Valentine’s Day Reads for Kids

I love holidays, and Valentine’s Day in particular is a good one because what’s not to love about love, right?

Here are some books that I think are perfect for reading on this special day with your little love and why I love them:

Picture Books:

Pandora, by William Mayne If this book doesn’t make you believe in the redemptive power of love, then there is seriously something wrong with you.

 

 A Visitor for Bear by Bonnie Becker Sometimes we don’t realize how much we need a friend until we realize we love them already.

The Old Woman Who Named Things by Cynthia Rylant Dogs. Love. Heart strings. You get the picture.

Early Chapter:

Davey’s Blue-Eyed Frog by Patricia Harrison Easton A princess who needs to be saved by a kiss and a little boy who has better things to do. What could go wrong?

Mango’s Revenge by Stephanie Logue When this Parrot escapes for a day off, love of his family brings him home.

Middle Grade:

Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo Dogs. Love. How weird the South can be.

Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt In which our heroine has to choose between young love and mortality. Not as easy as you might think.

Young Adult:

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith Smith was way ahead of her time with this quirky coming of age love story.

Reckless by Cornelia Funke Beautifully written high steam punk fantasy with bubbling romance. What’s not to like?

And, last but not least, let me just mention that Leaving Kent State has a classic romance story line that I hope you will enjoy.

Happy Valentine’s Day reading!!

Resistance and the Main Stream Media

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As we enter a dark period in our country, where our new President is signing executive orders to ban certain immigrants from coming here, a ban that this morning was stayed by a Federal judge (as reported here), I have again … Continue reading

My Latest Review

Thanks to Isla Mcketta, I have a new review which you may check out here. When I was writing LKS, I was really struck by the parallels to our present time: social and civil unrest, racial tensions, terrorism (though in 1969-1970, this was largely domestic), and a general sense of upheaval and uncertainty. I love this review because it lets me know that these issues came forward in the way that I hoped they would. On inauguration day 2017, I feel especially blessed to be considered as a writer who has offered at least one reader hope. May we all forge a path to a brighter future together.

Five Young Adult Books for the Mom in Your Life

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It’s almost Mother’s Day, so here is my list of YA novels you may want to consider if you are looking for a great book for your mom. Nothing is hotter than YA right now, and for good reason-bookstore shelves are stacked with lots of wonderful YA reads. YA is honest, accessible, and just plain dreamy:

5. Being Henry David, by Cal Armistead. When a teen boy wakes up at Penn Station with no memory, he follows the only clue he has-a copy of Walden. Mom’s will be drawn right in to this lost boy thriller.

4. Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte. I never promised they would all be modern classics. In this coming of age story, Jane tackles adversity, a Gothic mansion, and a lot of mystery.

3. I capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith. Yes, that Dodie Smith. The one who wrote 101 Dalmatians. In this charming tale, a young English girl, sequestered with her has been author father and an assortment of family oddballs in a dilapidated castle, discovers that life can bring you surprises in the most unlikely of places.

2. Zel, by Donna Jo Napoli. This retelling of the classic fairy tale brings us the story of Rapunzel through the eyes of the three key characters, Rapunzel, the Prince, and the Witch. Every true mom’s heart will soften when she reads the witch’s side of the story. This is a book that reminds the reader what it is like to be young.

1. Reckless, by Cornelia Funke. If your mom likes fairy tales and magic and a little romance, this is the story for her. Let her escape for a while to another time and place where fantasy reigns supreme. Funke’s imagination and beautiful language never fail to captivate.

The Art of Letting Go

Letting go

Letting go

I’ve never been a big fan of change. Maybe because I was never very goal oriented, at least not in the sweeping sense of achieving some great feat. I was the slow and steady type, plodding forward on the path of expectations, going to school, always practical and low maintenance for the other people in my life. I suppose if you have a big dream, then change is a reflection of each little step toward that dream and so you would welcome it. But for me, change always meant uncertainty and letting go of the people and places who made up my world, for better or worse.

