Monday, December 19, 2011

Breaking for the Holidays

Between the holidays, a new freelance project, revisions on the novel, and my to-be-read pile, it seems like the blog has been suffering. So I'm owning it and taking an official break.

I apologize to all of you who are diligent about reading and commenting! I promise I do read all of your lovely comments. I also promise I'll get back on the blog wagon in a more productive way in January.

Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, Happy New Year.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

THE CASTING, a middle grade novel by Joyce Shor Johnson

Joyce Shor Johnson joined me a few weeks ago to talk about the kick off for her new small press, Pugalicious Press. Link here. As one of the first projects, Pugalicious Press will be publishing Joyce’s middle grade novel, THE CASTING. I invited Joyce to come back to talk about her book.

Synopsis for THE CASTING:

In The Casting meet Robyn, a twelve-year–old girl living in 350 A.D. Ireland, who must choose her future path before her coming-of-age ceremony at Samhaim.

In her time, most girls chose the more traditional roles of healing, midwifery or farming. Others less frequently chose to be warriors or go into Brehon law, but none of these choices appeal to her. Instead, Robyn yearns for red-hot crucibles full of molten bronze and the roaring fires of her father's foundry. She seeks the acceptance of the bronze casters, and the traditions of her father.

Unknown to Robyn, making the choice to be a bronze caster is the easy part—becoming a bronze caster will be the greatest challenge of her life. The biggest obstacle is Gilhey, her sister Lianna’s betrothed and her father’s top student. Gilhey convinces Lianna to turn away from Robyn, causing a rift between the sisters. Without the support of her sister, Robyn struggles to find her place among the other apprentices.

Robyn’s life changes forever the day she accidentally sets fire to the foundry, nearly burning it to the ground and causing great injury to her father. Unable to face the consequences, Robyn decides she must leave the community. Before Robyn has the chance to run though, Gilhey has her kidnapped by wandering Roman soldiers. 

When Finn, an unexpected ally, comes to Robyn’s aid, she finds it within herself to face the challenges ahead and survive the fight for her life. At the end of her journey, Robyn learns to accept herself for who and what she is: a bronze caster at heart, a girl learning her trade, a life just beginning.

K: I’m so excited for Joyce’s book, it’s a middle grade historical novel set in a time we don’t usually see for middle grade. You’ve recently decided to publish your Middle Grade novel THE CASTING as one of the first projects for the new small press, Pugalicious Press. Tell us a bit about THE CASTING’s journey to publication.

J: THE CASTING started with a conversation about the Bronze Age with some friends about 10 years ago. Then it became my MFA thesis. I sold it once, but that fell through and now I’m publishing it through Pugalicious Press.

K: I only recently found out about—I love the idea of giving people the opportunity to preorder your book while, at the same time, helping you get the project off the ground. Why did you decide to use this venue?

J: Unfortunately, I’m not independently wealthy, so being creative when it came to raising capital to print my book was critical. By offering copies of the book to those who pledge to the project, to me, is really just them preordering a copy. If you research a little, other publishers have done the same thing. Even TU books, now an imprint of Lee and Low began using Kickstarter
So if anyone would like to pledge $15 to preorder a softcover copy of The Casting you can do so at

K: When people support you through Kickstarter, they are also supporting the kick-off of a small business and many other great middle grade books to come. Can you tell us a bit about what else Pugalicious has in store?

J: Well we just signed Kell Andrews and her debut middle grade novel Deadwood. I’m very excited about this deal.

K: Congratulations to Kell and to you! How exciting. What made you start to write seriously?

J: I wasn’t any good at stand up comedy!
K: I beg to differ, I think you're very funny. But where do you find your inspiration?

J: They’re everywhere. You just have to be receptive, listen to the whispers, and trust yourself. Liking research helps.

K: Are you a full-time writer? What is your non-writing life like?

J: I’ve been a full-time writer, a part-time write, a sometimes writer, and an oh-my-gosh-I-have-to-find-the-time-to-write writer. I hope that in the next few years, I’ll be full-time four hour a day writer. My non-writing life is mother, wife, Learning Skills teacher, and publisher.

K: I can totally relate to that! There are so many distractions and "life" challenges that get in the way of our writing. What is your biggest challenge with your writing? 

J: Time, there is just never enough.
K: What are your favorite books?

J: I’d like to rewrite this question, it should be – what is your favorite book of the moment? I just finished Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly, loved it!

