Wednesday, March 16, 2016


COMFORT (sequel to BLUE) has a bully.  Rob Walker is not a  huge part of the story but he manages to make Ann Fay's life with a disability extra challenging. What we don't see in COMFORT are the factors that influence Rob's mean behavior.

While writing AIM, my forthcoming prequel to BLUE, I had the opportunity to explore Rob's life. His older brother, Dudley is our window into Rob's world.  Dudley's behavior toward protagonist, Junior Bledsoe is bullying at times. And even Junior acts thoughtlessly and with a mean spirit a time or two in the story.

What Junior doesn't expect, is that he and Dudley have more in common than either of them imagined. And that explains a lot about Rob, too. As it turns out, a mean-spirit can pass right on down a family line.  Which is certainly not to say that meanness is in our genes - but that our family circumstances can make us hard.

Every bully begins life as an innocent babe.  Then something happens. Or a series of somethings. That's what I wanted to explore in AIM - when hard things happen, do they have to make us hard? Or can we choose to be positively shaped by them? Junior Bledsoe finds himself faced with these questions. 

For more on bullies and literature, check out the latest issue of Talking Story.

AIM will be released Oct. 4, 2016 but you can pre-order it now!

Wednesday, December 2, 2015


AIM, a prequel to BLUE and COMFORT, is about family dysfunction spanning several generations. Junior Bledsoe has just lost Pop (his father) to an alcohol-induced death. On top of that, his insufferable grandfather has moved in and now shares his bedroom.

As a writer I had the challenge of figuring out, not only Junior's emotions, but also, what made his Pop tick. Living with his grandfather yields clues about why Pop drank and avoided his own family. But Junior also seeks answers from his aunts and, as stories unfold, he begins to understand Pop better.

I also wondered why Granddaddy, himself was such a miserable person. Until I figured that out, the story felt incomplete. I found the answers in the following paragraphs.

Source: Library of Congress

 First thing out of the box was a studio portrait of a soldier. “That’s your great-granddaddy there.”

“Your daddy?”

“Yup. Gideon Bledsoe. Confederate army.” Granddaddy picked up the tin can he kept by the rocker.  He spit a stream of tobacco juice into the can and kept on talking. “He was a pipsqueak when he joined. By the time, he came back, he was hard as nails. I wasn’t born yet but I can attest to the truth of it. A war will grow you right up.”

Gideon looked to be about my age. Fourteen. His eyes were might near as shiny as the buttons on his uniform. His dark hair curled out from under his wool cap. Looking at that picture, I couldn’t deny him for a relative of mine.

 As Junior struggles with the dysfunctions of Pop and Granddaddy, he's drawn to the soldier boy who looks so much like him. Clearly Great-granddaddy wasn't always hard as nails. 

In the course of the story, Junior makes some critical mistakes. He learns from those experiences but just as important are the lessons he learns from the generations that preceded him.

I'm pleased to announce that AIM is scheduled for release in Fall of 2016. What generational stories have you written or enjoyed? 

Book giveaways and more on generational stories at Talking Story.

Saturday, November 21, 2015


While going through my clothing 
at the change of season 
I long for a walk-in closet.

But then, I remember 
that some families live in houses
the size of a walk-in.

Still others search for home
via boats on the harsh November sea.

I cannot fear those shivering children 
or the parents who flee with them from violence.
I will not buy the idea that an entire people group should be shunned as evil.

The world has endured at least one such holocaust
and we ask how it could have happened.
It happened because one person at a time chose her own comforts over the well-being of others.

I've lived a life of near constant tranquility.

Therefore, should some random act of violence 
take my breath away,
I ask for the grace to die praying for the perpetrator.
Praying that he or she discovers the same Peace 
that seems to have so randomly selected me.

Samaritan's Purse volunteers putting arms of Love around grateful refugees.

Saturday, May 30, 2015


Incredibly my last post was six months ago. But every time I consider blogging, I just feel that it will steal from novel writing.  And why would I want to do that? Anyway, I've decided to try something new which is to journal a little nearly every day and then post it once a week.

MONDAY (hanging with Dad, squirrel hunting - the 2 are unrelated)

Our family met with Dad last night to explore options for keeping him in his home as long as possible. There are 8 of us to share the responsibility/pleasure. Dad's always been a doer and a server. Now it's his turn to be cared for and he's handling his lack of independence gracefully.
Dad serving coffee to his children a year or 3 ago.

I can write from his home, read, and do online research. Today I'm tweaking a squirrel hunting scene that gets to the heart of my character's story. I watched some "how-to kill a squirrel" clips on YouTube. But I much prefer watching  squirrels scampering in our backyard as I did from my deck this morning.


I called the local history museum to ask if they'd gather research materials for me on local schools and moonshine in 1941 - not that the two have any thing to do with each other.  I'm working on a novel proposal and wow, at a minimum I need 3 chapters and an outline.  Chapters are easy for me.  Sort of.  I have 11 written but um, uh, um now what?  I have a general idea where this book is going but the whole idea of plot is scaring me a smidge. 

Hubby suggested I get in NaNoWriMo mode and just write like mad, rather than trying to plot this out. Speaking of which, I love this plotting post by Jami Gold.  Beat Sheets For Plotters, Pansters, and Techophobes And yeah, I'm kind of working with her 4 major story beats rather than a full on outline.