I don’t know how old I was when I began to associate change with letting go, but I must have been pretty young. Maybe it was my mother’s stories about growing up, and all the people she talked about who were no longer present. I never knew any of my grandparents. The closest I came was having my paternal grandfather know that my mom was pregnant with me before he died. But my mother would tell me stories about the past and I wanted so much to touch it, to touch the people she talked about, to know them and have them know me. My mom always spoke of her mother with so much love, and I heard that from all my aunts and uncles, all my cousins who had known her. My mother always would say as she told me about my grandmother, “Oh, how she would have loved you.” But things change, and I never got to know her.

As a teenager, letting go seemed to be something ritualistic. We become fully aware of letting go. We let go of high school, though for many of us it’s not much of a loss. Let’s just say that I’m among the many who can say, thankfully, those were NOT the best years of my life. But still things change and we let go. My best friend moved to Arizona and we lost touch for a long time. Our two dogs, a brother and sister born when I was four, grew up with me and outpaced me and became old. They died a few years apart. Two of my uncles died. The last family from my grandmother’s generation passed away. The landscape of my childhood began to shift and change. I became an unwilling student in the art of letting go.

Sometimes we find that letting go is the healthiest choice we can make. That guy who broke your heart? Or that person you thought was your friend? That school you didn’t get into? Like James Bay’s song Let It Go, sometimes we are the ones who need to change:

I used to recognize myself
It’s funny how reflections change
When we’re becoming something else
I think it’s time to walk away

I grew up. I went to college and law school and got married. I turned thirty and let go of unrealistic dreams that were never going to be. I had children, welcoming each as the most wonderful change in my world. But change doesn’t let you freeze-frame or pause. I learned to let go of their hands, their bikes, their passwords. I learned to let go of their choices and their time. But somehow, despite all this practice in life, I haven’t really gotten any better at letting go than I was when I was young. I’m generally an optimist, and I know that as an optimist I should say that letting go frees us up to new experiences, new hands to hold, new possibilities we can’t imagine while we are holding onto other things. But the truth about letting go is that, for most things, it’s hard. It hurts. And sometimes the fastest way to heal is to just let yourself feel the pain. I think maybe that is the lesson here. That the art of letting go is is all about walking across the coals, knowing it’s going to hurt, but moving forward anyway. Because, just like burning your tender feet on hot coals, it’s only when you have finally crossed that you can start to heal.

Marketing a Novel for the Introvert

As authors, we eagerly seek the validation of publishers, sending out our polished manuscripts into a world stacked against them on the desperate hope that someone, anyone, will believe in our story as much as we do. A novel. A published novel. Rarely will you find someone writing one who doesn’t harbor the hope, secretly or openly, that his story will find an audience. Add into the equation that many writers are introverts and suddenly you have an interesting moment of truth when a publisher accepts a manuscript. An introvert with a published novel. That she needs to market. Yikes.

This is exactly where I now find myself. My young adult historical fiction novel, Leaving Kent State, was accepted this past November by Harvard Square Editions and will be forthcoming later this year. It’s a small press, so there is no massive marketing team waiting to lead me through the challenges of the debut author crucible. My publisher does have a plan in place to help me, but the more that I can do to promote the book myself, the more likely it will have a successful sales record. I’m still very early into this process, but here are five marketing tips that I’ve learned so far:

5. Check out websites for bloggers that discuss marketing. Selling a book is a lot like making a blog popular. These sites, such as The Nectar Collective, can give you  a lot of great advice about SEO, using social media as a marketing tool for your book, or organizing your marketing strategy.

4. Search for book reviewers and start making connections with them before you need to actually contact them to request a review. This isn’t that difficult. Search on Instagram, Goodreads, Twitter, etc. Once you tap into reviewers, you will see quite a lot. Notice how often they post, what kinds of books they like, and whom their audience is. These things will help you narrow a list, because you will most likely have to send them two ARCs (advanced reader copies) of your novel, and you are most likely going to be footing the bill for these ARCs yourself (unless you’ve landed a six figure deal with a big publishing house, and then you aren’t reading this anyway….)

