Please join us to discuss everything literary (especially kid literary): good books, the writing life, the people and businesses who create books, controversies in book world, what's good to snack on while reading and writing, and anything else bookish. We welcome your thoughts.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Pattern of Place

By Cynthia Light Brown

Places are not always what we would expect.

I am in the Yunque Rainforest of Puerto Rico right now, on my last night of vacation. (Note: I wrote this on Tuesday and I'm just uploading now.) I think of woods as being quiet places. Maybe a bit of noise at night from an occasional frog. It’s cities that are noisy places.

Ha! If you’ve been in a rainforest – at least a tropical one – you know that they are one of the noisiest places on earth at night. Right now we are high above a swollen stream. Full from a rainstorm this morning, it plunges down the mountainside. The stream of last night has gone from chattering to a heated, loud argument. 

But it is nothing compared with the animals, especially the coqui. The coqui is tiny, as big as your thumb. It is being studied to understand how it can make such a loud noise.

The stream and frogs are a kind of white noise, regular, but the loudest white noise I’ve ever heard. In Pennsylvania, we are wakened by the birds. In the tropics, we are wakened by the quiet.

And I’m hearing all of this because, since there’s no air conditioning, our door to the balcony is open. No air conditioning, because it’s not needed. I wore a sweater this evening when we went to dinner. In July. In the tropics. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh is having a heat wave.

Look closely at the bananas. Which way are they growing? Is that a surprise to you? Would it be to your character?

What are some of the patterns of the place in your writing? Here are a few questions to ask yourself.

  • What and when are the noises? Are they regular, staccato, fluid? Do they blend into the background? How does your character feel about the noises?
  • What is the temperature, humidity, rain? Does it change much between day and night? Seasons?
  • Smells? Use a light touch here – don’t have a smell every other page, but smells are evocative and can set a scene.
  • What is the light like? The sky; can you see it, does it have a presence? Here in the rainforest you can barely see the sky, but at the shore a few miles away you can hardly see anything else. Cities are like rainforests that way; you hardly see the sky, but in a city you hardly see the earth either.
  • Do you see anything unusual in your setting? Would anything stand out to your character? How do they feel in your setting; at home, or out of place, or maybe both?
    I felt like I was a miniature fairy in undr these giant leaves.
  • Touch; what does the air feel like? Sticky? Is it clean to breathe? Do people keep to themselves, arms folded, or are they open, hugging?

What's the detail in your setting that stands out?

It’s the details that tell the reader the pattern of your place, give it fullness.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Guest Blogger: Mingmei Yip

Mingmei Yip was born in China, received her Ph.D. from the University of Paris, Sorbonne, and held faculty appointments at the Chinese University and Baptist University in Hong Kong. She's a multi-talented individual. Among her accomplishments: she's published five books in Chinese, written several columns for seven major Hong Kong newspapers, and is an illustrator, calligrapher, song writer, playwright, and qin musician, as well a children's book author. 
She immigrated to the United States in 1992 and now lives in New York City.

Q: Tell us how you came to write and illustrate children's books.

Many years ago, when I was in a book store with a friend, she asked if I’d be interested in doing a  children’s book. During that era I was teaching Chinese music at a University in Hong Kong. I’d never thought of doing this but over time I found myself liking the idea. I’d been writing and painting since I was fourteen, so doing a children’s book seemed like it would come naturally to me, even though my writing up until that point had been academic books and novels.
Finally, ten years later, I had my opportunity. Charles Tuttle, one of the best known publishers of English language books about Asia asked me to do Chinese Children’s Favorite Stories. This became quite popular and so they asked me to do another book, which became Grandma Panda’s China Storybook, just now published.  

Q: Who is the audience for your books? And tell us a little about how you reach out to your audience.
For my Chinese storybooks,  the main audience is children, from as young as three up to about twelve. The little ones are read to by their parents and the older ones read by themselves to learn about Chinese culture.
Because I am also a novelist, many adults who have enjoyed my novels bought my children’s books for their children. Then some parents who knew my children’s books, read my novels and became fans. So some families read both my chidren’s and adult books. My two most recent adult novels are Skeleton Women and Silk Road.
I also do storytelling events at schools and museums. My story, “Fish Jumping Over the Dragon Gate” in Chinese Children’s Favorite Stories, has been made into a children’s play and performed twice in New York City.