WEDNESDAY (eating avocado seed)
We had coffee on the grill this morning since we woke up to no electricity.  Which also meant no internet which isn't such a bad idea once in a while. Hubby and I chatted more than usual and he listened while I brainstormed my work-in-progress.  Electricity returned and I ate an avocado seed, pulverized in a smoothie. It's bitter but the taste can be masked with just the right ingredients.  I'll let you know what those are when I figure it out.  Nut butters seem to work well. 

SATURDAY (Whatever happened to Thursday and Friday?)
Apparently Thursday and Friday evaporated into thin air.  In fact, I just now realized that I totally forgot to show up at the history museum to use the materials they agreed to gather for me. I can tell you I was with people mostly. And I mostly did not write.  But I did spend some time thinking about characters and also working on incorporating the build up to war (WWII) in my story.

We had rain which we desperately needed and everything turned gorgeous on us. I am so struck by the sight of golden wheat against the backdrop of greenery. And no, this picture does not do it justice.

Today, I anticipate doing yard work. Right after spending time with the 2 grands who stayed overnight.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014


Richard Eller and students at Catawba Valley Community College are Researching the Miracle which includes producing a video about Hickory's 1944 polio epidemic and the emergency hospital.

This week, I met with Richard to reflect on the writing of Blue and what I found compelling in this momentous event in our town's history.
Richard Eller
I was a smidgen nervous about whether I'd be articulate on camera. But Richard was so affable and quietly encouraging that it mostly felt like an enjoyable conversation. 

Richard, who believes that "history is best when you walk in its footsteps" has led students in multiple HANDS ON HISTORY projects, such as The Selma Experience below. 

Best class ever! Yay!

As it turns out, Richard is also editing a book which will examine our polio epidemic and the community's response to it from a variety of perspectives. I can't wait to read it!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014


Hubby and I on a recent beach trip.

Sometimes, when people ask about my new book and I confess that I don't have one, I think they must wonder what in the world I do with my time.

Saw this on a recent trip to South Carolina and just had to stop and take pics. 

I guess they think I'm hanging around, getting rusty. 

Here's the thing. I never stopped writing.  But writing is not the same thing as publishing. Publishing involves writing what the market demands and what the economy will allow. And doing it so well a publisher will risk thousands to put it out there. It means selling myself.  It involves difficult decisions about whether to submit to an agent or to the people I love already. (Paralyzing!) It uses a different part of the brain than writing does. It means relentless marketing. It means focus.

And who has enough hours in the day to do it all? Alas! Most writers do not own a Wonder Woman cape.

I'm going through a phase. It's called real life and family. I'm in the middle of my aging parents and my children and my grands and sometimes I do feel like a sandwich. Somewhere, between the slices of life, are my publishing dreams. 

But the slices of life are thick and crusty at times. Filled with sorrow, hard work, and just plain fun. Memory making days. Evenings to just be with the people I love.  I know this is a phase and it won't last forever.

I'm hanging on to some parts of this - the moments in my parents' home which, I assume, will eventually be sold to strangers. Lingering beneath the tremendous oak tree at the back door, cleaning bathrooms, and holding my father's hand when he prays before meals - I'm soaking these up.

A few years ago we spent one amazing day at my mother's death bed. My quiet mom ruled the day with her sweet spirit and her delight in greeting each member as we arrived. The memory fills me with a strange joy.
My father and mother on her last day with us.

Daddy is 92 and when he's gone I want to know that I enjoyed being with him even when I could have been writing a query letter. There will be time in life for publishing contracts and I do continue to pursue them. Sometimes.  (Though not relentlessly, so maybe I am getting a little rusty.)

But later, when I'm on my deathbed, I want more than a shelf of books to look at. The stories I write will be part of my legacy for sure. But the stories I want on my last day will be the ones my people tell about our time together. 

My incredible, faithful, hubby. Our two amazing children-all grown up now. Those giggling grands. And my siblings too. Their faces and the stories they tell are the legacy I want to leave. 

Checking the crab traps.

But none of this stops me from grieving a little about my publishing career. What about you? What priorities do you struggle with?

Monday, September 22, 2014


Although Mercy Otis Warren learned the womanly skills of sewing, cooking, and managing a household, she had other interests. She lived in colonial Massachusetts, cared about politics, and chafed under the oppression of British rule. 

Fortunately her father wanted her to have an education and arranged for her to study with a local minister. As a girl she could not attend college but she read her brother's textbooks. She had a way with words. She had friends like George Washington, Paul Revere, and John & Abigail Adams. She married James Warren who encouraged her to write.  

During the American Revolution she wrote and published popular plays without her name attached. And after the war she kept on writing.

Through personal heartbreak and failing health she wrote until eventually, at age 77, she published a three volume history under her name. History of the Rise, Progress, and Termination of the American RevolutionL: Interspersed with biographical, Political and Moral Obeservations by Mrs. Mercy Warren.

Write On, Mercy!: The Secret Life of Mercy Otis Warren by Gretchen Woelfle is a picture book for ages 8 - 18. It is the story of one woman who knew her purpose in life and exercised her voice.  It is a celebration of breaking free.  

