas 2016.

So many things make this book special.
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8. New Voice & Giveaway: Donna Janell Bowman on Step Right Up: How Doc and Jim Key Taught the World About Kindness

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Donna Janell Bowman is the first-time author of Step Right Up:  How Doc and Jim Key Taught the World About Kindness, illustrated by Daniel Minter (Lee & Low, 2016). From the promotional copy:

A Horse that can read, write, and do math?

Ridiculous! 

That’s what people thought until former slave and self-taught veterinarian Dr. William Key, with his “educated” horse Beautiful Jim Key, proved that, with kindness, anything is possible. 

Over nine years of exhibiting across the country, Doc and “Jim” broke racial barriers, fueled the humane movement, and inspired millions of people to step right up and choose kindness.

What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

This question ties so perfectly into my belief that there’s a piece of us in everything we write.

In 2006, I read a book about Beautiful Jim Key, authored by Mim Eichler Rivas (William Morrow 2005/Harper Paperbacks 2006). It was a given that I would be drawn to a horse book. I grew up on a Quarter Horse ranch, where life revolved around raising, training, and showing horses, and caring for the myriad livestock and other animals. I have always been an animal lover, and I know firsthand how powerful the human-animal bond can be—how the combination of time, trust, and affection can create such synergy that you can practically read each other’s minds.

Courtesy of Tennessee State Library and Archives.
That kind of relationship bonded William “Doc” Key and his horse, Beautiful Jim Key. While the horse was what drew me to the story, I was immediately awed by Doc. His greatest historical contribution was an unmistakable message about kindness, in a time of extreme racial prejudice, and brutal treatment of animals.

How could I not love the story of a man who overcame so much to make a real difference in the world?

Thanks to Doc, “Jim,” the horse, became a sort of poster child for the emerging humane movement, while Doc overcame injustices, broke racial barriers, and helped change the way people thought about and treated animals. Doc was awarded a Service to Humanity Award, and Jim was awarded a “Living Example” award.

So, back to your question, Cyn, about what inspired me to write this story—it spoke to my heart. I dived into research with zeal.

What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, logistical) in bringing the text to life?

There were a number of challenges to writing this story, but three that most stand out:

First, the research. It was claimed that Beautiful Jim Key could read, write, calculate math problems, compete in spelling bees, identify playing cards, operate a cash register, and more. I had to get to the bottom of how this could be possible.

I used the adult book as my jumping off point, but I wasn’t satisfied to rely solely on somebody else’s research.

This is a story that straddles the 19th and 20th centuries, so I read a great deal about the period, including slavery, the Reconstruction Era in the distinct regions of Tennessee, the history of the humane organizations; the related World’s Fairs, Doc’s business interests, etc.

Emotionally, the most difficult part was reading about how animals were treated in the 19th century, and, more importantly, how enslaved people were often treated with similar brutality. Only a tiny fraction of my research appears in the book’s back matter, but it all deeply affected my approach to the story.

I visited the Shelbyville (TN) Public Library and skimmed through their microfilm. Then I spent some time at the Tennessee State Archives, donning white gloves as I perused the crumbling scrapbooks from the BJK collection.

During that 2009 trip, I also visited the humble Beautiful Jim Key memorial in Shelbyville, TN, and Doc’s grave site at the Willow Mount Cemetery. (I might have shed a few sentimental tears.) We then tracked down what I think was Doc’s former property, though the house is long gone.

This kind of onsite research, along with old photos and local news accounts, allowed me to imagine the setting of Doc’s hometown. Back home, I collected binders-full of newspaper articles, playbills, and promotional booklets. Through these, I got a feel for how people thought about Doc and Jim.

And, most importantly, I found some of Doc’s explanations for how he taught the horse. What became clear was, though we may never know exactly how the horse was able to do so many remarkable things, the countless news reporters and professors who tried to prove trickery or a hoax, never found anything beyond “education.” Jim only rarely made mistakes.

Ultimately, what Doc and Jim did for the humane movement is even more significant than what the horse performed on stage.

Originally, I had planned the story for middle grade audiences until my agent (who wasn’t my agent yet) suggested that I try a picture book version. I already had half of the chapters written by this time, so I was aghast at the thought of starting over. And I didn’t know how to write a picture book biography. I spent the next two years analyzing and dissecting a couple hundred picture book biographies to figure out how they work.

