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!

Random.org, 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


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.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

FLEEING SOLDIERS: A Hmong Child's Story

We have many Hmong people living in our community. The following story by my friend, Memee Yang tells how she got here. The story is a bit longer than my usual blog post but not nearly as long as this child's journey.

On a night in February 1978, my mother woke me and my siblings up and told us we had to leave because the communists had arrived. I remember my father was holding my two siblings’ hands. My mom carried my sister on her back and held my hand. She whispered that we must go to the jungle to hide and that no one was allowed to cry because the soldiers would hear us.  After a short period we met my grandparents and their family.  During our escape, I heard gunfire and bombs behind us. Not long after, we met some other families that I didn’t know.  All of us were traveling together by foot in the dark, because we were afraid that the communists would know where we were going.

While we were in the jungle hiding, the head of the group came to all parents and told them they must keep their children from crying.  If the group was captured, the parents would be responsible for the others’ persecution. They were told to use opium for their children to keep them calm.  Even though my brother and sister were not crying, my mother still had to give them opium just to make sure we were safe. During the time we were hiding in the jungle, my mother woke them up to eat. I saw them eat only a little, then fall back to sleep.  After many days in the jungle everyone ran out of food. Therefore, my parents and many families with children decided to surrender. 

My grandparents, aunts, and uncles decided to continue their journey to Thailand.  After we parted from each other, my parents took us back to where we could find refuge.  After we surrendered to the communists my younger brother Kao and sister Mai Tong were very sick. My sister was the first one to die in my family and then my brother died not long after.  

 After my siblings’ death, mom and dad took me and my brother, Pao back to the village where we used to live with my grandparents.  We walked for many days. Pao was very ill then but we had to continue walking to reach the village.  A few days after we reached the village, Pao died.  After a while my mom gave birth and had a baby girl.  She also died. Mom was very sad and attempted to commit suicide. But each time she went to the woods to kill herself I would follow her so she did not have any choice but to go back home with me.

In late February 1980, when I was about 8 yrs old; my family wanted to escape again.  My father told me we couldn’t stay in the village because the communists were watching - trying to catch him.  Then one day, Mom said we were leaving to go to my grandparents.  We began our second journey to Thailand.  We traveled at night and the road was so narrow I could hardly see it.  On the way, we would see dead bodies on the side of the narrow road - adults, children and babies. 

We climbed a very high mountain named “Phuv Npiab”. Many Hmong people had died on this mountain due to starvation and gun shots by the Vietnamese soldiers. One night my family had to rest there because the mountain was very steep. The leader led us to a cave to rest for the night. Inside the cave was very dark and it had a horrible smell. After sunrise, I saw dead bodies of Hmong peoples from babies to elderly piled on one another everywhere in that cave. 

But for us to survive, we continued our journey to reach the Mekong River to cross to Thailand. 

In early March 1980, two years after first leaving home, my family reached Thailand. We were placed in a refugee camp called Ban VaiNai. We lived in the refugee camp for a short time, because right after we arrived in Thailand, my grandparents submitted a sponsor petition for my father to have an interview.   Approximately four months later, my family had an interview with an American officer to come to the United States.  After the interview was done and we received approval for our deportation we came to Portland, Oregon in July 1980.

Without God’s protection, I would have died a long time ago.  But because of His love he extended his hands to hold me from one place to another and has kept me alive today.  His love will never end. Whoever trusts and believes in him will not perish, but His light will shine upon his or her path.  May His name be praised forever and ever.

View images from Ban Vinai camp in this Youtube clip.

I, Joyce, am happy the Hmong are here because they're gentle, hardworking members of our community. Also because, when they helped us in the Vietnam War, our military promised them protection from the enemy. The U.S. did not fulfill all it's promises and after the communist victory, many Hmong fled for their lives through the jungles of Laos. If they made it to safety they often lived for long periods in Thailand's refugee camps. Memee Yang's story, could be repeated countless times.

She will share her story in person at the next meeting of Sojourner Truth Book Club here in town.  The book we'll discuss is The Late Homecomer by Kao Kalia Yang.
This gripping story will hold you like a novel.  But it's true and we need to know.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Crazy over PINTEREST

I'm trying to learn how to use Pinterest "Pin It" buttons on my blogposts which, to be honest, is making me a little crazy! I thought a piece of my crazy quilt would be a good photo to practice with. I sure hope this works.

You can repin the image if you want to.  Go ahead.  Make my day!