3. Ask authors who are further ahead in the journey how they launched their first book. Take them for lunch or coffee. Writers are among the most generous of professionals with their time and ideas, probably because our journey to make a living as a writer is so challenging. There are as many ideas out there for marketing a book as there are books. Brainstorming with other writers about how you can make your marketing plan for your particular novel stand out is an invaluable resource for the debut author.

2. Contact independent booksellers. Call them, walk into their stores, email them. Because my novel is centered around the shootings that happened at Kent State University in Ohio on May 4th, 1970, I spent an afternoon looking through the websites of every independent bookstore in Ohio. Some clearly aren’t going to be interested in my book (for example, one specializes in Jane Austen and regency literature only). Some of them were listed as specializing in young adult literature, so I called to ask whether my book would be something they would carry. One of the stores, despite it’s description as a bookseller of YA, in fact only deals with books through middle grade (age 13). But when I called another bookseller and explained the reason for my call, the woman gave me a ton of helpful advice, both about independent booksellers in general and about the Ohio market in particular. I learned more about marketing my book in that fifteen or twenty minute conversation than I have from hours of my own research.

1.  Reach out to the people who have supported you and are further ahead in the journey. It took me a month, and encouragement from a friend (okay, actually two friends), for me to screw up my courage and ask for book blurbs from established writers I know. It was really hard for me to ask (I’m Italian). But everyone whom I asked was enthusiastically supportive of me. Which is awesome and generous and really, really helpful. But the point is, if I hadn’t asked, they wouldn’t have known that I wanted their help.

These are my top five marketing tips so far in my journey toward launch. What are yours?

I’m Not Sure Where November Went

November, 2015

November, 2015

The only thing I am sure of is that it’s long gone. It’s been a kind of whirl wind month for me. My first young adult novel has been accepted at Harvard Square Editions and will be forthcoming sometime next year. Last Friday, I went “cover” shopping with a writer friend of mine. We met for coffee at my local Barnes & Noble and then looked at covers from various YA genres to get ideas for what mine might look like. It felt a lot like Christmas shopping, in a very good way. I’ll definitely update on what the publishing experience is like as I go along.

Also last month, I attended my Western Pennsylvania Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators annual conference. There were some amazing and inspiring presentations by editors and agents, and it reminded me a little of being at my MFA residency, that kind of immersion in craft and ideas that makes you feel like anything is possible if you just open yourself up to your creativity. You can learn more about the SCBWI and the WPA region here. Also, be sure to check out our Assistant Regional Adviser’s blog for additional information. Her name is Kate Dopirak, and you can find her here. She’s an awesome author, too, by the way.

And, finally, my young adult short story, Honor’s Justice, came out today in Lunch Ticket, the MFA journal of Antioch University Los Angeles. You can check that out here. I’m very proud to be associated with this edition and it’s emphasis on the human condition.

A Novel Competition for Unpublished Women Writers of Young Adult Fiction

Whenever I find a competition that includes a YA category, I feel really good that YA is getting some of the recognition it deserves. Mslexia Publications, LTD, is once again offering its novel competition for unpublished women writers, and they include a Young Adult category. The deadline is September 21 to submit the first 5000 words of a completed novel in any genre.

Mslexia states that: The competition first prize is a rather marvellous £5,000, plus we have The Literary Consultancy on hand to offer four other finalists free manuscript feedback. And did we mention all shortlisted authors will be invited to meet literary agents at a special networking event in London? Being placed in the competition really is a unique opportunity to get your work out of the slush pile and into the hands of influential industry insiders.

Mslexia is a UK organization dedicated to the advancement of women writers. You can learn more about them at their website at Mslexia

For contest rules, click here

You may enter as many novels as you wish, although each comes with a fee of $25 pounds. So polish up those novel manuscripts and get them submitted!