I decided to blog about some of my craft observations, using the platform as a quasi-classroom for myself and anyone else who might happen upon my site.

Many, many, many drafts later, I had a manuscript that attracted the attention of a few editors. Lee and Low was the perfect home for Doc and Jim.

There was a built-in challenge in writing this story about a formerly-enslaved African American man. Because I don’t fit any of Doc’s descriptors, it was doubly important that I approach the subject with respect and sensitivity.

I couldn’t merely charge through with the mindset that I’m just the historian sharing documented facts.

How are you approaching the transition from writer to author in terms of your self-image, marketing and promotion, moving forward with your literary art?

It is so exciting to finally be crossing the threshold into this new role. The past nine years, which is how long I’ve had the story in my head and in my heart, have felt like the longest-ever pregnancy.

There’s a mixture of joy, relief, and fear during this delivery stage. Fortunately, so far, very nice starred reviews have praised the book, and each reviewer wisely sings the praises of Daniel Minter’s spectacular lino-cut acrylic art.

As I think ahead to marketing and promotion, I’m planning for the Oct. 15 release, the Oct. 23 launch party, and how the book might raise awareness of the need for more kindness in the world—not only toward animals but toward each other.

From my very first draft, nine years ago, I knew I’d revive the original Beautiful Jim Key Pledge—originally signed by two million people during Doc and Jim’s time.

I plan to incorporate the pledge into my author presentations, and it will be downloadable from my website soon. I also hope to align with some humane organizations to help them raise awareness.

I have two more books under contract, several others on submission or in revision, and a novel-in-progress.

In 2018, Peachtree Publishers will release En Garde! Abraham Lincoln’s Dueling Words, illustrated by S.D. Schindler, followed in 2019 by King of the Tightrope: When the Great Blondin Ruled Niagara, illustrated by Adam Gustavson.

Such is the author’s life, right? We write, we rewrite, we revise, we sell, we wait, we celebrate, then we do it all over again. Because we can’t imagine not writing something that moves us. And we can’t imagine not writing for young people.

Cynsational Giveaway

Book Launch! Join Donna Janell Bowman at 3 p.m. Oct. 23 at BookPeople in Austin. Donna will be speaking and signing.

Fundraiser: Step Right Up and Help The Rescued Horses of Bluebonnet Equine Human Society: "They are horses, donkeys, and ponies that are helpless and hopeless. And they are hurting. The lucky ones land at Bluebonnet Equine Humane Society. Under the loving care of professional staff and volunteers, the animals are medically and nutritionally rehabilitated, then placed with trainers to prepare them for re-homing/adoption." See also Interview: Step Right Up Author Donna Janell Bowman by Terry Pierce from Emu's Debuts.

Enter to win two author-signed copies of Step Right Up:  How Doc and Jim Key Taught the World About Kindness by Donna Janell Bowman, illustrated by Daniel Minter (Lee & Low, 2016).

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9. 66 Ways God Loves You Book Review & Giveaway

by Sally Matheny

66 Ways God Loves You Book and Tote Bag
Oh, dear friends, I want to share with you about a wonderful book I’m reading. And, I’ll tell you later how one of you can win the book, plus a matching tote bag!

Jennifer Rothschild infuses her new book, 66 Ways God Loves You, with beautiful wisdom and loving thoughts.
  
Her passion comes from her own understanding of the Bible.

“One profound, unavoidable, irreducible, soul-quaking effect—I feel the love of God.
I want that for you too. God deeply loves you—He loves you with an everlasting love.
So God tells you in sixty-six ways . . . in each and every book of the Bible.”




Rothschild points out God’s message of love from Genesis to Revelation. Two to three pages are devoted to each book of the Bible. The passages are scripture-infused meat, but concise enough to be read in five or ten minutes. It’s a perfect beginning or ending to your daily Bible reading.

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10. Exclusive Interview with Ross Welford, author of TIME TRAVELING WITH A HAMSTER -- and a Giveaway!



Time Traveling With a Hamster by Ross Welford (Schwartz & Wade, 2016)

(See my review in last week's post.)


Ross Welford, author of Time Traveling With a Hamster, kindly agreed to answer three questions for My Brain on Books.



Ross Welford, from his Twitter account


1) Your time travel rules make so much sense I actually believed time travel was possible. How did you come up with these rules? 