K: And lastly, just for fun, do you have a favorite “guilty pleasure” you want to share?

J: A two-hour massage. To die for!

K: What did I miss? Anything else you’d like to share?

J: I just wanted to thank you for supporting me with your pledge for THE CASTING and for this interview. Come on everyone, kick me!

You're welcome, Joyce! Good luck to you and Pugalicious Press!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Happy Harry Potter Holidays

I love my Brownie Troop. I love making silly and creative things with them. This is a holiday tree the girls designed. Yes, we made tiny snitches and broomsticks. Parents donated other supplies and decorations. The tree is on display at the Reuben Hoar Library in Littleton, Massachusetts until Friday. If you're in the area, you can bid in a silent auction for this and other trees, all to benefit the library building fund.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Middle Grade Author Anita Laydon Miller

I’m welcoming self-published middle grade author Anita Laydon Miller to the blog today. She is the Colorado Springs GAZETTE book columnist, the mom of four and an author of kids' ebooks (EARTHLING HERO's a sci-fi and A SCARY GOOD BOOK's a mystery). 

You can visit her at her at

K: Thanks, Anita, for being here today. You’ve recently e-published two MG novels, EARTHLING HERO and A SCARY GOOD BOOK. I’m fascinated about the decision that goes into self publishing. How did you come to that decision?

A: I had a well-respected agent and I liked her (still do), but I thought the whole publishing experience was so humiliating…jumping through the hoops of the agent querying process, and then listening to the subjective opinions of editors (some thought my books were too scary, some thought they weren’t scary enough). And the worst part about it, the thing that made me feel like dirt, was that I had no other viable option. If I couldn’t find a publisher, the stories—and I thought they were good stories—would end up under my bed forever. With only dust bunnies as readers.

And then epublishing came along, started to get big. I thought, “Heck. I’ll give that a shot.” And I did. Politely parted with my agent, figured out the formatting stuff and took those babies live. I’ve enjoyed myself. Had a lot of fun. Have sold several hundred books, and just keep selling them. It’s cool.

If I ever go the traditional route again, I don’t think it will feel humiliating to me, since I now have options. I’m currently revising a YA and am at the decision stage of whether to query agents or prepare the book for epubbing. I’m still on the fence…I’ll keep you posted.

K: Good luck as you make that decision--I love YA and can't wait to hear about that project. What made you start to write seriously?

A. About 20 years ago, I started writing greeting card and catalog copy for a greeting card company. Then I got freelance work writing for regional publications. I’d always been a big reader, so after I’d gotten some freelance writing under my belt, it was a natural progression to try writing fiction.
K: You mentioned your current work-in-progress, a YA? Can you tell us about it?

A. My YA is about hope, forgiveness, love. My main character, Olivia, is 15-years-old. She moves to Colorado with her mom. They move into the home of Olivia’s recently-deceased grandfather, which is located next to a cliff. Over the years, people have come to the cliff to commit suicide. Olivia’s grandfather talked many of the jumpers off the edge, but some of them jumped, including the brother of a guy Olivia falls in love with.

There are lots of twists and turns in the story. It’s heartfelt, but there’s humor there, too. It’s written in first person, present tense, which is interesting.

K: I love the sound of that--sounds so haunting and beautiful. Have you been surprised at all by anything that’s happened since you decided to self-publish?

A. I’m actually surprised by how many strangers have bought the book. I thought blog followers and friends would be the ones to purchase it, but, frankly, I’ve only recently gotten family members to get the books (that’s been like pulling teeth, and then they’ve called me afterward and told me how they love the books, like they’re surprised I can write J) and only a couple handful of blog followers have purchased the books. So, mostly, it’s been strangers who’ve purchased. I think they find the books on Amazon. Maybe they search by price, lowest to highest?

K: It must be such a lovely feeling to know that you're reaching your readers. I know I plan on buying both of your books as soon as I get my e-reader--in another week or two. Are you a full-time writer? What is your non-writing life like?

A. I’m the mom of four kids. I also volunteer a lot. And I write a weekly book column for the COLORADO SPRINGS GAZETTE. Readership is around 100,000. I should really tap that market better.

K: And lastly, just for fun, do you have a favorite “guilty pleasure” you want to share?

A. I love long hikes and bike rides. But I don’t feel guilty about them at all.

Thanks so much for being here today! Good luck as you finish your YA. Have a lovely holiday season! Buy Anita's books here.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Reminder--Children's Lit Meet Up

Reminder about the NESCBWI Meet Up on Tuesday, December 6!