(And if it doesn't work, you'll understand why, in spite of watching two tutorials on how to do this, I am going a wee bit crazy!

Actually if it doesn't work, I'll be back to fix it.

Monday, January 6, 2014

WRITER HEAVEN: A Highlights Workshop. Or Unworkshop

I hope you've been lucky enough to have attended a Highlights workshop.  I've been to quite a few and turn green around the edges every time I hear that someone I know is attending one and I'm not.

The Barn is the scene of all sorts of writing camaraderie, scrumptious food, and hands-on manuscript help.  I know.  I've been there and I always want to go back!

I need this one-Writing For Boys - February 6 - 9 for my work-in-progress!  Follow the link for complete info.  Meanwhile here's a workshop description

Rich Wallace, Lenore Look, and Chris Crutcher will help you delve deeply into your characters’ psyches, exploring their motivations, frustrations, and personalities to truly bring them to life on the page. Weaving action and humor into your stories will be a focal point of the program, which will explore the intricacies of creating fiction for boys.
The workshop will include:

  • In-depth discussion of your work-in-progress;
  • Writing exercises designed to heighten the emotions and revelations of specific scenes;
  • Lectures on topics ranging from creating realistic dialogue to sharpening your plot.
Go ahead and sign up.  Make me jealous.  I can handle it!

And if you can't go to that one, maybe I'll bump into you at an Unworkshop - where for $ 99 a day you can write, eat well, and connect with other writers who happen to be doing the same thing.  Sounds like heaven on earth to me!
I call dibs on the cabin with the glider on the porch!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013


Rosi Hollinbeck won SEEING RED by 
Kathy Erskine! 

I met Rosi a few years ago at a Highlights writer's retreat with Editor, Carolyn Yoder. At the time she was writing a fascinating story about Queen Elizabeth which eventually published in March 2013 issue of Highlights Magazine (cover feature even!) 

During our brief meeting I learned she can do an awesome Carolyn Yoder editorial voice! (Carolyn groupies will appreciate this.)

Since then, I observed her work at THE WRITE STUFF blog on which she consistently offers great book reviews and giveaways. Which leads me to wonder when she has time to write her own historical fiction, poetry, and picture book projects.  If you follow her link you'll see that she has 2 reviews and a giveaway over there right now. 

And not only that, she plans to read and review SEEING RED and then give it away. So if you're a little bit jealous of Rosi for winning, you've got yet another chance.

Rosi's blog is for following, folks! Go sign up.  Thanks to you, Rosi,for joining this giveaway and for being such a generous member of the writing community.

Friday, December 13, 2013


My last blog post was an introduction to SEEING RED, an MG/YA historical novel in which Author Kathy Erskine addresses one of her greatest passions - racial justice. Today, I'm pleased to share a conversation with Kathy. I met her when we shared a ride to a Highlights Founders Workshop with Editor, Patti Gauch. Since then, she's published several books and even won The National Book Award. She's remained the unassuming person of integrity that I met when we were both looking for a publishing home. We've visited a few times since then - the most recent one, via SKYPE

Chatting with Kathy via SKYPE.

She indulged me with a screen shot and later an email Q & A.  Here's where we get a tiny glimpse into her process for writing SEEING RED.
1.  Kathy, I have an earlier version of SEEING RED in a big manila envelope.  You gave it to me for feedback way back before THE ABSOLUTE VALUE OF MIKE, MOCKINGBIRD, and QUAKING were published.  So just how long has SEEING RED been in process and do you have a sense that now is the time to bring it out?  Or did you simply just find time to finish it?

You're right -- this story started, literally, in the last century!  The short answer is that I finally matured enough as an author to be able to write the story I wanted to tell.  Sometimes stories need to "ripen."  Sometimes you have to keep going back to a story and rewriting it before you get it right.  Sometimes delays and disappointments can lead you to a wonderful place.

For the long version, I laid out the whole history in a blog post.

2.    Ooooooooh.  Thanks for sharing the whole history. "Sometimes it’s not about the end, it’s about the journey..." And what a journey! The title on the version I have is CORNERSTONE.  Want to mention a few of the titles the book has been through and how you settled on SEEING RED?