2013 in Books

It’s time once again for a quick wrap up of my favorite books of 2013. Because I was working on a young adult fantasy for my thesis, I read quite a bit of YA fantasy and dystopian fiction. My picks for this year include Rae Carson’s Girl of Fire and Thorns, Kristen Cashore’s Graceling, and Cornelia Funke’s Fearless. You can check out my reviews in detail on my Goodreads page. Outside of fantasy, I’ve been reading Phoebe Stone’s The Romeo and Juliet Code, a middle grade historical fiction. I haven’t finished it quite yet, but so far I am very impressed. I helped my daughter read Burnett’s The Secret Garden. I read also Kevin Prufer’s Strange Wood and Fallen from a Chariot. I love his poetry.
My list of books to be read continues to grow, and I’ll keep you posted on those that I feel are worth passing on.
Happy reading everyone. What were your favorite books of 2013?

Why YA is so Hot

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the Young Adult market and why it is so strong when most of publishing is struggling and why it is pulling in so many adult readers. Being a member of the Society for Children’s Writers and Illustrators taught me a good deal about the differences between picture books, easy readers, early chapter books, middle grade, and young adult. Being in an MFA program has sharpened my sense of how writing differs depending on the audience. My MFA has really brought into focus what it is about YA that makes it so special. These are my top five reasons YA is booming:

5. It’s easy to forget that when we are talking about YA, we are talking about a plethora of choices. There is something for everyone, as the saying goes: historical fiction, fantasy and sci-fi, contemporary realism, romance, etc. YA, because it defines a targeted age group, isn’t about the genre of the fiction, it’s about how it’s written.

4. YA is fun. There’s something about writing for teens that brings out the humor, parody, and irony trapped inside every author. Perhaps it is because we know that our audience will get it. Perhaps because we know that teens need to be entertained in order to stay tuned into the worlds we are creating for them. Perhaps it is a combination of these things, but I believe that YA writers are more aware of the necessity for fun in their writing than writers of fiction for adults.

3. YA authors assume responsibility and respect their audience. I believe that writers for children and young adults have a heightened sense of our responsibility to our readers in a way that doesn’t exist in fiction written for adults. We are not inviting them into our storytelling world. We are marching into their world and demanding their attention, and we know that if we are going to have such audacity, we need to respect our audience. We know that we can tackle any subject, but that doesn’t mean that we can ignore our audience’s needs in how we present our story. The developmental capacity to deal with a story must match the age of our targeted audience. Does that mean that every twelve or sixteen year old is developmentally at the same point? No, but YA authors understand that there are parameters of development that determine how we will address issues in our storytelling based on the age group we want to reach.

2. YA is, generally and ultimately, hopeful. Regardless of the losses a protagonist endures, most YA ends with a message of hopefulness for the future. Why? I think in part because the teenage years are the beginning, with lots of room to make mistakes, find your way, and time to get it right. But I think also because few writers want to embed despair into those who will carry the torches into the future. There are cautionary tales such as Feed, by M.T. Anderson, that do not offer much in the way of hope, but they are few and far between. I believe that this hopefulness in YA literature is one of the main reasons adults are being brought into the YA realm without shame.

1. In children’s writing there is a mantra: show, don’t tell. Anyone who has written for children will tell you that they respond well to storytelling that is shown to them in the moment, whether in past or present tense. They don’t want to feel as if they are being told something, being lectured about something. They want to experience it with the characters. The amount of telling that is present in fiction written for adults always amazes me when I attend a reading or pick up a volume at a bookstore that is intended for adults. It is vastly different than most YA literature and I think it’s not only teens that respond to this storytelling through showing. There is an element of old fashioned showmanship to it-drawing your audience in without them even being aware that you are doing so because the message is so animated.

These are my top reasons for why adults are happily turning to YA at a time when publishers are struggling to sell books, despite the fact that our general desire for storytelling hasn’t changed. What are yours?