Thank you for noticing!  Time travel is - I discover - a nightmare to plot, so it’s nice to hear I got it right.  The main thing I had to invent was “Dad’s Law Of Doppelgängers” - the rule that states you can occupy a bit of space-time only once.  This came from necessity, really.  Let’s say you have a time-machine and, like Al, you go back in time and create a big disaster...  (I’m being careful with spoilers here: if you’ve read it you’ll know what I mean).  So what’s to stop you getting back into your time-machine, and travelling back in time again and putting it right?  I’d end up with a sort of time travelling Groundhog Day.   I did not want Al to be able to do that.  There was another thing in my mind as well, and that was Back To The Future.  I love those films, but I wanted to avoid too many similarities.  I’m especially thinking of the scene where Marty sees himself playing guitar at the school dance.  I did not want Al to meet himself.  (Why not?  Dunno, just didn’t.)  Out of that grew the doppelgänger ‘rule’ and once I’d worked it out, it actually kind of made sense!  Time travel is, obviously, a fantasy - but I think it’s quite a powerful fantasy, and it was fun to try to make it seem real, if only for the duration of the story.


2) This is your debut novel and I'm most impressed. Tell us briefly about your writing journey. Were there other (unpublished) books you wrote along the way? How did you find your agent?

About seven years ago I studied part-time for an MA in Screenwriting.  Until then I had written virtually no fiction ever.  Screenwriting’s a hard gig, though, and I did nothing with the MA I gained.  So in 2013, I started a story about a kid who finds a time portal in a cupboard at school.  Then I stopped at about 20,000 words, stuck on where to go next.  My local adult ed center was running a course based on NaNoWriMo, the writing club that hauls you through a 50,000 word draft in a month.  That was November.  After a couple more drafts, by spring 2014 it was the story we now have, more or less.  Different title, different ending, but still…

So, I knew that I had to start sending it out there, but I knew no one in publishing and sent out about four and then...  A friend at a party said that he happened to know someone who worked at the literary agency Peters, Fraser & Dunlop (I had never heard of them, knowing next to nothing about publishing). So I sent it off and waited, and waited, and waited….  And then things happened very quickly.  In December, I received a call from Silvia Molteni from PFD who took me on as a client straight away, and about three months later I had a two-book deal with Harper Collins, UK.  Shortly after that, it was sold to the US. (Schwartz & Wade, Penguin Random House).  A second book, What Not To Do If You Turn Invisible will be out in the UK early 2017.

Yay! 

(And an aside here to fellow writers:  I do realize that this is far from typical and that I have been very fortunate.  Sorry!)

3) You're right, Ross. That's far from typical! But congratulations! Now, could you briefly describe your writing space? Was it plastered with charts and timetables a la A Beautiful Mind while you were writing TIME TRAVELING WITH A HAMSTER? 


Early on, I did try plotting with yellow post-its arranged on a large glass door, and then I tried color-coding for when the action was in 1984!  It just got in the way though, and I found I didn’t need it. Quite a lot of Al’s adventures were unplanned - inasmuch as I didn’t know when I started writing the book that he would get into the scrapes he does.  Instead of post-it notes, there were lots of scribbled notes with arrows and crossings-out.  When I submitted the final draft, I was certain there were no errors in the timeline.  The editors found two - thankfully easily fixed.  Hurrah for copy editors!

They certainly did a great job. Thanks for stopping by, Ross. 

Giveaway details: The publisher has generously offered one hardcover copy for a giveaway. To enter, you must be a follower of this blog and you must comment on this post. If you mention this giveaway on social media, please let me know and I'll give you extra chances. This giveaway is open to U.S. mailing addresses only. Giveaway ends Sunday October 16th at 10 pm EDT and the winner will be announced on Monday October 17th. Good luck!


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11. Nerdy Birdy: A Review & Giveaway

When I first opened Nerdy Birdy by Aaron Reynolds, I was not (yet) reading it with the eye of a writer.  I was way too smitten with the bird on the front cover.  I mean,… Continue reading

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12. Giveaway- THE UNICORNE FILES by CHRIS D'LACEY

Hey, it's been a long time since I had a giveaway for you...but here one is! To celebrate today's release of A Crown of Dragons, the last book in the series of The Unicorne Files by Chris d'Lacey, Laura from Chicken House has kindly offered the chance to win the whole trilogy!