Oh, this is so funny -- I can't even remember all the titles this manuscript has had!  It started as DEER SEASON until my husband asked why I was writing a hunting novel.  I dropped that and moved to CORNERSTONE, which he said sounded kind of heavy and lump-ish.  When I tried FREEDOM'S PHOENIX and FREEMAN'S PHOENIX he just kind of stared at me, which made me think those were even worse.  FACING FREEDOM was my favorite but there was a concern with the publisher that it might sound like a text book so we brainstormed some more.  It was amazingly hard to come up with something that captured the story but I think SEEING RED does it.  We settled on that title because not only is the main character's name "Red," and he starts to really "see" his world for the first time, but also because the expression "seeing red" means to be angry, and he does get angry about what's happening in his world.

 3.   Speaking of anger and seeing his world reminds me of one gut-wrenching scene in particular that really cranks ups the tension of the story. It wasn't in the version I read first. Without giving away too much, can you talk about how and why you added that scene?

I think I know what scene you mean and I added it thanks to my fabulous editor, Andrea Pinkney, who correctly pointed out that Red needed to feel racism viscerally instead of just observing it and getting upset about it.  It needed to come fairly early in the book so we understand his motivations.  I had to put myself in that very uncomfortable place -- not that I've had that experience but I think we've all been part of a group dynamic where things get out of hand and we don't like what's going on but we don't quite know how to stop it.

4.   You mentioned maturing as a writer since we first met in 2003 or 04, (which was it?) What have you learned that has transformed or informed your writing the most?

It was late fall 2003 so we've known each other for 10 years -- wow!  This is where I should say something profound except all I can think of is practice, practice, practice.  You really do get better at something when you keep working at it.  You also gain confidence, which is what I needed for SEEING RED.  And I guess I could add that you should trust your own voice.  Voice is unique, obviously, but also very fragile.  Don't let your voice be critiqued out of your manuscript.  You can change the characters, plot and setting, but keep your own voice!

Thanks so much Kathy for the wisdom.  And thank you for being the kind of person that cares about justice for all!

And hey ya'll.  I'm giving away a copy of SEEING RED.  If you leave a comment AND share one of my SEEING RED posts on social media, I'll enter you!  DEADLINE IS MONDAY, DECEMBER 17!

Monday, December 9, 2013

SEEING RED by Kathryn Erskine

First off, let me say, I'm giving away an Advanced Reader Copy of this book - unless of course, my generous nature kicks in and I decide to part with my gorgeous hardcover. The jury is still arguing over that. Either way you can't go wrong. So leave a comment AND share on social media to be entered in the contest. 

But first, the review.
SEEING RED is a disturbing book. There is the abusive neighbor and I've lived long enough to know he exists. There is the religious bigot and oh, yeah, I've met that one too. And then there is Red Porter, who in the midst of grief, does some things that go against his gentle nature.

Red's father is dead and he wants nothing more than to remain as close to him as possible.  For Red, that means keeping his father's auto repair shop open. He loves everything about it, the cars arriving outside (which he can identify just by the sound of the engine), the feel of the tools in his hand, and the smells of oil and tires.

From Page 2  I walked up the stairs in the back where Daddy had his office, taking in a deep breath of everything I loved. The shop was oil and gas and paint and dirt. It was brake pads, hoses, filters, and about any kind of tool you'd ever need to fix a car or truck. It was Lava soap, old rags, and a sink with a faucet you could turn on with just your elbow. It was the last place I saw Daddy.

I relate to the above quote from the book.  This was my Grandpop's shop/gas station in Plumsteadville, PA. The smell of tires, oil, and gas will always remind me of someone I loved.

Red clings to his Dad's garage but Mama wants to move on and, for her, that means selling the property and taking Red and his little brother to Ohio to live with her family. In some desperate attempts to thwart the sale, Red flirts dangerously with delinquent behaviors.

The property Mama wants to sell (house, store and car repair shop) border the property of the abusive/racist neighbor and tangled up in the mix is some vague history Red has heard about his family's property, the abusive Dunlop's property and an African-American church.  There's also some dispute over the property boundaries and the belief that more than one hundred years ago a Dunlop ancestor killed the black pastor of the church.

As Red thinks back over some scenes he'd witnessed between Daddy and Mr. Dunlop, those memories provide a puzzle with some pieces missing. But he's determined to find the pieces, assemble them, right some societal wrongs (his included), and maybe even hang on to his home place at the same time.

SEEING RED is truly readable. It's underlined with mystery, filled with action, and populated with rich and complicated relationships. And it doesn't hurt that Kathryn Erskine writes tough subjects with gently placed humor. There's some collective soul searching to explore here and fortunately, Scholastic has created a Common Core Discussion Guide designed for Grades 5 -9. .