Write On Mercy! is published by Calkins Creek Books.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

GIVEAWAY: Goldie Takes a Stand

It's time to choose a winner of GOLDIE TAKES A STAND: Golda Meir's First Crusade.   So here goes - the winner is...

Linda Andersen

Congratulations, Linda!  And thanks for participating! It's an inspiring book and I know you will share it with the young readers in your life.

A special thank you to author, Barbara Krasner for the interview and the book donation.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014


In my last post, I introduced a terrific picture book, GOLDIE TAKES A STAND: Golda Meier's First Crusade.

I've learned to know Author, Barbara Krasner through numerous Highlights Foundation Workshops. Barbara is a poet with a gift for writing story in verse. 
I appreciate her quiet spirit and her astonishing work ethic. This lady has a load of irons in the fire and she's already published three history books. And now for a few questions.

Barbara, this one little story from Golda Meir’s life is so revealing of her personality and leadership skills. But there must have been so many Golda stories you could have told. I’m curious about how you chose to highlight this story and this age.  Oh and how old was Golda when this story takes place?

In her autobiography, Golda didn't dwell on her childhood. I chose this particular story because it took place in Milwaukee and I wondered how many people knew she had lived in the United States. Golda was in the fourth grade at the Fourth Street School when she staged the fundraiser.

I certainly didn't know she lived in the U.S. so yes, that was one of the things I found enlightening. How long have you worked on this? What would you like to share about the publishing journey this picture book has been on?

I read the autobiography in August 2010 and wrote a draft in October that year, workshopping it in November at a Highlights Foundation picture book workshop with Candace Fleming and Eric Rohmann. I revised, revised, revised and pitched it to several publishers in April 2012. Joni Sussman of Kar-Ben offered me publication in June 2012. Some of the rejections I received mentioned (and didn't like) the use of first person. I admit it's unusual for a picture book, but Goldie demanded it. Her voice was so strong.

I agree.  Golda's voice is what I love about your story. Are you by chance working on any other versions of her life-maybe a longer version? 

No, I'm not.

:(  Well, that makes me a little sad. But I know you've got lots of other writing projects going on. Can you tell us about some of them? 

How much room do you have on this blog? I consider myself a history writer and am working on some picture book biographies, a Holocaust-related middle-grade narrative, Holocaust-related short stories for adults, and historical poetry for adults. 

I have a couple of YA historical novels (one in 1919 Poland and one in 1914 Newark, NJ) I'd like to market and I've been asked to write two Holocaust-related YA novels. 

I have a Holocaust picture book, Liesl's Ocean Rescue, coming out soon from Gihon River Press, a niche Holocaust publisher.

As I said, lots of irons in the fire. Congratulations on the second picture book.  I'm eager to read that, too.  (And would love to review it, here, of course!) Oh and I must note that you've already published three history books.  
Barb speaking at her high school Alma Mater in Kearny, NJ.
Please tell us a bit about your blog, The Whole Megillah and also about your other publishing/editing pursuits.

I began The Whole Megillah in May 2010 as a service to Jewish children's writers. In the spring of 2012, I expanded it to include writers of Jewish memoir, fiction, and poetry. On the blog, which I refuse to monetize, I feature interviews and agents, editors, authors, illustrators, and publicists as well as book reviews. I also offer contests, such as the semi-annual Picture Book Contest, judged usually by Joni Sussman at Kar-Ben. 

Under the umbrella of The Whole Megillah and for Highlights Foundation, I also organize and run workshops and conferences, such as the 2014 Seminar on Jewish Story that took place in May at Temple Emanu-El in New York City. 

I received the first annual Groner/Wikler Scholarship at the June 2014 Association of Jewish Libraries conference for dedication to Jewish children's literature. I work with authors of memoir and fiction to develop their manuscripts. My overall mission is to nurture Jewish writing.

Observing from the outside, so to speak, you seem to be doing that most effectively. Barb, I look forward to watching all your efforts emerge into finished projects. Although, I realize you'll never be finished because you'll always have quite a few more in the works! 

Thanks so much for joining me here. It's been a joy to host you and to read and introduce Goldie Takes A Stand.

More convo with Barb at Rosi Hollinbeck's blog.

And friends, don't forget to leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of the book.  If you commented on the previous post you'll get two chances. It's a great one for home or classroom.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

GOLDIE TAKES A STAND: Golda Meir's First Crusade

In this fictionalized picture book biography, Barbara Krasner focuses on one incident in the childhood of Golda Meir. In doing so, she portrays a born leader with a compassionate heart. 

"It was the first meeting of the American Young Sisters Society, a group of Jewish immigrants from Russia. I, Goldie Mabowehz naturally appointed myself president."

Goldie is one confident young lady. She has a plan and knows how to motivate her friends to cooperate. But - she's not all about herself. 

As president of the newly formed American Young Sisters Society (Goldie, her sister, and some friends) this young lady gets right to work solving problems and taking care of people. She's concerned that some of the students in her school cannot afford textbooks. So she comes up with a plan to collect money. And when that plan doesn't work out as she hoped, Goldie digs a bit deeper to come up with plan B. When Plan B is overwhelmingly successful, Goldie doesn't sit back and congratulate herself. No indeed she comes up with a new venture. And naturally she names herself president of that group too. 