A Dark Inheritance: When Michael Malone discovers his supernatural ability to alter reality, he is recruited by an organization dedicated to investigating strange and paranormal phenomena. He joins in hopes of finding his father, who mysteriously vanished three years earlier. Michael's first task is to solve the mystery of a dog he rescued from a precarious clifftop -- a mystery that leads him to a strange and sickly classmate and a young girl who was killed in a devastating accident. Stakes are high as Michael learns to harness his newfound ability and uncover the deadly truth about his father's disappearance.

Alexander's Army: After the success of his first assignment from the UNICORNE agency, fourteen-year-old Michael Malone is given another unexplained mystery to solve. When UNICORNE detect strange goings-on in a comic book shop, Michael is sent to investigate- a task which is made all the more difficult by allies he can no longer trust, and an enemy he can't actually see.

A Crown of Dragons: Michael, a special agent for the secretive UNICORNE agency, embarks on his most dangerous mission yet: investigating the artefact his father was researching before he disappeared. But the truth is darker than he could’ve imagined. His father is lost in an alternative reality, and Michael is the only one with the power to save him...


If you'd like to enter, use the Rafflecopter below. Entry is open to residents of the UK, Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, and entry closes at 12am on Friday 10 June. Winner will be chosen some time on Friday.

Good luck!
a Rafflecopter giveaway


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13. Added to the List #24 & Road Trip Reading #1 & Weekend Reading #9 & Giveaway



Last week I was so excited to get this pack of Lisa Graff books in the mail.  She is a staple here in my library, perfect for middle school readers.  I read Umbrella Summer years ago and enjoyed it greatly.  I haven't read any of hers so this weekend, while I am at my sons' soccer tournament (a three hour drive away).  So I am taking A Tangle of Knots and A Clatter of Jars with me on the trip.  And, I already had Lost in the Sun checked out from my library to read over the summer, so I was very excited to get my own copy.  I will be reading that this summer as well!


Penguin has graciously offered to let me giveaway a set of Lisa's paperbacks:  A Tangle of Knots; Lost in the Sun; and Absolutely Almost.  Fill out the form below if you'd like to win your own copies of these awesome books!


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14. DIY Literacy: A Review & Giveaway

DIY Literacy will give you the tools you need to reach all your students

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15. My Thoughts: A Tangle of Knots by Lisa Graff

4 yummy yellow cupcakes with chocolate frosting.

Cover Love:  I love this cover, it's colorful and whimsical and includes so many elements from the book.  I adore it!

Why I Wanted to Read This:
When this book first came out, I saw a lot of comparisons to Savvy, which was a book I adored.  It went on my TBR list, but I wasn't able to get it read until now.  Wish I had started sooner!  Here is the synopsis from GoodReads:

Told in multiple viewpoints, A Tangle of Knots is a magnificent puzzle. In a slightly magical world where everyone has a Talent, eleven-year-old Cady is an orphan with a phenomenal Talent for cake baking. But little does she know that fate has set her on a journey from the moment she was born. And her destiny leads her to a mysterious address that houses a lost luggage emporium, an old recipe, a family of children searching for their own Talents, and a Talent Thief who will alter her life forever. However, these encounters hold the key to Cady's past and how she became an orphan. If she's lucky, fate may reunite her with her long-lost parent. 
Romance?: No.

My Thoughts:

I really enjoyed this book.  The style it is written in makes for a quick and easy read:  short chapters told from different points of view.  The author nails all of the characters voices.  I love that the Talents each person can be simple, like accurate spitting, or more advanced, like baking the perfect cake for a person.  I bet the author had a great time deciding how people in this world can be Talented.

I loved little Cady and rooted for her through the whole book.  But while Cady felt like the main character, this was a book with multiple characters whose storylines are woven together so smoothly.  It was easy to keep track of who was who and what each one was doing.  And while I was able to make some educated guesses about where the story was going to end up, I was constantly and pleasantly surprised by the turns in the story.  And I LOVED how everything was woven together so beautifully at the end!

And all the recipes!  I am going to try some of these cakes.  Look for a future "Food From Fiction" post on that!

To Sum Up:  Awesome middle grade read.  This one is easy to get into the hands of the younger readers in my school!

Remember to enter my giveaway for a pack of Lisa Graff paperbacks!  Check out this post to enter.

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16. A Giveaway and A Review of Sarah Young’s Book: Jesus Calling-My First Bible Storybook

by Sally Matheny

Jesus Calling My First Bible Storybook
by Sarah Young
Today, I’m reviewing a captivating, little book for young children, Jesus Calling- My First Bible Storybook. I’m also giving away a copy! Be sure to read for the details below.

