Friday, March 16, 2018

Embrace the Devastation...

If you know me well (or follow my blog and/or Facebook posts), you've heard about and seen my meditation garden. It looked like this:

I go there to work out plot problems on my novels, talk to God when something's on my mind, get some distance when I'm seriously angry, and just revel in getting my hands in the dirt as I plant flowers. My meditation garden makes me happy.

Two weeks ago (and I can't believe another storm is coming this way...), this happened:

The fence will have to be replaced (it's got a good buckle), and one tree will have to be cut down (it's split in half and will die). I saw the devastation and it broke my heart. But I will have to wait until spring before I can repair it.

In the meantime, I am working on my middle grade manuscript. It started out like this:

Pristine. Loved. Ready to go out- to the critique group. I knew there would be changes, some of them tough to accept. Working in my garden, sometimes I have to dig up a dying or dead plant that I loved.  I have to chop branches so trees are strong and healthy. I have to clear out leaves that clutter up and take the eyes away from the gentle green foliage. I have to make decisions which flowers will work well in the garden based on available sunlight, water, space, and hardiness.

Then the critiques from group members came in. Cut that sentence. This situation doesn't work. No one likes this character. The tension dies here. Chapter after chapter had been torn apart. No page had emerged unscathed. Beloved words would not survive. I pushed up my sleeves (really, I hate sleeves rubbing my elbows) and went to work. I sweated and (sometimes) swore, and used my tools (thesaurus, dictionary, research books, Google- and lots of chai lattes) to repair my manuscript. This is what my manuscript looks like after I finished.

But after pruning redundant words, digging out dead plot threads, combing through inconsistencies, I'm confident it will become ready to submit to editors and agents (it needs another read through, maybe ten). So while there's still snow on the ground, I'll work on the manuscript until it's finished. By then, spring will be in control and I can work on my garden (and meditate on a few choice words for Father Winter).

With the loss of one tree, more sunlight will fall on that space and I can add different flowers which couldn't tolerate the shade there previously. In my manuscript, the loss of words, phrases, pages, chapters- will allow me to add new things and improve it.

From devastation, something new.


Monday, March 5, 2018

I Don't Like You... But That's Okay

Hannibal Lector, for all his suavity, refined artistic sensibilities, and excellent academic credentials, was a sadistic, sociopathic cannibal. Even though we don't like him, we're drawn to him. Throughout the movie Silence of the Lambs, almost everything we learn about him creeps us out. Scares us to death. Yet, we move in closer... We're fascinated.

Photo courtesy of Rene Asmussen at Pexels
Sid, the brutish kid from Toy Story who tortures toys, is unlikable. We cheer when he gets his comeuppance by Woody near the end. For all we can see, Sid has no redeeming qualities. (At least with Hannibal you could enjoy a good port and classical music before he sauteed you.)

Yet, in children's literature, for some reason, editors, agents, critique groups, and readers tell authors "I don't find your character likable."

Um, yeah. Gotta read the whole story. It kind of ruins the effect if it's 'insta-love' because that's not reality. Aren't there people it takes you time to warm up to? Maybe days, weeks, even years and some, never. Insta-like is for picture books and young readers who see the world as generally a happy place. If I say, "Well, halfway through the story, he saves someone and takes out the trash for his mom," people whine because they want to like the character faster. Even if the character becomes likable later in the story (as plot and details develop), it seems so many have to like a character immediately. Some you may never like- they remain evil or mean or nonredeemable (think Freddie Krueger, Mean Girls, the Predator, Samuel L. Jackson's character in Pulp Fiction.

The diversity of character personalities is what makes our world interesting. It's not a unicorn-stardust-candy world. There are dark spaces, and dark people. Surely if children's literature can discuss topics like bullying, racism, murder, sexual assault, and suicide, it can handle some characters we don't like. It feels hypocritical to tell an author, "make this girl nicer so I can like her" and the story is about a girl killing someone because she insulted her shoes. I will never like Hannibal, although I would be fascinated to read his life story. I read Helter Skelter in college. NOTHING could make me like Charles Manson. I understand he had a hard life, prostitute mother, etc. Still, NOTHING could make me like Charles Manson. My favorite character that I could never 'like' but yet who draws me in is Dexter. He's a serial killer. Yes, he hunts other serial killers, but he has no empathy (total sociopath), he butchers people into small pieces and dumps them in the ocean. He fakes actually liking people. And (spoiler alert!) he recognizes the same traits in his adopted children and begins grooming them. Who the heck would love a character like that?

Don't we owe it to our readers to show all the darkness? There will always be people we will never like and churning out books where everyone has a redeeming quality, or, even if they're not evil, is likable, is doing a disservice to those readers. Toddlers have pulled away from certain people who want to hug them; maybe they see a dark side to Uncle Tommy that we blind ourselves to. We have to stop putting filters on characters because the world is not a big kumbaya. If children are to see themselves in books, they need to see others in their real state- totally evil, partially evil, dark, twisted, mean, etc. Maybe by the end of the book if they still don't like the character, they will at least understand them.