You can visit my blog here or find me on Facebook.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

A Dollar For Your Thoughts

     As a writer, I have always been curious about the way people communicate with one another. Once upon a time I was intrigued by bathroom stall messages, flyover airplane banner marriage proposals, and vehicular rear window obituaries.  Most recently, however, I have been surprised by viewing correspondence on dollar bills I have intercepted with information clearly not meant for me. Does 'dollar-billing' now rank up there with tweeting and texting?
I am not referring to wheresgeorge.com, where you can track US or Canadian dollars as they travel back and forth across the country by typing in the bill's serial number and your zipcode. Those bills have the 'wheresgeorge.com' stamp.  I am in fact referring to the following handwritten greetings, salutation, lists, inquiries and observations:


   Your the worst waitress ever

      Love one another as I have loved you

         Bacon, butter, milk, cheerios, oj

           My first cashed paycheck ever

             Call me? 555-1212 (I have not included the actual phone number)

.......and my personal favorite:

Jimmy, am paying your parking ticket for the last time with this   (so if the writer is paying the ticket with the money, how will Jimmy ever know???)

I thought that old-fashioned hand-written correspondence was dead.  It seems some stationery has just been replaced with paper currency.  But I have enjoyed these little glimpses.  Just wish I knew where that waitress was working so I can order my all-you-can-eat crab legs somewhere else.

Submitted by Andrea Perry, not on a dollar bill

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Next Big Thing

by Marcy Collier

The Next Big Thing is a global blog tour to showcase authors and illustrators and their current work. I was tagged by the very talented Kate Dopirak.

I’ll answer the interview questions based on my current work in progress.

1. What is the working title of your next book?

2. Where did the idea come from for the book?
My second son was a newborn. I can remember sitting on the chair nursing while my husband read the newspaper online and played an audio clip from the article. The story was about a woman from our area (graduated from the same high school as my husband) who became the first female commercial airline pilot. I knew nothing more about this amazing woman except that there was a local park named after her. I spent the next year researching her life.

3. In what genre does your book fall?
The book began as a picture book biography based on one amazing endurance flight. After the Rutgers-One-On-One Plus conference last year, my mentor convinced me to write it as a YA novel.

4. What actors would you choose to play the part of your character in the movie rendition?
I would choose Jennifer Lawrence for the part of my main character.

5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Fifteen-year-old Alana Mills dreams about becoming the first female to skydive from space, but first she must learn from her ancestors on how to triumph over tragedy.

6. Who is publishing your book?
This is currently a work in progress.

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
I wrote the first draft during Nano-Wrimo last November. I had never participated before, but completed a solid rough draft during the contest. Rewriting has been a much longer process.

8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
That’s a tough one. My novel is kind of a mash up between fiction and nonfiction. I’m not sure who’s work I would compare it to since every author has such a distinct, unique voice.

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Reading about the courageous woman fliers and their journeys to do what they loved.

10.What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?
The book is built around strong female characters who learn to overcome adversity when faced with tough situations.

Thanks for stopping in and sharing my “Next Big Thing.” Now, I’ll tag my good friend and amazing author Kitty Griffin and the talented Angie Azur. Check out their blog entries after Monday, July 28th to hear their answers about the Next Big Thing!

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Path to Writing a Good Review

Tips for Writing a Good Book Review by Kitty Griffin
1.     With the emergence of E-books, reviewing books seems to be more important than ever. Even reviewing traditional books is important. So how can you construct a good review?

2.     First, mention the name of the author and the title of the book in the first paragraph.

3.     Before you even start writing, jot this down—what did the main character want and what did they do to get it? What was the problem? What was the theme?

4.     As you write the review, imagine you are telling a friend about what you read.

5.     Try to separate your main points to give your review clarity.

6.     Make sure that you are clear about what the reader is getting into when they read this story. It’s a mystery. It’s science fiction. Identify the genre.

7.     Can you talk about the author’s “voice”? Is the main character authentic?

8.     Use quotes if you can to show an example of the author’s style.

9.     If you are encouraging others to read the book, make sure you explain your feelings.

10. Do a little research into the author. For instance, if you’re reviewing a courtroom thriller it’s important to know that the author is a lawyer.

11. Give a good description regarding the setting of the book. If you were to close your eyes, could you see this place?

12. Why did you like the main character?

13. Why did you dislike the antagonist? How did the author make this person disagreeable?

14. If there’s an unreliable narrator, talk about that. What did you believe? How did this add to the book.

15. Give the reader a sense of the plot but DON’T SPOIL THINGS!  

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Salt Clay Dough

Every summer I volunteer to teach crafts to a group of teenagers who are blind and visually impaired. They come to Pittsburgh to attend the summer program at the Blind & Vision Rehabilitation Services of Pittsburgh. As an art teacher the challenge is to come up with crafts that are tactile and allow the students to be creative. We've used foam shapes to decorate visors, door knob hangers and banners. Tissue paper flower arrangements are decorations for the end of summer dance. We've folded  paper airplanes and held contests to see whose plane would fly the farthest. This summer we're working with homemade clay to make ornaments and jewelry. These kids are typical teens who accept their challenges with grace and courage. I'm always in awe of what they've accomplished, not only with their art work but in life. Below is the recipe we use to make small clay sculptures.