First, I want to mention the beautiful illustrations in this book. Antonia Woodward's use of color and soft lines are friendly and captivating! This forty-page, board book is full-color, cover to cover.

Best-selling author, Sarah Young, presents twenty Bible truths in this book using scriptures taken from The International Children’s Bible. 

The twenty stories are representative of most toddler storybooks. They include:

God Made Everything, Noah’s Big Boat, Baby Moses, the Ten Commandments, David and Goliath, Jonah and the Big Fish, Daniel and the Lions, Queen Esther is Brave, Jesus is Born, Jesus is Baptized, A Little Boy’s Lunch, Jesus Calms the Sea, The Prodigal Son, Jesus Loves Children, Zacchaeus, The Cross, Jesus is Alive, Jesus is Coming Again, and God’s Family.   

After the title, is the chapter(s) in the Bible where the story originates. The stories are written in a simple text so young children can easily understand them. 

Unlike Young’s other Jesus Calling books, this one is not primarily written as if Jesus is talking to you. There are approximately six, short sentences telling the story and most include some dialogue.

Then, there's just one “Jesus Calling” sentence that correlates to a scripture, which is also given.

Here's an example found at the end of a shortened version of The Prodigal Son story (Luke 15):

     Jesus Calling: When you tell Me you are sorry, I will always forgive you.

     1 John 1:9  “If we confess our sins, he will forgive our sins.”



I like this book and believe it to be Christ honoring. I love the illustrations and the multiple scriptures provided. Also, I appreciate the reference given for each story so older readers can go read the full text in the Holy Bible.

It’s a beautiful book containing appropriate portions of God's Word for toddlers.



Would you like a chance to win this book for a little one in your family?

I’m trying to get my words of encouragement out to a wider range of folks. You can help by sharing this blog with others by word of mouth, or with the click of a computer key.

Everyone who enters their email address into the “Follow by Email” box located on the right side of this page, will be entered into the drawing.

When I write something new on the blog, it will come to you in your email. I know what it’s like to receive more emails than you have time to read. so you’ll only get about one email a week—never more than two. 
  
If you already receive my blog posts in your email box, thank you, and you are still eligible to win. All you have to do is leave a comment below stating you are already on the email list. 

It’s as simple as that. :)


Enter by June 30, 2016. The winner will be announced Friday, July 1, 2016.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers <http://booklookbloggers.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. 

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17. A CLATTER OF JARS by Lisa Graff -- and a Giveaway!



A Clatter of Jars by Lisa Graff (May 2016, Philomel, 224 pages, for ages 8 to 12)

Synopsis (from Indiebound): In this magical companion to the National Book Award nominee A Tangle of Knots, it's summertime and everyone is heading off to camp. For Talented kids, the place to be is Camp Atropos, where they can sing songs by the campfire, practice for the Talent show, and take some nice long dips in the lake. But what the kids don't know is that they've been gathered for a reason, one that the camp's director wants to keep hidden at all costs.

Meanwhile, a Talent jar that has been dropped to the bottom of the lake has sprung a leak, and strange things have begun to happen. Dozens of seemingly empty jars have been washing up on the shoreline, Talents have been swapped, and memories have been ripped from one camper's head and placed into another. And no one knows why.

With a camp full of kids, a lake full of magic, and a grown-up full of a secrets, "A Clatter of Jars" is a story of summer, family, and the lengths we go to win back the people we love.

Why I recommend it: I've been a fan of author Lisa Graff since Umbrella Summer and it's been awe-inspiring to watch her talent grow over the years. I love the magical realism of this perfect summer tale. And I adore how it all comes together in the end. You don't need to read A Tangle of Knots to appreciate this fun and sophisticated summer camp yarn, since it's about different characters, but it adds to your enjoyment if you're familiar with the first book and the Talented world Lisa Graff has created. And Cady makes a cameo appearance here!

Favorite lines: Memory is a curious thing. Some details stick in our minds like peanut butter on crackers, and refuse to budge, as much as we might wish they would. (from p. 51)

Bonus: Plenty of diversity among the large cast of characters. Plus... recipes! This time for refreshing summer drinks.