You don't have to like me, but now you understand me a bit more.


Monday, February 19, 2018

Hearts and Flowers...

Our world is broken. With the tragic and senseless events in Florida at the Stoneman Douglas High School, we are all broken by our grief, our rage, our despair. I have no magic words or happy platitudes to offer. All I can say is this:

There is love to be found- in unexpected places. Open your hearts so you will feel love from where ever it comes. A simple heart-shaped potato chip reminds me of the love that surrounds me, from family, friends, my faith community, my pets, and a kind gesture from a stranger.

There is hope: I see it in something as mundane as the yearly bursting forth of daffodil sprouts heralding another spring, to the hope for change arising out of students, parents, teachers and others no longer willing to accept what happened in Florida and acting on that hope. I noticed these daffodil sprouts just today. They had been hiding under a blanket of leaves and snow. Hope is like that; it needs to be searched out. Once found, it lifts the heart and the spirit.

Sending love and hope to everyone, whether they are directly affected by the Florida shootings, or feeling the pain for those who are.


Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Receiving and Giving

When Chloe Kim put up the highest score in the halfpipe event on Sunday at the Olympics, she received not only the gold medal, but a plush tiger (named Soohorang). In the last few decades, every Olympics seems to have a mascot but I'd kind of like to think that naming this tiger might as a type of goodwill ambassador might help bring awareness to the plight of tigers and animals across the globe as they become more endangered.

So when Evolution Revolution: Simple Lessons won gold, and Evolution Revolution: Simple Machines won bronze in the Feathered Quill Book Awards, I awarded myself with this:

It's pots of bulbs and seeds for dahlias, lavender, lilies poppies. They will be my little 'goodwill ambassadors' for bees and butterflies, inviting them into my garden. One of the major themes in my Evolution Revolution trilogy is the loss of habitat. Jack, a common gray squirrel, fights to save his tree, nest, and woods from construction machines and the encroach of humanity. (How many freaking shopping malls do we need?) 

So I received a gold and bronze award, and I'm giving back food, a haven, and a dating space for bees and butterflies (maybe some birds, too). 

And the star-shaped rock? That I have faith not only in myself, but in my small efforts to make a difference, one flower at a time. 


Friday, February 2, 2018

And the Award Goes To....

Evolution Revolution: Simple Lessons!

Dear Ms. Bennardo
We are excited to announce that the book "Evolution Revolution: Simple Lessons" has won the Gold/1st Place award in the 2018 Feathered Quill Book Awards Program for the Young Readers (8-12) category!  Congratulations!  We had a HUGE response to our annual awards program, with many excellent books vying for top places.  Your title rose to the top and you should be quite proud.


"The plot of this title is by far the best of all the books submitted for this category.  The illustrations are great and the front cover scores a perfect 10!"  

I'm feeling the love for Jack the squirrel! And a shout out of congrats to my wonderful illustrator, Cathy Thole Daniels, for not only the recognition for this book, but....

Evolution Revolution: Simple Machines!

Dear Ms. Bennardo:
We are excited to announce that the book "Evolution Revolution: Simple Machines" has won the Bronze/3rd Place award in the 2018 Feathered Quill Book Awards Program for the Young Readers (8-12) category!  Congratulations!  We had a HUGE response to our annual awards program, with many excellent books vying for top places.  Your title rose to the top and you should be quite proud.


"You get an A+++ for all of your illustrations and your front covers are phenomenal.  They all are eye-catchers that separate themselves from the pack! I do like the plots as well.  "Simple Machines" is great for kids when it comes to learning about the environment.  And the book is fantastic when it comes to learning the art & beauty of friendship. 

Two awards for a trilogy! I am beyond ecstatic! This series was my heart; a project I started well over 10 years ago- and I'm hoping it keeps achieving more success! 

All books that I sell at book events will feature the gold and bronze award stickers (sorry, I can't do that through Amazon or B&N). 

I'm just so excited, I have to celebrate, but I don't know what to do! Send me a suggestion! If I use your suggestion (and no, I can't give free books to everyone) I'll send YOU a free copy! 

I dared to dream...


Monday, January 22, 2018

The Pirate's Life

The bastards. As a children's writer, I don't put down those words without serious consideration. When it comes to pirates though- the kind that give away illegal copies of an author's book, a photographer's photos, a musician's CD, I don't need more than a millionth of a nanosecond to call them the scum they are.

Picture courtesy of Pexels, Inc.

Artists of all genres work hard, and long, and most of the time, without making any money. We're lucky (some of us) to break even. Yet, these pirates, and their equally scummy friends who believe 'art should be free' ignore that we have bills to pay, we like to eat, and we hope to keep the heat on in the house over the winter. They automatically 'ass-ume' that once you write a book, you make as much money as Madonna did on hers. Or that you rake in the concert dough like Springsteen. You're a total idiot and a waste of cytoplasm if you believe that.

I'm tired of having to report these lower-than-ebola-virus lifeforms, but it's my duty. Here are several ways for authors, both traditionally and Indie published, to fight those who shouldn't be allowed to breathe.... (do I sound a bit vicious? Oh wait, I'm just warming up....)

1- Sign up for Talkwalker Alerts. They are a free service in which you put key words, like the title, genre of your book, your name, etc. and whenever a mention is made somewhere out 'there' (points to www), you'll get a notice. You can get daily alerts (best if you're fighting pirates), weekly, or less often. Google alerts does the same, but it's not as effective. Use both! It may give you more email than you want, but isn't beating these guys worth it? Here is the link: Talkwalker Alerts. Since they are a free service, it would help if you throw a few dollars $5, $10, to keep this lifesaver afloat.

2. If you find a thieving pirate, go to the site (but be careful!). Just see if what they are offering- your book, unlawfully- is there. DON'T CLICK ON ANYTHING. Many times these sites have malware to boot, and then the curses will abound in great color and depth. All you have to do is make sure it's your book/music/art.

3. The first place to go is your publisher if you're traditionally pubbed. I went to St. Martin's Press and clicked Contact Us, and chose the option Company Piracy Report. They have an easy-to-use form and boom, takes 2 minutes. Now the publisher is aware of the situation and they have a company which handles piracy with Takedown Notices (a legal "Stop giving my book away for free, you flea-bearing, smelly-pit degenerate pirate!"). Plus, they will work with Google and such to get the sites themselves taken down.

4. If you are self-pubbed, go to Indies Unlimited. They have a link to a form for Google. You can use this for both traditional and Indie books. If traditional, make sure you list the publisher (Add publisher's name and email). As the author, even though the publisher may hold the copyright, you are a viable representative to report piracy. For Indie authors, you would click the button that says 'self' under representative. Indies Unlimited walks you through the process, so don't worry if it sounds a bit confusing here. The link: Indies Unlimited

5. Other places to go: Bing Notices of Infringement Page. You'll have to wade through basic stuff and search for what you need, but you'll learn more in the process. Also try Google Legal Help. I haven't been through the process on this page (yet). In order to stop free copies of your works, you have to be diligent. For further resources and information, search How To Remove Pirate Sites From Google. Again, there is a lot of information out there and you have to take the time to slog through it. Some sites will advertise they can do it-for a monthly fee. There are enough free resources to check first.

Go get the bastards...


Monday, January 15, 2018

Serendipity or Opportunity?

I fell on some ice Wednesday. I didn't think it was a big deal- until Thursday night. I could barely move on Friday morning and was forced to cancel my appearance at the Burlington Country YA Author Book Festival. I was dreading yoga on Monday morning, although I was starting to feel better.

Should I go... or stay home in my comfy jammies, with a cup of chai, and finish those revisions...?


I went. After class I chatted with my fellow sufferers and mentioned my fall, and that I had to cancel going to a book signing. This lead to them asking if I was an author? What did I write? Would it be suitable for her grandchildren?

I handed out bookmarks. Sometimes this can generate online sales. Then, reluctantly, unsure, one woman mentioned she was a writer too. Memoir, not published. She shyly asked questions about writing, publishing--and would I come speak to her writing/critique group at the library?

From a small chat I've (hopefully) made a sale and although I won't get a speaking fee, my appearance may garner more sales from both the audience and the library (if they don't have my books already). You just never now when an opportunity for a sale, even for one book, will arise. Maybe that one book will be recommended for a book club, where all the members buy a copy. Or a teacher wants you to talk to her class because they'll be discussing your book after she buys a copy for each student.

Keeping all these scenarios in mind, here are 5 tips:

  1. ALWAYS carry bookmarks. I've found business cards are static, boring, and too small to be effective. There are a number of companies that can print them economically and assist you (or for a small fee) do the design.
  2. Use bold colors and an attractive, easy to read font. Larger bookmarks allow you to post more information. Smaller ones are easily lost.
  3. Put your covers and (if possible) an illustration from the book prominently showcased. Graphics draw the eye quicker than blocks of text.
  4. List important information: your name, full title of your book(s), the publisher, your website/blog. I would also recommend the ISBN so librarians and teachers can quickly find your book and order it!
  5. USE THEM. Bookmarks don't bring any attention to your book sitting on your desk. Hand them out, leave them in bookstores, libraries, schools, workplaces, Starbucks, etc. The worst? They get thrown out. The best? Someone picks it up who could help your career.

See you next week!