I love how this book reveals leadership, compassion, and community organization skills - precisely the traits that eventually made Golda Meir qualified to be the Prime Minister of Israel. Goldie Takes a Stand shows us a take-charge person who faces normal fears without letting them hold her back. Having met Goldie in this book I realize I would love to read My Life., the autobiography that inspired Barbara Krasner to write this story. 

Barbara blogs at The Whole Megillah where she focuses on Jewish authors, agents, and editors.  She also reviews books of Jewish interest and serves on the Sydney Taylor Award committee which honors books for young people that authentically portray the Jewish experience. She teaches workshops for Highlights Foundation and she researches and writes prolifically. 

In my next post, you and I will enjoy an interview with her.

Barbara is giving away a copy of Goldie Takes a Stand (softcover). Enter with a comment. And if you leave a comment on both this post and the interview, you'll be entered twice.

Monday, July 28, 2014

THE BADGER KNIGHT by Kathryn Erskine

I can't say that I'm particularly interested in Medieval history but I love an author who has done enough research to make me feel as though I'm living in that time and going on adventures with a character I care about. In this case the author is Kathy Erskine and the character is Adrian Black. 

"I'm almost thirteen...and still as puny, sickly and as pale as milk.  A few people say being tiny and white as an angel is a good omen, but far more say I'm evil,that I was the cause of that plague and that they see the devil in my eyes. If they do, I didn't put him there. I'm no devil.  Nor am I a tiny angel. Underneath my odd looking outside, I'm just me, Adrian. A boy - well almost a man. They'll see.

Adrian doesn't get much respect in his English village. He's motherless. He's bullied, but feisty and he's excellent with a bow and arrow. The Scots are about to invade England and the men of the village are preparing to go to battle. No one thinks Adrian is capable of fighting so he will be left behind.

Or not. 

After the men leave, Adrian waits for his opportunity and sneaks away from the village to join the battle. Thus begins an adventure in which he runs into one bad character and one mishap after another. But Adrian is as clever as he is feisty and his quick mind, his lying tongue, and masterful archery skills rescue him from countless events.

He does eventually arrive at the battlefield where his romanticized notions of war are quickly dashed as are his notions about the enemy. Here are a few of Adrian's conclusions.

  • "It's hard to hate a man who has a name and a son."
  • "I don't even know who won the battle, although I think it's us. Still, I wonder how anyone can rejoice when so many have died."
  • I'm the Badger, tough and scrappy. I'm the Spider, small but determined.  Mostly I'm someone useful from the village of Ashcroft. My name is Adrian Black, and I am a man.

  • The book ends with Adrian planning to take care of some unfinished business so I'm guessing there's a sequel on the way. Readers who love action, adventure and a scrappy character will be glad of it.

    Kathy Erskine is the author of Quaking, Mockingbird, The Absolute Value of Mike, and Seeing Red.

    Wednesday, July 23, 2014


    Crazy title, I know. But it's how I've been feeling lately.

    Full Disclosure: I drove down my rural road to take this photo of barbed wire. 
    I want to go to a communist country enclosed by barbed wire. A republic you could be shot or imprisoned for trying to leave. A place that was riddled with secret police and neighbors who might rat on you if you dared to speak against the socialist party.

    I have loved ones in this place. They are my characters. I want to be with them. But sometimes my life interferes. Even other peoples' lives interfere. 

    And in some ways, that's the hard part. My life, I can mostly handle. But with a hubby in ministry I end up feeling the pain of a lot of other people. Lately I've been getting that feeling - not Calgon take me away, but I just want to escape to East Germany.

    And then I stop myself and say, "That's no joke. What you're going through doesn't compare."

    But the more I think about it the more I realize that, at some level, it's true.  And it's okay if I feel that way. I don't literally want to live in a communist country. Of course I don't. But I remind myself of several things. 

    It was hard there. But it wasn't all bad. People had families who loved them. They had school and community picnics, and free transportation and jobs. They had outdoor play and sports and art and trips to the beach.

    I live in this amazing place called the United States. I have freedom to travel to nearly any place in the world. I have green space around me - a backyard with a water feature and a garden with okra, sweet corn and ripe tomatoes. But being in the United States does not mean living in Utopia.
    Evil exists here too. Some people endure horrendous things that I can't comprehend. We all know this. We see it on the news. We hear about it at work or maybe we witness it first hand.  

    Sometimes, to be honest with you, I don't want to hear one more story of drug overdoses, murder, war, or abuse. It would be easy to look the other way. To grow hard. To let myself not care. 

    Instead I retreat for awhile - to fiction. I always thought I wrote stories to be heard. To be understood and to process what I don't understand. But lately, I've realized I also write to escape. 

    Wherever my characters are; that's where I want to be - holding their hands. Listening to their stories. I can't change people in the real world.  But there's a chance I can help my characters make good choices. I might not be able to give them a happy ever after but I can give them hope.  

    And the truth is Communist East Germany no longer exists. Because lots of people hoped for something better and acted on their dreams, including my characters.

    "Between stimulus and response there is a space. 
    In that space is our power to choose our response.
    In our response lies our growth and our freedom."
    Viktor E. Frankl

    Tuesday, June 24, 2014


    Last summer I started painting the trim on our garden shed but, before I could finish, the rains came (every day for the rest of the summer, it seems) and I lost momentum. 