Giveaway details: Thanks to the generosity of the publisher, I have one hardcover copy of A Clatter of Jars to give away, along with a paperback of A Tangle of Knots (and if you're the lucky winner and you've already read A Tangle of Knots, I could substitute another Lisa Graff paperback). To enter, all you need to do is follow my blog and comment on this post. If you tweet about it or mention it on social media, please let me know and I'll give you extra chances. This giveaway is open to mailing addresses in the US and Canada ONLY and ends at 10:00 pm EDT on Sunday July 24. Winner to be announced on Monday July 25. Good luck!

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18. July 2016 Bartography Express: “Then my obsession with all-things-coyote began”: Maria Gianferrari & Bagram Ibatoulline’s new picture book

To get Bartography Express in your inbox each month — and to have a shot at the August giveaway of 88 Instruments, my new book with illustrator Louis Thomas — you can sign up on my home page.

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19. New Blog Series: Starting with What Matters Most in Writing Workshop

Over the next eight days, my friends and I at Two Writing Teachers will share what goes into developing writers who work with agency, purpose, and independence in our Blog Series: Starting With What Matters Most. Set a reminder or mark your calendars, you won't want to miss a day of these timely posts.

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20. Blog Tour: My Thoughts: The Secret Sea by Barry Lyga


4 yummy frosted maple cookies.

Cover Love:
I really like this cover, I think it would make kids want to pick up this book.

Why I Wanted to Read this:
I really like a good alternate universe book and the synopsis of this one seemed right up my alley.  Here it is from GoodReads:

Twelve-year-old Zak Killian is hearing a voice. Could it be a guardian angel? A ghost? No, that's crazy. But sometimes the voice is so real. . . . It warns him of danger.

One day Zak is standing on the subway platform when the tunnel starts to fill with water. He sees it before anyone else. The voice warns him to run. His friends Moira and Khalid believe this is more than a premonition, and soon all three find themselves in an alternate universe that is both familiar and seriously strange. As Zak unravels the mystery behind the voice, he faces decisions that may mean the end of their world at home--if they can even get home!

My Thoughts:
Overall this was a great read.  There were a few things in the beginning that made it a little hard fro me to get into but once I was over that hump, the book flew.

One of the things that bothered me a ton were Zak's parents.  They were so frustrating.  They were convinced that Zak was doing "bad" things so rather than talk with him, they ground him.  Then they get him a psychiatrist, but are more into blaming each other for his behavior than really getting him help. It was very hard to get over this because every scene with them made me want to throw the book!

After a pretty slow start a little twist happens that caught my interest.  Once that came about, I was much more into the book.  Once they got to the alternate universe, I was very into the book.  The author set up a great world with the alternate universe.  There are a lot of similarities between our world and the one that Zak and his friends get to, but enough differences that cause them to be very lost and confused.  The rules of the new world and society are very different than ours and they don't have a lot of time to learn them.  The author did a great job of conveying their confusion and fear.  This new universe is very technologically advanced to us and open to a lot of new ideas, but they are also very backwards in some issues.  I was glad that Khalid was able to find an ally once they got to the alternative universe and thankfully it was one willing to believe and help out.  Giving them a guide was very important.

From the start of their time in the alternate universe I felt something was off in the story Zak was being told.  I'm not sure if this was because I'm an adult and I consume a lot of content, so I'm pretty quick to develop theories, or if it was easy to deduce.  I would like to chat with someone from the target audience after they read it to see if they jumped to the same conclusion that I did.

There is a lot of action and I guess what I would call "speculative science" in the alternate universe.  None of it was over my head and the story moved along very quickly.

To Sum Up:  I think this is going to be a big hit with middle school readers.  I will be buying a copy for my library and book talking it this fall.  I already have my first reader for this story picked out and I know he will love it.

Macmillan is giving away a finished copy of The Secret Sea to one of my readers.  US only, winner will be announced on August 29.  Loading... Read the rest of this post

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21. THE GALLERY by Laura Marx Fitzgerald -- and a Giveaway!



The Gallery by Laura Marx Fitzgerald (June 14, 2016, Dial Books, 336 pages, for ages 9 to 13)

Synopsis (from the publisher): It’s 1929, and twelve-year-old Martha has no choice but to work as a maid in the New York City mansion of the wealthy Sewell family. But, despite the Gatsby-like parties and trimmings of success, she suspects something might be deeply wrong in the household—specifically with Rose Sewell, the formerly vivacious lady of the house who now refuses to leave her room. The other servants say Rose is crazy, but scrappy, strong-willed Martha thinks there’s more to the story—and that the paintings in the Sewell’s gallery contain a hidden message detailing the truth. But in a house filled with secrets, nothing is quite what it seems, and no one is who they say. Can Martha follow the clues, decipher the code, and solve the mystery of what’s really going on with Rose Sewell?