The story is set in 1972 so, of course, America is going through a huge cultural shift.The most disturbing elements of SEEING RED have to do with racial relationships. In the Author Note, Erskine shares her passion for racial justice. As a child, she lived for awhile in South Africa surrounded by injustice and racial tension. Later she came to America and realized the painful truth that apartheid exists here too. As her mother explained it - "...we just don't call it that." 
Please check back this week, because I've snagged an interview with Kathy.  I might even go into a blogging frenzy and post 2 days in a row!

Here's the United Kingdom cover for SEEING RED.  Personally, I'm crazy about it!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013


Linda Vigen Phillips tagged me on a Q & A blog tour – please hop over and read her blog. She’s got an incredible forthcoming verse novel!

My Q & A:

What are you working on right now?
A family saga have titled ROUNDABOUT.  (which means merry-go-round or carousel) The title is connected to a carousel theme within the book but also to the roundabout nature of my character's emotional journey. 
Me on my favorite roundabout in Ocean City, MD
How does Roundabout differ from other works in its genre?
I typically write historical fiction but this book is a hybrid.  My protagonist (Hilly) is a contemporary character on an emotional journey.  Via family keepsakes she discovers the stories of 5 ancestors. As she does this, her own story unfolds and the ancestor's stories add meaning to her own. So this one is historical fiction packaged within contemporary realism.

Why do you write what you do?

Because I can’t seem to help myself. I find history and want to tell it. I discover heartbreak and want to push into it. I have hope and want to share it.

How does your writing process work?

After I’ve bumped into that irresistible bit of history, I read and research all I can.  I imagine a character in that setting and think about conflict he or she will encounter.  I get a general outline in my head. Then I start writing.  

Although I do a lot of reading early on, I continue to research the whole time I’m writing. This involves interviews with experts, travel, museums, movies, food, and hours spent at microfilm machines with old newspaper accounts.  And riding merry-go-rounds, of course!

I write a section, read it back to myself and tweak it often as I go. (This is possibly a habit I should give up since a story benefits from momentum.) When the first draft is finished I give it to writer friends for feedback. I revise based on their critiques.  And then I repeat – sometimes giving it to different critics.  Occasionally I take my manuscript to a workshop for an editor’s in-depth critique.  Eventually I submit!

Any parting words of wisdom for other writers?

Immerse yourself in the writing community. Swap critiques with your writer friends. Revise based on their criticism. Eat dark chocolate and exercise!  

Wednesday, October 2, 2013


Post war adjustment is a theme in my book, COMFORT.  So when I met Debra Wallin, I felt an automatic connection to her passion for the well being of returned veterans. 

And since adjustment to the work force is also a theme in my book I was thrilled to know that Deb is involved with vets returning to the workplace. Mostly I just love that Deb loves vets!

Deb is on the Advisory Board of the National Diversity Council of the Carolinas, which is sponsoring the following event for female veterans.

 Boots To Suits
 (Empowering Female Veterans' Transition Into The Workforce)
October 7, 2013 
8:00am - 1:30pm
Omni Hotel - Charlotte, NC
Registration $25 for veterans / $50 for recruiters
(Some Free Tickets Available for Vets)

There will be a keynote speaker, lunch, and a time for veterans and recruiters to make contacts and network.
A workshop for veterans will cover:
  • application process for job search
  • building alliances, 
  • disabilities, 
  • review of available resources
A concurrent workshop for employee recruiters will cover
  • military culture
  • why hire veterans
  • transition support
  • best practices 
Veteran organizations and resource groups will participate in the event by having a table displaying information and handouts from their organizations.  At least 17 organizations will attend. 

If you know a female veteran who would benefit from this program, please share this with her.

Monday, September 30, 2013


I've read some books I've been meaning to share here on my blog.  But my blogging Muse has wandered off somewhere and I've had trouble finding her. I'm quite certain this is my response to internet brain.  A woman with a self-diagnosed case of ADD can only follow so many links before she forgets what she was doing.

And then there's the novel I'm writing.  6 stories under one cover.  (Speaking of Attention Deficit Disorder!)  But enough of that.  I just want to show you the covers of the books I might actually get around to blogging about in the near future. 

Seeing Red by Kathryn Erskine

What I Came To Tell You by Tommy Hays
My Brother's Shadow by Monika Schroeder

Talk to you later my bloggie friends...