When: Tuesday, December 6, 7:00 p.m.
Where: Aprile's European Restaurant in North Chelmsford, MA
Who: Anyone interested in Children's Books--authors, illustrators, librarians, booksellers, Agents, Editors, get the idea. All are welcome!

We'll be in the bar area--order from the bar, eat dinner, apps or dessert, or just come and chat. No formal program.

Please help spread the word to anyone who might be interested. Hope to see you there!
Heather, Lynda, and Jean from Meet Up last Spring

Friday, December 2, 2011

How to Be a Tacky Tourist

If you haven’t had the pleasure of visiting Tacky Tourist Photos, you’re missing one of the funniest websites out there. We’ve all taken them (see mine here). (Don’t lie, I know you’ve taken them, too.)
Even the president poses for tacky tourist photos...this photo, from the site:

Darren Garnick is the curator of these silly travel photos from all over the world. On Wednesday, December 7, a month-long gallery exhibition of some of the best photos from the site kicks off at the Tewksbury, MA Public Library. As a side note, Darren has been making people laugh for a long time. I've known him for over 25 years--he made American History our junior year bearable and much funnier than it should have been.

In honor of Darren’s presentation and the Tacky Tourist gallery opening on Wednesday, he has graciously offered to answer a few questions for the blog.

K: First of all, thanks for being here, Darren. I love the idea of Tacky Tourist Photos. It's laugh-out-loud funny and clever. How did the idea for the website come about?

D:  Ever since I was a kid, I've always loved offbeat roadside attractions like obscure museums and the World's Largest Ball of Twine. I also love to see how different communities strive to market themselves and can't resist at least browsing at every souvenir stand. The rising popularity of "photo of the day" websites, some of which we credit in our "Cyber-Inspiration" sidebar, convinced me to get together with my friends Ilya Mirman and Peter Koziell and create a tribute to "tourists not ashamed of being tourists."  There's also an anti-snobbery aspect in play here. So many people who like to travel treat the word "tourist" like it is an insult. The reality is that no matter how much you try to blend in for an "authentic experience," you're still an outside observer.  May as well have fun doing it.

K: Words to live by! What’s your favorite picture or theme on the site?

D:  My favorite TTP submission of all time is called "Military Make-Believe," and I still cannot believe that special operations soldiers in Ecuador would just hand over their weapons to pretty American college students for a photo-op!

K: I guess a picture really is worth 1000 words! As a writer, I guess I can sort of relate to that--and now that I think of it, there must be a story there...Do you take tacky tourist photos everywhere you go?

D:  Absolutely. You don't need to be on vacation to take a Tacky Tourist Photo.  There are so many quirky places and things in our own communities that are worth documenting. Cell phone cameras mean that there are no more missed opportunities.

K: I know I take way more pictures now that I have a camera on my phone. I'll have to start looking for more Tacky opportunities! What tips do you have for anyone looking to start taking their own tacky tourist photos?

D:  The most important thing to keep in mind when taking a Tacky Tourist Photo is that people like to look at pictures of people more than things. So if you see a funny road sign or crazy souvenir, it's better to photograph it twice. Once by itself and once with you reacting to it.  The best photos on our Website come when there is someone interacting with the tourist environment -- so then we can vicariously experience the oddball moment with you!

One thing I'd like to add is that most people already have a treasure trove of Tacky Tourist Photos sitting in shoeboxes or the family vacation albums from the pre-digital era.  We love it when TTP fans raid their childhood archives and give these memories a new life.  Please check out our submission guidelines.


Thanks again Darren! As the website indicates, visitors on Wednesday (December 7, 2012) are encouraged to bring contributions from their childhood vacation albums and their latest creative cell phone pics for group discussion and possible inclusion in an offbeat coffee table book.

And also, bring your cameras for bonus “Tacky Tourist” photo-ops throughout the evening.  Can’t make it?  No worries: Check out our Submission Guidelines and be there in spirit!

This event is held in the Meeting Room at the Tewksbury Public Library.  Doors open at 6:15pm.  Talks begin at 6:30pm.  The room is handicap accessible.  Light refreshments will be provided.  A door prize will be awarded.  Pre-registration is strongly recommended.  Register by stopping by the Reference Desk; calling 978-640-4490 ext. 205; or by clicking “register” below.  Talk is FREE thanks to the generosity of the Friends of the Tewksbury Public Library.