Salt Clay Dough

2 cups flour (all purpose)
1/2 cup salt
1 tbs. oil
1/4 cup warm water (add as you go)

1. Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl; then add water gradually
2. When the dough forms a ball knead the dough well, adding water if it is too crumbly.
3. This clay can also be baked. Set the oven to a low temp. (200 degrees) and bake 30-40 minutes or until hard.

note: you can add drops of food color to the mixture or paint when dough is hardened.

Monday, July 8, 2013

First Friday - Five Favorite Things - Debut Novel Day

by Dave Amaditz
and Marcy Collier

Poison by Bridget Zinn

Welcome to July’s version of - First Friday - Five Favorite Things - Debut Novel Day. In this monthly series, we ask five simple questions about a debut novel that will hopefully entice anyone reading this post to pick up the novel and read it themselves, and/or give them at a glance some insight into the author's writing style and voice as well as how some of the characters might think or act. We do this by presenting, first, answers to our Five Favorite Things, followed by the author's answers in a follow-up post.

This post is a continuation of Marcy’s Friday, July 5th post where we are highlighting Bridget Zinn’s debut YA novel, Poison.

1) What is your favorite line or paragraph from the novel as it relates to the main character's development and/or growth?

Dave - Wow! I believe after reading the sample below, you'll get a true sense of the descriptive nature of Bridget's writing and the peril and dilemma faced by Main character, Kyra.

Just then, the sky turned black and the rain bloodred. Where it hit the ground, dark pools of coppery blood steadily rose until they filled Kyra's vision. She coughed, choking on the bloody mist in the air. And then, in moments, the rain disappeared again. Just as all her other flashes of Sight had.
Kyra covered her eyes and slumped against the tree. The bloody scene revealed in her Sight hadn't taken place yet - and she had to make sure it never did. That's why she would do anything she had to - even abandoned a new friend, even kill an old friend - to stop her vision from coming true.

2) What is your favorite chapter ending or cliffhanger?

Dave - Kyra is being pursued for attempting to murder the Princess. She has met a handsome man, Fred, during her escape and has been unsuccessful at trying to ditch him and his dog, Langley. While she is hiding, this is what she sees and hears. It makes you wonder what is going to happen and makes it impossible to not turn the page.

What was he doing here?

Kyra held her breath. Langley pulled his head out of the bushes, and Kyra heard him shuffling off after Fred.

A few moments later she heard a loud shout, followed by a scream.

3) Who is your favorite secondary character and why?

Dave - Nadya, a gypsy, witch and seer, who unfortunately has only a minor role in the novel, is my favorite secondary character.

With lines like... Nadya's eyes twinkled. "It's always fun to spend time with young people." She shook her head. "Always think they know everything. There are more things in this world that you don't know than you will ever imagine." and "Of course I can. And so can you." Nadya picked up another piece of cloth. "Just touch the spark inside of you for a moment, and you'll know that what I say is true." 

She proves to be extremely intuitive and empathetic to Kyra's problems. I think this is what Kyra would have been like as an adult.

4) What is your favorite line or paragraph of description?

Dave -  I chose this particular passage because it gave me the creeps reading it. I wonder what it was like to write. Read the novel to find out what Kyra, the Main character, felt when she traveled there to meet Arlo.

At the end of the tunnel, a large sulfurous cavern bustled with activity. Hammers clanged, men grunted at their work, and wheelbarrows loaded with metal scrap went to a huge red glowing vat and came away empty. There were trolls lifting giant crates, and goblins sharpening weapons. At the center of it all, shouting at a group of oversized thugs and ratty-looking thieves, was the unmistakable hulking form of Arlo Abbaduto. His gigantic head was completely hairless, leaving nothing to distract from his misshapen nose and freakish protruding eyes.

Great. Yes, she wanted to meet with Arlo, King of Criminals, Master of Thieves, Ruler of Wrongdoers, and so forth - but not this way, not frog-marched in by two evil little munchkins, their tiny fingers clamped down so hard Kyra could feel her arms bruising.

5) What is your favorite line of dialogue?

Dave - This line proves what a true friend can and should be.

Arianna pulled her into a hug. "Kyra, I don't know anything about witches, but if you're one, it must be a good thing."

To read more about Bridget’s debut novel Poison and her journey, please go to: