Monday, November 28, 2016

You Can't Plan This Stuff

So I get this email from my publicist, Rebecca Grose... Apparently a Chicago politician has it out for squirrels... And they heard about it and decided to get even... (Warning: it doesn't have a happy ending for the squirrel...)

Read it  HERE

And with a great review in Critical Blast which references both Evolution Revolution: Simple Machines and the attack on the politician, like the reviewer says:

"It's a charming little fiction / science fiction piece until you learn about things like squirrels attacking politicians for saying mean things about them, at which point there's maybe a little more to ponder on the subject. For now, enjoy Bennardo's fiction -- before it becomes a little too real."

To whet your appetite, here's a little deja vu from the book:

Illustration by Cathleen Thole-Daniels
 You may notice the animals are destroying the machines... And who do you think is leading them?

Be nice to squirrels. They're smarter than you think...

And wait till you see what they do in book 2, Evolution Revolution: Simple Plans...


Monday, November 21, 2016


I'm so happy to announce that I'll be having the launch for Evolution Revolution: Simple Machines at Barnes and Noble in Bridgewater (on the traffic circle) on December 21st. I'll be chatting and signing from 4 - 8 p.m. Literacy Volunteers of Somerset County will be doing a Book Fair Gift Wrap, so not only can you do shopping, but get them wrapped too! And you'll be helping a cause authors  love!!! *literacy.* As a former member of Literacy Volunteers, I helped tutor immigrants who sought to learn a new language for their new life. We love to see people read!

I may read, or talk about the book, it all depends on the crowd. Please stop by and say hello, support authors and Literacy Volunteers.

Hope to see you there!


Monday, November 14, 2016

Let Me Show You How You're In My Book...

I've been doing events with Evolution Revolution: Simple Machines. I've learned through my previous books it's not enough to say, "Here's my book, won't you buy it?" That's a hard sell and a lot of authors like myself are uncomfortable pushing for sales, even though it's absolutely necessary for midlist authors.

I can do that when I have to, but I have a different, nicer approach. I put people in my book.

At the Collingswood Book Festival, to appeal to kids, when I opened a copy, I turned to page 84. This is the illustration:

It's Collin, the main human character. Kids love seeing themselves in stories. Or, imagining themselves as the characters. Nothing says that like an illustration; it's visual and instant.

Some kids (and parents) are harder to convince. Maybe it's a girl who doesn't see herself as the character because mine is a boy. I tell her a little bit about the story. Maybe she squeals, "I love animals!" So I flip to this page:

That's Jack, the main character. I explain how Jack is really smart, he's learning things from Collin. If  a different child seems to be interested in machines and science, I pop to this picture:

(A lot of kids love construction machines!) If I sense a child has a sense of humor, I can show them this one:

I use the illustrations any way I can to pull them into the story. To make them want the story. And when they're interested but maybe wavering (or the parent is undecided) I'll hint at a surprise ending, and show them this one:

The point is to use your illustrations to convince them, but don't show them every one (if they see the whole book, what's left to discover?). Leave something for them to discover. By showcasing a specific aspect, that draws the child in. Talk to the kids, versus trying to sell to the parents. (Hint: while the kids are thumbing through a copy, which I highly encourage because most times once they have the book in their hands, they don't want to let go, I talk with the parents, pointing out that it has science (based on school curriculum) and adventure that draws in reluctant readers. Point out something to the adult that makes the book worthy of its price, that it's not a frivolous purchase.

For the really difficult customer, if you have a funny story relating to the pictures, or the book, share it. Don't be a sales machine, be a story teller- with pictures!

I'm off to peruse the pictures for Evolution Revolution: Simple Plans. Maybe I'll share a little peek soon...


Monday, November 7, 2016

Coming to you live...

I did a radio interview about  Evolution Revolution: Simple Machines on last Thursday, Nov. 3 for WEOL out of Elyria, Ohio, for the Morning Show hosted by Craig Adams and Bruce Van Dryke. I've done radio interviews before but it's still a little disconcerting hearing yourself on radio or tv if you're not in the business. Listen and let's compare notes:


These are my thoughts:

1. Do I really sound like that? The voice I hear is so much lower. This could explain why my kids screech when I sing. Or they could just be pesky kids. Wonder if they know how their  voice sounds.

2. I wish I hadn't said "um" as often. No excuses, I've had public speaking classes, I've done numerous presentations and talks for NJ SCBWI and at author events. (But it was 8:10 in the morning and maybe I should have gone to bed at 6 pm instead of 11:30 pm. I'm on a I-don't-have-to-get-up-with-the-kids-schedule anymore).