Thursday, September 12, 2013


Recently I had the delightful pleasure of meeting (virtually) Anna Graham who agreed to review three books for TALKING STORY, a newsletter that Carol Baldwin and I create to service educators.

I loved Anna's reviews so much that I wanted to include them here.  Please note that the book in the center of the pic is my very own COMFORT!  (Yes, I chose it - with help from Carol.)

Moving left to right in the image, here are her reviews. Keep in mind that the common theme in each of these books is "disability" OR actually as the stories demonstrate, they are really about ability!  

Listening with My Heart 
by Heather Whitestone 

Heather Whitestone was the first disabled Miss America. Becoming profoundly deaf at only 18 months old, Heather experienced many bumps and potholes on the road to success. In this book, she writes about how she achieved her dreams. With the support of her family, friends, and her strong religious faith, Heather accomplished her lifelong goal to dance on stage and to become Miss America.

   Writing in a conversational tone, Heather Whitestone describes the tremendous amount of dedication and self-discipline needed for a deaf girl to learn how to speak, read lips, do schoolwork, compete in pageants, and dance. As a teen myself, I personally related the most towards her descriptions of her loneliness in school, and feeling out of place in the world. I think almost every teen can relate to sitting by yourself wishing someone would talk to you.

She says in her book "the most handicapped people on earth are those who are handicapped by negative thoughts and low expectations." Heather is very encouraging and positive, spreading her message to never give up, and to continue to follow your dreams. Her example is inspiring, showing that if a deaf girl can achieve so much, despite her disabilities, then certainly we can overcome ours. 

by Joyce Moyer Hostetter

“Everyone in life has a handicap, Ann Fay. But the struggle to overcome it is worthwhile.” Comfort, the sequel to Blue, continues the tale of Ann Fay Honeycutt, a North Carolina girl who is recovering from Polio. Ann Fay is not the only one recovering, her father has recently returned from the horror of fighting in WWII. Dealing with the intense topics of mental and physical disabilities, Comfort shows through Ann Fay’s eyes that “It mostly hurt at first. After a while it starts to feel better.”

Ann Fay’s physical struggles are contrasted with Mr. Honeycutt’s struggles with PTSD. Ann Fay has to maneuver through simple everyday activities that are suddenly extraordinarily difficult for her. Mr. Honeycutt’s struggles are shown when his PTSD affects him so severely that he lashes out at his family. Both find comfort, Ann Fay at the Warm Springs Institute where she physically recovers, and Mr. Honeycutt emotionally recovers by becoming friends with Otis.   

Otis is my favorite character. Despite the fact he is an outcast, he is actually quite wise with an unique outlook on life. “The way I figure it, a body can carry it around for the rest of his life if that’s what he wants. Or he can get it off his chest. Which one are you doing?” is only one fine example of Otis’s wisdom which helps Mr. Honeycutt, and in turn, all the Honeycutts recover. I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys realistic historical fiction with an uplifting message.

Izzy, Willy-Nilly  
by Cynthia Voigt 

Izzy is a 15 year old girl who seems to have it all: a popular group of friends, a normal upper middle class family, she’s a cheerleader, and she's very pretty. Pretty enough for a senior to notice Izzy and take her on a date to a party. This party ends in disaster. 

When Izzy is being driven home by her intoxicated date, the car crashes, and Izzy ends up losing her leg. Her family tries to be supportive, but they have no idea how to handle such a tragedy. Her friends don't know how to cope either, and abandon her. With Izzy attempting to cope with her pain on her own, a schoolmate, Rosamunde, starts to visit her at the hospital, and they form a strong friendship. Spending time with Rosamunde helps Izzy to cope with her loss and grow as a person.

This book does a fantastic job of showing Izzy's roller coaster ride of emotions: shock, nonchalance, grief, and finally, depression. The representation of depression was realistic and very relatable. Izzy was abandoned and betrayed by her friends, who feel too awkward to know how to be around her. I found myself sympathizing with and relating to Izzy. Fortunately, she forms true friendships with Rosamunde, and another schoolmate, Tony. 

I was very happy with the ending of this book. It felt complete, and ended on a high note. I would recommend this to anyone who wants to read realistic fiction with a relatable lead female character.

Anna Elizabeth Graham is a 15 year old homeschooler. She loves reading and writing (obviously), playing the piano, and catching up on her favorite television shows, Supernatural, Doctor Who, and Sherlock. :)