    I really need to get that finished so I checked two audio books out of the library yesterday.  Audio books are my companions while I paint, scrub, or pull weeds and sometimes while driving on a long trip by myself.

    I just finished listening to The Fault In Our Stars by John Green.

    I'd heard much about it and figured I'd need a box of tissues to get me through. I did like the book. I especially enjoyed paying attention to how Green developed the relationship between the two teens. Maybe my mind was on the mechanics of his writing and storytelling because I did not cry. But I also wonder if listening made the difference. Would I have entered the story in a different way if I'd been reading? I haven't really analyzed whether listening makes a difference for me.

    Either way, the book got me out of my computer chair and through some hot, dirty gardening and yard clean up. And yes, the story gave me lots to ponder on the meaning of life, how it might feel to know one is dying, and also how we respond to people who are ill. I do resonate with these themes.  Why else would I write about polio,disability, and leprosy

    Audio Book Bonus:  There's a cool interview with Green on his audio. It's hard not to like that guy! 

    Now, I'm counting on getting lots of work done while listening to Forge by Laurie Halse Andersen

    and Hokey Pokey  by Jerry Spinelli.

    By the time I'm through  these two audio books I hope to have painted the deck & some lawn furniture, and to have weeded quite a few veggie and flower gardens. 

    And, oh yeah, the garden shed needs to be finished. I have a feeling I'll leave it for last on account of -you know - ladders and cobwebs. Or rain.

    Question: How do you feel about listening versus reading?

    Wednesday, March 19, 2014


    Lately I'm on a Warsaw Ghetto streak. This important story has been told in a variety ways. Emily Smith Pearce (one of my author friends), just clued me in to a movie on this, THE ISLAND ON BIRD STREET.  Now I need to see it. Here's the trailer.

    Saturday, March 8, 2014


     CHILD OF THE WARSAW GHETTO is a biographical picture book about Froim Baum’s Holocaust experience. Froim, the youngest of 7 children, was born to a Jewish tailor and his wife in Warsaw, Poland. The family struggled for survival before Germany invaded Poland.  But their sorrow intensified in 1939 when the Nazis arrived.

    First the Germans imposed anti-Jewish laws, singling them out for humiliation and making it impossible to earn a living.Then they herded the Jews into a 70 street section of Warsaw which they surrounded with a wall topped by barbed wire. They denied the residents of this ghetto adequate food, fuel and clothing. Starvation, abuse and death ensued. With time, the Nazis removed the Jews.  Froim and his brothers were sent to a concentration camp where he narrowly escaped the gas chamber.

    Back at the Jewish Ghetto, a secret group of Jews fought against the Germans for several weeks but were eventually overcome.

    Froim was eventually freed by the Allied Armies. He shared his story with David Adler who wrote this book. The book is magnificently illustrated with muted pencil sketches by Karen Ritz.  The pictures are appropriately somber but contain just enough color to appeal to younger readers.

    This book is similar to THE WAR WITHIN THESE WALLS in that it tells the Warsaw Ghetto experience. But it differs in intensity. In THE WAR WITHIN THESE WALLS we see the story up close and personal – focusing in on specific horrors. CHILD OF THE WARSAW GHETTO gives us a broader view and is not as graphic as books for older readers.

    If you wish to read books with similar stories, I can't say enough good things about MILKWEED by Jerry Spinelli which also takes place in the Warsaw Ghetto and.Jennifer Roy's YELLOW STAR, a free verse novel about the Jewish Ghetto in Lodz, Poland.

    Also on this topic, a few books I have yet to read:  IRENA SENDLER AND THE CHILDREN OF THE WARSAW GHETTO by Susan Goldman Rubin and JANUSZ KORCZAK'S CHILDREN by Gloria Spielman.  There are more, of course. So many heartbreaking but also inspiring stories...

    Sunday, February 16, 2014


    Today is the kick-off for the Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Tour.

    THE WAR WITHIN THESE WALLS won an Honor Award in the Teen Reader category.  My sincere congratulations and gratitude to three outstanding storytellers involved with this book, Author, Aline Sax, Illustrator, Caryl Strzelecki, and Translator, Laura Watkinson. 

    I reviewed the book here but just a quick note that this story takes place in the Warsaw Jewish Ghetto in the early 1940s.  It culminates in four weeks of fighting between 750 Jewish fighters and 2,000 Nazi soldiers.
    Author, Aline Sax
    Photo: (c) Koen Broos
    And now, welcome to Author Aline Sax!   First let me say, you have written a powerful story and created a character whose emotions carried me throughout.  I wanted so much for Misha to win over this dreadful history.

    In your story, the real life character, Mordecai Anielewicz motivated the resistance fighters with the words "We are going to shake our people awake.  The eyes of the world will be upon us." In reality the Jewish resistance is not as well known as many holocaust stories.  Did word of the resistance make it into the press in 1943? 
    It’s hard to reconstruct exactly who knew about the uprising and when they heard about it. Of course the citizens of Warsaw knew, and the Polish resistance knew even beforehand. But little assistance was given to the Jewish resistance fighters, before and during the uprising. The Allied Powers knew what was going on with the Jews in Europe (although not to what extend!), but they didn’t react. Why not, is a complex question I won’t go into here.