3. I couldn't eat or drink a cup of tea before the interview. I have digestive issues so I have to take medication and wait a full hour before putting anything in my stomach. Yes! I could have gotten up earlier and taken care of this. Totally my fault. Or I could blame it on the medication for making me wait so darn long.

4. It went so quick! I had tons of funny anecdotes and life experiences I wanted to share. I had to prioritize and a) answer the question from the host, b) keep it short and pithy, and c) try to get in pertinent information like where to get the book and my website address. For a person who likes to chat, this was an exercise in restraint!

5. Even though I've done this before, my hands were still a bit shaky right before I called in. Nerves? Possibly. You can't really prepare for these events. Hunger? A little bit. Like my brain, it takes a while for my stomach to wake up and I think it was rumbling awakd during the interview. Caffeine withdrawal? Another possibility. Didn't get that cup of tea until afterwards. Well, after the interview, a load of laundry, making my bed and doing the dishes. You can fit a lot of stuff into an hour when you're waiting to eat.

So what did you think? Throw away being an author to be a radio host? (I didn't think so either.) But here's some tips I'll leave with you:

1. Make sure you're rested and fed (not stuffed) before the interview. Don't eat anything that will make you burp (like soda), cough (like dry chips), or sniffle (like hot sauce).

2. Make a list of the things that have to get into the interview: website/blog address, where to buy the book, the age range of the book, a 2-3 sentence long synopsis (without spoilers!). Interview hosts may have this covered, but if they don't, you have to get it in. Most of this advice came to me from my publicist, Rebecca Grose of SoCal Public Relations.

3. Don't try for something you're not. If you're not British, don't do a faux accent to push the book. I'm generally funny, but my first answer didn't come off so well: Q: how many books are planned in the series? A: If I got a huge contract, I'd publish more... Nope. Didn't work. Guess I'm funnier in person where I can make goofy faces. Keep it conversational.

4. Don't be one of those people who hog all the air time. One of the things I think I did well with was waiting until the host finished speaking, I tried not to interrupt or ramble. Some people (and most of you know who you are....) just go on and on. When you do that in conversation or on author panels, I shut down. Check my nail polish. Practice signing my name for the movie deal. It's probably why I don't listen to audio books- the same speaker never stops.

5. Be prompt, courteous, pleasant-voiced, and above all, remember that interviewers are doing YOU a favor, so no attitude and say thank you!

I'll be here, writing while waiting for that call for my books to be adapted to the silver screen...


Monday, October 31, 2016

5 Things That Scared Me Writing This Book!

Happy Halloween! 

Hope you all have a booooo-tiful day!

In the spirit of the day, here are 5 things that frightened me writing this book (or, actually, the first 3 books of the series):

1. I was afraid kids wouldn't understand the concept; that it was too complex for them to realize the main character, a squirrel, was learning and evolving intellectually.

2. Kids would want a 'magic' explanation why the squirrel was smart and learning human things, like The Secret of Nimh, or the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles where a scientist creates a serum which gives the animals super intelligence.

3. The series might be too long- originally I had planned 6 books (but now the series will stop at 4 unless an enthusiastic editor shows up waving a contract).

4. The squirrel would seem like a person in a squirrel suit- and not give the reader the 'feel' of the main character, Jack, of being a squirrel kids might find in their backyard.

5. The science would bog the story down and kill the adventure aspect. There are several STEM sciences (evolution, simple machines like lever and wheel/axle, loss of habitat, machines, engineering a wagon for a squirrel- but no math!) which might seem like too much.

All these fears were terrifying!!! But writers push on--and they write the story. After editing, revising, beta reading, and a final polish, it was ready. As I'm wrapping the series up with the last book as my NaNoWriMo project, I've read through the previous books. I'm still laughing at the jokes, Jack's antics, and holding my breath when his war against the machines commences. 

But I think it's come together; writer colleagues, initial reviewers and readers have given it a hearty thumbs up. At the Collingswood Book Festival, where the initial copies of Evolution Revolution: Simple Machines debuted, almost all the targeted age kids (7-12) bought a copy. They seemed excited about the science aspect and accepted that the squirrel learned without magic or scientists being responsible. And after the Harry Potter and other successful series, people in the book business see that kids love series. Stand-alones no longer have as much appeal, kids just don't want the story to end. As for the science, I tried to keep it in check, balanced with adventure and humor and tension. So far, it seems I've succeeded. I'll have to wait for further reviews--from kids who read the book. 

If you have kids of this age, (or even if you don't!) enter to win a copy from Goodreads (click on the link). Help them leave a review here (please!) or a comment on my blog or Facebook. I'm dying to know....

what they think. 

Tomorrow starts the insanity of NaNoWriMo which will see the finish of the series with the completion of book 4. If you're doing NaNoWriMo, good luck! And remember it's about getting the words down; not being the fastest, or writing the perfect manuscript or even completing the novel. Let's struggle--and succeed--together. 

Until then, 

No tricks, all treats!


Monday, October 24, 2016

You Know You Want a Free Book!

Goodreads Giveaway! Enter to win a copy of Evolution Revolution: Simple Machines!

The giveaway runs from 10/24/16 to 11/4/2016. Please mark as To Read! Simply click the colored link below!


Now I must finish up book 3: Evolution Revolution: Simple Lessons. Look For Evolution Revolution: Simple Plans in January!

All the best, and thanks for your support!


Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Science of Fantasy

The best part about writing fantasy is that your brain can envision things that don't (or maybe shouldn't) exist: time travel, zombie apocalypses, aliens, ghosts, etc.

But that doesn't mean you can pull anything out of your tush and throw it on the page. There's a science to writing fantasy. Anything you write needs to sound if not plausible, then possible.

While Evolution Revolution: Simple Machines may seem like a sweet animal adventure story, there's a lot of science and research that went into the creation of this series.

Here's what sparked the idea:

That's my middle son's third grade science homework papers on simple machines. I saw it, and thought, ok, I remember this stuff, but really thought nothing more about it.

Until I saw a BBC special not long after about how squirrels were brilliant puzzle solvers when it came to scoring food. I also learned that female squirrels are smarter (ha ha to my boys who always think they're the smarter ones!), share what they learn, and learn from others. They don't give up until they've solved the puzzle--and get this: they can study a puzzle and figure out a short cut. They think.

Suppose...just suppose they started evolving intellectually...using human things...

Story idea!

But that was the easy part. What kind of squirrel should be in my story? How will he understand simple machines like the inclined plane or lever, and use them? For a 'simple' adventure story, there were a lot of questions that needed to be answered.

Research time.

First I read up on squirrels online and in the library. I had to answer questions like which squirrel species would work best? The answer is the common gray squirrel because they exist in so many countries and in urban, suburban, and rural areas and there was a lot of documentation of interaction with humans. What were they capable of, what physical limitations did they have? While they have dextrous paws with finger-like claws, they don't have a lot of strength so they can't actually manipulate large or difficult things. I collected newspaper stories about their exploits and the mayhem they instigated because my squirrel was going to cause a lot of trouble on his way to growing intellectually.

There are six simple machines- which meant one really long book to explain them all, which wouldn't work for a middle grade reader, or several books. Because there was so much information, I started a note/scrapbook. I collected humorous clippings and pictures of squirrels doing human things: water skiing, cartoons where they think like humans, etc. as fodder to help me write the story of how my main character, Jack, would get into situations and learn.

I almost always incorporate humor into my books, even horror stories. Seeing what squirrels were, and might be capable of doing, helped me to add levity into a story that had a lot of science. Evolution Revolution will teach kids about simple machines and conservation and evolution among other sciences just by reading Jack's story, but that doesn't mean it can't be fun to read. I didn't want it to sound like a textbook.

As any writer will tell you, ideas and problems to be solved in your story pop into your head. One of the big problems was language; how was Jack to understand human language? I made a list of words that Jack needed to learn so the story could be told:

Why does Jack need to know what toilet paper is? It relates to a funny bathroom scene. And while Jack can't speak the human words, he can understand them.

In the second book, Evolution Revolution: Simple Plans, I introduce new characters. One of them is a mynah bird. I needed a vehicle for Jack to communicate with his human friend, Collin, without magic or such. Jack is, and always will be, a normal, common gray squirrel like you find in your own backyard. The one concession I had to make was that different species communicated amongst each other. Fox taunts Jack, Beaver whines, and Owl encourages him. The mynah bird can repeat hundreds of human words. Mina (get it: Mina, mynah moe!) doesn't need to use proper grammar, only repeat words between Collin and Jack. But could such a bird, usually a pet in a cage, survive in the cold north? For that answer I had to reach out to mynah bird specialists. (There is a group devoted especially to them!) I emailed them and got my answer: escaped pet mynahs can survive in the northern US, and had for some time in southern Canada.

There were so many science questions that needed to be answered to write Jack's story. Yes, there is so much imagination in it, like animals working together to save another animal. A hop around the internet brings up stories about a lion saving a baby wildebeest from another lion, or an elephant trying to rescue a man that it thinks is drowning. Think about Koko, the gorilla who uses sign language, or the elephant that paints. Not such a far-fetched story anymore... Maybe animals are a lot smarter than we give them credit for and 'science' has to catch up to my imaginative tale...

Imagine the impossible- because it may be possible...


Look for Evolution Revolution: Simple Plans in January, 2017