Tuesday, July 10, 2018

In the Writer's Garden

Anyone who knows me or has read my social media know that I have a meditation garden, love flowers, and feel bad for weeds (which are just misplaced plants). Over the winter, a heavy snowfall  broke a tree in half (we discovered later that the inside of the tree was rotted).


It landed on the wire fence, so both had to be removed. Two weeks ago, the tree was cut down and just this past weekend, I fixed the fence. (Yes, I did.) Without that tree, more sun shines on the garden. I had worked around the shade, planting sun-loving flowers in pots or on the outside edges. Now half the garden stood in the glare of the sun.

Changes had to be made.

It reminded me of my novels. You start to build one way, but things happen- critiques, editor/agent comments, lost plot threads, etc. It requires major changes. Some plants could stay where they were, some had to be moved, and some were crushed by the tree guys. I needed to add full sun plants, move around statues and objects of interest. In my novels I've had to change endings, kill off some characters and add others, and I've had to revise/add/delete language. What results is the same garden (book) but it's different.

Here are the results:

The long view

A new addition - red grass

My black-eyed Susans blooming. They are a lustful bunch- all over the place!

Calendra - I love the pink and green

A burgundy dracenia spike

A bird house crafted by YMCA camp kids thanking me for my donation

No garden is complete without a gazing ball

I have a statue for each son - this is Alec, my animal lover

This is Thomas, my Harry Potter/avid reader fan

This is Collin, my gardening buddy (when he was younger and wanted to help)

The fixed fence (I do nice work). See my pretty blue chair?

I turned the stump into a pedestal 

The first time my lily bloomed! 

My cats love the garden too!

So that's where I've spent some time. I hope my novel looks and turns out as good as my garden. With both, I don't follow traditional rules- I don't like stuffy, formal gardens, but I don't like chaos either. Same with my books; I hate angst and stereotypical characters but I love books that touch me emotionally. 

Now to fix that novel...

Char 



Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Nice Guys/Gals Need Not Apply....

I'm working on a middle grade story. The main character, Jake, is having issues. (It's middle grade- there are always issues.)

One of the criticisms I'm hearing is that "I don't like the character enough."

Um, do you like every person you meet? I don't. And I know some people don't like me at first (and sometimes not even later, but that's a drama for another day.) While teen books are reflecting more of reality- sexual assault and gender identification, bullying, school shootings, etc., it seems every book's main character is a nice person. It's not like that in reality. Everyone knows this yet few write it.

My character has to have room to grow.

I'm not buying into the 'your character has to be likable' in order for the story to be good. Maybe I'm just a little tired of the kumbaya, sugary portrayals: a nice girl who's the cheerleader with the best boyfriend and perfect life who suddenly finds her life in a mess. Or the jock with a promising college football scholarship who's a nice guy except for that drunk driving episode. Or any other story where everyone starts out nice.

People are complicated. Characters should mirror that. There are times when you meet a person, and they come off as a jerk, or nasty, or just annoying. Maybe they have a problem or situation you don't know about. Until you learn more about them, you won't understand why they may come off as unlikable. Possibly they are simply unlikable; that doesn't make their story less compelling. If we're looking at a short time period, we could all point the finger and accuse each other of not being nice- at that time, or from that time going forward, or backward. Everyone has those moments of 'un-niceness' and I dare anyone to argue to the contrary.

Photo by Kat Jayne, courtesy of Pexels

Maybe a character or a specific person is just a jerk. There are real people like that. Look around. Maybe you're related to a person that isn't so nice. Possibly you work or live near someone you don't like, but you have to interact with them. That's real life. Middle grade and young adult books should have characters like this; if kids understand complex issues, they will understand, and accept, that not all people are sweet, nice, helpful, etc. And that doesn't make the character a villain.

Before you write off my character Jake, get to know him. By the end of the book, you'll understand why he's the way he is and that to tell his story, I couldn't make him sweet.

You might even like him.

Char

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Ye Olde Manuscript

I'm working on a new book. (So what else is new?)

But this time, I'm doing it olde school.

I'm handwriting the entire book.

Why??? you scream? When a laptop is quicker, has instant SpellCheck, you can look up anything you need, and I'm only going to have to type the whole thing anyway?????

Yes, I know it sounds crazy, but hear (read) me out. First and foremost, I want to be thoughtful when I write this book. As my pencil (yep, really old school!) glides across the page in cursive script (and my script is really curlicue curly), I weigh each word. The process slows down to where I think about a word and consider if another would fit better. If so, I erase the inferior word and use the better one. On a laptop, I would be tapping furiously and just keep going, figuring I'd change the word when I started revising. But handwriting (which is becoming a lost skill and art), makes me order my thoughts, it forces me to almost read it aloud in my head. On a laptop, writing is as fast as my fingers can type, and sometimes that's faster than my brain thinks. There will still be many revisions required; I noticed when I picked up the project one day that I'd used the same word in two consecutive sentences. There are empty spaces where information about the time period or the setting needs to be inserted. Laptops make it too easy to become distracted on the www. For now, it's about the writing. Later it will be about correcting/adding information.

Second, I like to write poolside.

Okay, this is actually in the pool and I'm not actually writing, but you get the drift. Laptops + water + a pool bar = disaster. If my pages may get a little soggy from a splash, I leave them in the sun and they're good to go. (Another reason not to use pen, it will smear or dissolve.)