    How did you hear about it? Can you tell us how The War Within These Walls developed within you? In Belgium, the story of the uprising is rather unknown. I heard about it when I studied in Berlin. I took a course on ‘Poles, Germans and Jews during the Second World War’ where the subject came up. I started to investigate the matter more thoroughly and became fascinated by the courage of these young man and women and their decision not to wait and see, but to fight back, against all odds. I began wondering how life in the ghetto must have been, how terrible the situation must have been, how hopeless you must feel to make such a decision. And yet how brave … And that is how Misja’s story started to grow inside my head. The more I researched, the more I became convinced I had to tell this story. In Belgium, we only hear the stories of the round-ups, the camps, the gas chambers, the death marches, … Young people think of the Jews as lambs being led to the slaughter, passively packing up their stuff and boarding the trains. But story of the uprising shows they were not all that passive. They did resist, they did raise their voice, hoping to be heard, they did not accept what was happening but protested against the injustice being inflicted upon them. I think it’s important to tell this part of history as well.
    I agree and I'm so glad you've done that. Please share how the book developed on paper and into print.   It took a few years to finish the book … All was set in motion when Caryl, the illustrator, came up to me and asked me if we could make a book together about Poland during the Second World War. I was immediately interested. The moment he said ‘Poland’ and ‘Second World War’, I remembered my research on  the Warsaw ghetto uprising. I picked up the thread again and started to investigate further into daily life in the ghetto. I developed the story and shared it with Caryl. He started drawing and I started writing. It was not clear right away how we would combine text and illustrations. I’m a novel writer, so I didn’t feel comfortable writing in balloons. Nevertheless, I felt this was not yet another novel, the story had to be told in verse-like sentences. It would have a bigger impact. It was not a rational decision. The story just unfolded in this rhythm. Caryl made a lot of drawings, which he showed me often. When the whole story was finished and Caryl had made more than a hundred illustrations, choices had to be made regarding which illustrations would make into the book and where.  We got great help from the publisher’s graphic designer. Finding a publisher wasn’t hard at all. When we showed Marita, from De Eenhoorn (a Belgian publishing house renowned for its picture books and beautiful graphic design) a few texts and some illustrations, the story struck her, just as it had struck me and she was immediately enthusiastic about our plans.

    I love hearing how all this unfolded as though it were meant to be. The design is beautiful even though the story is stark, sometimes gruesome, and filled with sorrow and anger.  Researching and writing it must have been emotionally exhausting.  Can you share how this story affected you and how you sustained yourself during its process?   The War Within These Walls is not my first book about the Holocaust. I also wrote De laatste reis (The last journey), a book for children of 10 years and older. The story is about a girl and her mother being deported to Auschwitz. It is nevertheless emotionally hard to research and write on such a topic. I can search for sources and literature as an historian, unattached and with a scientific attitude, but when I start to write, I have to get in the shoes of my main character. I have to think like him, feel like him. I have to become him in order to create a realistic character and a gripping story. That could be numbing sometimes. Maybe that’s the reason why the prose is so sparse. I was as numbed as Misja, describing what he saw, what he went through.

    You portrayed his changing feelings in such a believable manner.  Horror, anger, defiance, despair and eventually back to motivating anger and even hope. Thank you, Aline for your emotional investment so that we could feel Misha's emotions too.

    Illustrator, Caryl Strzelecki
    Illustrator, Caryl Strzelecki

    Hello, Caryl.  The first thing I noticed about the book was the black and white cover.  And of course all illustrations are black and white also.  While reading, I yearned for color. However, not finding it took me deeper into Misha's desolate experience.  Did you consider including color? How did you decide?

    It's a very good question… that I need to be able to answer.

    Of course, you may not know this but at first the drawings were all made in color. It was a tough decision to make (The decision making process is never easy). All the first drawings were very large drawings, more illustrations than capturing the real story told by Aline. But they all were rejected by the publisher. So I had to do it all over again. Somehow, in this whole process, I became more and more mentally and emotionally aware, that this immense dark story didn’t need any color. So in reality it was a ‘work-in-progress decision’.  I am happy with the result.  (Here are some of the color illustrations that were never used.)

    Oh my - starting all over - book making is tough business. But your collaboration paid off!  Did you choose the tall, narrow size and shape or did the design department decide on this?  I'm glad to say that the publisher asked us both, Aline and me, about the size of the book, if we had any suggestions. and we all agreed on it that it had to be a book that could easily be held in your hands. But our Belgium publisher in particular, DE Eenhoorn, is well-known for making beautiful books.

    I asked Aline Sax about her emotional journey as she wrote this story.  Can you talk about how you experienced this story and especially how you sustained yourself as you illustrated it?
    I would lie to you if I said everyday was a struggle. But we did work for at least 4 years on it. It was therefore, at some moments, a difficult journey. But I found some help in thinking about my Polish father, who did survive 4 years of labor camp (Zwangsarbeit) in World War2, in Germany. I knew it would made him very proud if I would succeed. Afterwards, when seeing the result, you easily forget all the hard work you put in it.

    It's impossible to be emotionally involved all the time and also to concentrate on your work. But there were times I really was depressed. I had to go through all the awful photos of dead innocent children, older people… just ordinary people all going to die and many already dead …  you couldn't help asking yourself ‘why?’…

    I am sorry for your father's experience.  No wonder you were motivated.  I know he would be so proud of you. 