Why I recommend it: Martha, also known as Marty, is one of the spunkiest, most determined, and funniest female main characters I've come across in recent MG fiction. Her first-person narration is always honest and often hilarious, even as she delves more deeply into the dark mystery of Rose Sewell. Like Laura's previous novel, Under the Egg, the mystery centers around art. You'll learn a great deal about art history and mythology, as well as the election of Herbert Hoover and the 1929 stock market crash. The period details are spot-on.

Favorite lines: "Here's the thing. Once I set to wondering something, my mind skips straight ahead. Like my brothers running into traffic." (from p. 13)

Giveaway details: Through the generosity of the publisher, I have one hardcover copy to give away. To enter, you must be a follower of this blog and you must comment on this post. If you mention the giveaway on social media, please let me know and I'll give you extra chances. This giveaway is only for US and Canadian mailing addresses and ends at 10 pm EDT on Sunday August 28. Winner to be announced Monday August 29. 

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22. #TrueFriends and a Great Giveaway

Back in this blog post I told y'all about a writing retreat I went to a couple of years ago.

It was at the beautiful vacation home of Kirby Larson.


(l to r) Kirby Larson with Winston the Wonder Dog, Susan Hill Long, Augusta Scattergood, and me

The amazing result of that writing retreat is that ALL FOUR of the manuscripts that we worked on there were published this year!

 
So we decided to keep the Sisterhood united and work together to help our books wing their way into the world.

We have some #TrueFriends goodies for you!

Here are 4 quick videos from us, telling a bit about our books.


And...drum roll, please...a fantastic giveaway!!


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23. Penguin Problems: A Review & Giveaway

This penguin has problems. A lot of problems.

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24. With All Due Respect Book Review and Giveaway

by Sally Matheny

Book Review: All Due Respect
Nina Roesner, the executive director of Greater Impact Ministries, Inc. has teamed up with co-worker, Debbie Hitchcock, to write With All Due Respect:40 Days to a More Fulfilling Relationship with Your Teens & Tweens.

I’ll be giving away a copy to one of you readers this week! 

There's something for everyone for a variety of topics are covered. A sampling of the forty chapter titles are:

Communicate Respect Early
Take Care of the Temple
Use Humor When Things Get Hot
Be True to Your Word
Coach Your Kids on Navigating Conflict
Separate Your Identity




Two of my favorites are Talk Your Kids Through Disappointment, and Deal With the Person Before the Issue.

While I appreciate the one or two scriptures at the beginning of each chapter, I don’t think the overall content is “scripturally saturated” as stated in the beginning of the book.

However, the content is good, and written with a Christian worldview.

Each chapter opens up with a scene illustrating some type of situation or problem. The authors use the dialogue between characters as a tool to teach parents how to respond in certain situations. In some parts, the dialogue sounds like it’s coming from a Christian psychologist more than a parent, but nonetheless, it’s helpful. Each chapter closes with a prayer for the parent.

This book is not a Bible study. But rather a resource for parents, specifically moms, on how to communicate effectively with their tweens and teens during life’s stressful moments.

During those difficult times, if you struggle with controlling your emotions, speaking before thinking, or acting rashly, this book will challenge you to pause and pray first. Then, it gives you a springboard of ideas on how to offer guidance as you begin a healthy conversation.


Want to win this book?

Every person who has subscribed to this blog, or is following it by email, will have their name entered into the drawing. If you’re already doing one of those, you don’t need to do anything at all.

Otherwise, you can find the “Subscribe to” button and the “Follow by Email” section over there to your right. Thanks and I can’t wait to see who wins. I’ll announce the winner on Oct. 3, 2016.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255



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25. The Winner of With All Due Respect

Congratulations to Gail C. of Spartanburg, S.C.! Your name was drawn from my blog subscribers. You've won the book, With All Due Respect, by Roesner and Hitchcock.

I'll contact you for a mailing address.

A big thank you to all of you who subscribe to the blog, either through your email or RSS feed.

I've got another GREAT giveaway coming up soon. so stay tuned!

Have a joyful day,

Sally


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