    Which was the most difficult illustration for you to create?  Why? At some point there was a picture of a dying woman that I failed totally  in capturing on paper! The woman looked me straight into the eyes, 70 years later. At that moment I felt uneasy and guilty in my drawing room. I felt really like a vulture looking at all those dead bodies; It was strange and upsetting. I talked about it with Aline. She helped me to overcome it. She made me realize that I had to put my personal feelings aside.  It also really motivated me and made me determined to do my job as well as possible. (But the drawing of the dying woman we never used.)

    Thank you Caryl for sharing this woman with us and for all the illustrations. Each is a profound story in itself.

    Translator: Laura Watkinson
    Translator:  Laura Watkinson

    Hi Laura.  I see that you translate into English from Dutch, German, and Italian. How terrific that we English readers have access to fine European books because of your efforts. How did you settle on a career in book translation?  I’ve always enjoyed learning languages and reading books, so the idea of a career in translation appealed to me from an early age. I was very aware of translation as a career option and, as I moved to different countries to teach English, more translation work began to slip into my portfolio. It really is the perfect portable career. I enjoy being involved in a story on that very intimate level and I appreciate the challenge of solving the tricky translation problems that arise.

    Tricky translation problems -  I can imagine them. Can you tell us a bit about the process you use when translating a book?  I read the book first to get an overview of the story, and then I start translating. The first pass is usually quite rough, as I’m still finding my way around. Then, with each subsequent pass, I polish the text and play with different options. When the text is in a fairly decent shape, I might ask around for second opinions. I’m lucky that I know a lot of other translators, so there’s always someone to talk to about books and words, and lots of great places to do that in Amsterdam over a nice cup of coffee.

    This sounds much like writing - even the fact that you have a community of translators around you. I also know that you started SCBWI in the Netherlands.  So obviously, community is important to you. What is the most gratifying part about translating a story from one language into another?   I know how frustrating it can be when you hear about a great book, but you can’t read it because you don’t have the necessary language skills. Or when you see the fabulous illustrations in a book like The War within These Walls and you’re intrigued and want to find out more, but it’s in a language you don’t speak. What’s really gratifying about conveying a great story from one language into another is that you open it up to so many more people. More than that, you also connect different cultures and help to build a route into a country’s literature, which may enable people to gain a better understanding of other cultures and countries. That can only be a good thing.

    I like that idea of building a route into a country's literature. You said, in another interview, that it's important for you to like a book in order to translate it. How did you decide to take on The War Between The Walls?   I have great respect for Eerdmans Books for Younger Readers and for my editor there, Kathleen Merz. I think they have an excellent eye for outstanding children’s literature from all over the world. So when they approached me with this text, I was already predisposed to take it on. I’m a big fan of graphic novels and the unusual design and Caryl Strzelecki’s striking illustrations also attracted me from the outset. I knew that I really wanted to work on this book when I started translating Aline Sax’s words in my head as I was reading the story for the first time, and found myself pondering some of the trickier points. The poetic aspect of the text appealed to me, too.

    I was also very aware of the responsibility of conveying this important story to young English-speaking readers, and capturing the sense and tone of Aline’s writing. It is, of course, a tragic story and a hard one to tell, but it’s our recent history and it’s a tale that needs to be told.

    I’m grateful that I had a chance to be part of the process, and I’m so pleased that the book has been recognized by the Sydney Taylor Book Award committee.

    I'm pleased too. This book is truly deserving and I'm grateful to each of you for your part in bringing this lesser known history to me and to many others.  Thank you for investing so much time and emotional energy into Misha's story - and the story of those he fought for.  

    I wish you all much continued success. Congrats again and thank you for stopping by.

    Readers, thank you for stopping in too, and do check out all the winners and their interviews over at the Association of Jewish Libraries blog.

    Friday, February 14, 2014


    First Lines:

    "It was September 1939 when the Germans invaded  our country.  A month later, they marched into Warsaw and took up residence as if they would never leave."

    Indeed the Germans stayed and the war against the Jews began. In THE WAR WITHIN THESE WALLS, Misha, a fictional Jewish teen tells a true story of harassment, humiliation, and unimaginable abuse. This story takes place in a section of Warsaw, Poland known as the Jewish Ghetto. The Nazi's herd Jews by the thousands into one section of the city.  Private homes are overrun with strangers forced to inhabit the same space. The Nazi's build a ten foot high wall around the ghetto, and top it with barbed wire and shards of glass.

    At first, in order to survive, Misha is tempted to deny his Jewish identity.  But then we see him go through a range of emotions - the overwhelming one being defiance. He determines not to be defeated and finds a way to slip out of the ghetto, steal food, and slip back in.  He does this regularly until he sees the dreadful consequences for others who are doing the same thing.  After that, he holds back and as even more terrible events unfold, he loses hope and the will to fight.

    Time passes and deportations begin as the Nazis begin loading the Jews onto trains.  Misha wants to believe rumors that the Jews  are being sent to the countryside.  But rumors of death camps spread also and the reality is too obvious, too stark, too horrendous. At his moment of lowest despair, Misha meets Mordechai Anielewicz and everything changes.

    Anielewicz tells Misha that not all Jews are bowing to the Germans. Some are secretly, actively working against them. He invites Misha to join the fight against the Nazis. Finally Misha has a place to direct his anger. He joins the secret resistance movement, learning how to stockpile weapons and how to use them when the time is right. Eventually in early 1943 the time for confrontation arrives. 

    Mordechai inspires the fighters with these words. "We are going to shake our people awake.  The eyes of the world will be on us." 

    For four weeks Misha and more than seven hundred other Jews put up a powerful fight. In the end, however, the Nazis overpower them. Mordechai and other leaders are killed. The world does not intervene. Somehow, Misha survives to tell the story. 

    Aline Sax tells this story in sparse, lyrical language and with brutal honesty.  She gives us a character - many characters - to really care about. The reader cannot help but feel anger, remorse, and despair with Misha. Caryl Strzelecki's stark black and white illustrations - some complex and others simple and iconic - add to the raw power of the story.

    The book was originally published in Dutch by De Eenhoorn, a Belgian publisher.  Eerdmans published the English version and Laura Watkinson translated it.

    Watkinson did a masterful job and the book won the Batchelder Honor Award given by American Library Association for a book published in another language and translated into English. It also won The Sydney Taylor Honor Award for Teen Readers.

    The Sydney Taylor Book Awards recognize outstanding books for children and teens that authentically portray the Jewish experience. For several years now I've participated in the Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Tour which offers interviews with winning authors and illustrators.  I'm especially fortunate this year because I have three thoughtful and talented people to interview - Author, Aline Sax, Illustrator, Caryl Strzelecki, and Translator, Laura Watkinson. Watch for those interviews here on Sunday, February 16.

    And do check out the complete Sydney Taylor Blog Tour here. It's a great place to discover excellent literature and the gifted storytellers who create it.

    Thursday, February 13, 2014

    HEALING WATER: We have a winner!, I mean - uh, my husband picked a number. And...

    Peggy Reiff Miller, just won a copy of  
    Healing Water: An Hawaiian Story!
    Congratulations, Peggy!

    From the flyleaf:   

    Thirteen year-old Pia has never known his real father. But Kamaka, a family friend, has taught him how to work, explore, and take on physical challenges.Pia believes Kamaka is fearless. He never suspects that a time will come when Kamaka could actually be afraid of him. Neither does he expect his own body to betray him, or his government to tear him from his family and send him into exile.

    When Pia finds himself abandoned on Molokai, Hawaii's leprosy settlement, he turns to the skills he learned from Kamaka to help him survive. But the conditions are harsh. Pia discovers he must choose between anger and aloha, revenge and forgiveness, his own wilfulness and the example of someone worthy of being like a father.

    This fictional account was inspired by the experiences of many Hawaiians who were sent to Molokai's isolated Kalaupapa Peninsula, starting in 1866 and by the life of Father Damien deVeuster, who chose to live and work there in the late 1800s.

    Here's the trailer.

    Meanwhile, over at Joan Edwards' blog, someone else won a copy of Healing Water!

    Wednesday, January 29, 2014

    WITH ALOHA: Healing Water Book Giveaway

    Joan Edwards of NEVER GIVE UP interviewed me in her Authors I Admire series. Yay! To celebrate, I'm giving away a copy of Healing Water at her blog.  Healing Water is my historical novel set in Hawaii's leprosy settlement.  

    Here's a look at the book via a short trailer.

    Yes, it starts out sad.  Yes, it's tragic in the middle.

    But, YES, there is hope and community and God's footprint throughout.  So go on over to Joan's blog and join the giveaway.

    Oh, wait - before you go - I've decided to double your chances of winning by offering one here too.  Enter by including the word ALOHA in your comment below.

    I apologize in advance that this giveaway doesn't include a trip to Hawaii. But reading is one way to get there...

    Thursday, January 23, 2014

    REASEARCH: Ngram

    My work-in-progress takes place in 1917 so I want to write authentically for the time period.  Which means I don't want to use words that weren't in use then.

    Like, you know - Facebook.  Ha!  Okay so that's an easy one.  But there are other words that I really do have questions about. 

    And oh thank heaven for Google's Ngram. Until 2 days ago I didn't know such a thing existed but now, thanks to Facebook and my friend Eileen Heyes, I'm all over it!  Ngram is a site where I can look up a word, give a time period, and search for this word in books.  When I do, I'll get a graph showing the results. Here is the graph with results for the word "skeedaddle".  

    It's tiny, I know but I hope you can see that I typed  skeedaddle into the search window (just below the word Ngram viewer).  I also indicated what dates I was searching - 1800 - 2000.  (I have no idea what smoothing of 3 means. It was there and I didn't change it. More research for me!)

    But anyway at the bottom of the image you can see the dates and yay!  Skeedaddle comes up high on the charts for 1917 time frame.

    So my next move was to go to the bottom of the screen and click on the date I wanted to search.

     I clicked on 1895 - 1976 and voila! I got book titles with copyright dates listed.

    Then I could click on one of those books and read the word in context.  I chose SIS WITHIN which was published in 1913.

    The word skeedaddle is highlighted so I can see how it was used in 1913. (At least in this story.)  Of course now that I'm there I can read other parts of the book  And who knows what other goodies I might discover in the process. 

    Okay - just wanted to share my little research discovery. Since I have more writing to do, I'm going to skeedaddle. Bye ya'll.