Third, I can write at the beach without fear of surf, sand, or sun blowing up my laptop, or it getting stolen. I can write in the car (until I get carsick) without worrying I'll run out of power. I can write anywhere.

Another reason to write this out longhand is it's giving me the feels, the tone of the manuscript. It's a story about an immortal being and currently, he's in the early 1900's, but he's been around since the late 1700's, and this is how they wrote manuscripts back then. The longer process helps me to think about language appropriate for the times and places; rougher, less elegant speech of a common farmer, and then the elegant, refined speech of a gentleman. When there are chapters that require a lot of dialogue, writing longhand helps me work it out as I go, so that, I believe, it sounds more realistic.


And look at how pretty these journals are! I can't remember when I bought them, but they've been sitting in my bookcase. Like most authors, we see a gorgeous journal and we must have it. We plan on writing in them, but most of the time, we don't because they're too pretty. As I declutter and think about downsizing and simplifying my life, I'm using things that I've 'saved' for one reason or another. I'm writing this book in the journals. I'm signing bills with that sparkly pen. I'm wearing perfume to the grocery store.

I don't think it will take that much longer to write the story (talking about just the basic draft) because when I use my laptop, I go back and see an error and want to fix it, and then spend more time revising and changing than I do adding more words. (That's breaking the cardinal rule of NaNoWriMo: write it down FIRST, revise LATER.) Handwriting forces me to go forward or I'd be erasing pages, and that is not happening. Sure, I might have more revisions when I'm done, but I think I can catch a lot as I type the story into in my laptop.

It's an interesting experiment, but somehow it gives me a serenity while writing that I don't get when I use the laptop. I can't rush the writing or the writing gets too sloppy making it almost unreadable, or I get cramps in my hand. Slow and easy, thoughtful and deliberate. That's the theme of this experience.

I'll keep you posted on how it goes-

Char

Monday, June 4, 2018

Word Games

Language fascinates me. (Hence, why I write.) I like to play around with, and yes, intentionally misuse words. But there's good precedence. Just think about the word 'mouser.' I'm guessing that someone had a cat, and that cat caught a lot of mice. Instead of saying that, they said she was a 'mouser.' Kind of like saying a person is a writer in place of 'that person writes.' A noun becomes a verb.

When I'm talking about my cats roaming through the decorative grasses in my back yard, I tell my sons the cats are 'jungling;'

Photo courtesy of Pexels, Mali Maeder

They are not prowling through a real jungle, but acting like they are. When my cats snuggle into the blanket, they are 'nesting,' not building a nest. (See how fun this is?)

But I'm not the only one who does this. Who first used the words:

texting

gaming

linking (as in chain-link smoking)

fragging (as in killing/wounding someone with a fragmentation device, i.e. grenade)

actualizing (to make actual or real)

Do you turn words on end, make a noun into a verb? Use them in unexpected ways? Try it, it's fun.

Char 

Sunday, May 6, 2018

On the Flip Side-

It's been a tough week. In my church, we lost a long time member and friend. Another church friend lost her sister. Yet another's father was seriously sick. And then I landed in the hospital. A long scary story later, I'm getting better, but my stepdad is having knee replacement surgery and I'll be giving emotional and driving support to my mom. I'm stretched a little thin so this is my blog post for two weeks, unless I find time, energy, and motivation to post sooner.

Be good to yourself  because you mean a lot to others. And you deserve to be taken care of.


Photo by Ian Turnell from Pexels


See ya soon-

Char 


Thursday, May 3, 2018

Just Ignore the Science... Really!

I was chatting with my middle son, an engineering/math major, and he told me that it would be impossible for squirrels like my character Jack in the Evolution Revolution series to learn to use simple machines. When I mentioned Koko, the gorilla that learned sign language, he pointed out that Koko could answer she was 'fine' when asked 'How are you?' but did not ask the same question in return. For her, there was only that moment. Because of that sense of only here and now, she could not 'imagine' any action and its consequences. It would not be possible, my son argued, for Jack, even though he's learned about rolling and sees a rock impeding a wheel from moving, to apply this knowledge to stop bulldozers from coming into his wood. My argument was that squirrels share what they learn with other squirrels, thus 'disproving' (in my mind) that animals only think in the here and now, because teaching others to defeat a food puzzle (i.e. bird feeder), results in future gain.


Photo courtesy of Chris Carter, Pexels


I have some scientific basis for my argument. In a study published in Current Zoology, Professor Thomas Hills, a co-author, asserts that animals which can simulate future actions "must be able to distinguish between their imagined actions and those that are actually experienced." (In my case, it's Jack blocking the wheels on the construction machines because he already did so on a wheelchair, or me watching videos of squirrels solve puzzles and then teach other squirrels.) The authors say their data supports the concept that animals which can 'simulate environments and conceive the future must have some form of self-awareness," and this means projecting themselves into the future in a situation.

My son disagrees.

We will have to agree to disagree. It may not happen now or even in the near future, but I believe animal intellect is slowly increasing, evolving. But that's not science, that's imagination.

Sometimes though, you have to ignore the science. So many books, TV shows, and films would not exist if we simply followed the science. American astrophysicist Neil Degrasse Tyson posted on social media that he was watching the sci fi movie, Armageddon even though it's got rotten science. (Apparently we can't blow a giant meteor in half with a nuclear bomb, and even if it were possible, the fragments hitting the earth would be life-ending events on their own.) There are numerous incidents which are impossible, at least with current knowledge, in many movies, TV shows, and novels. Staying within what we actually know would limit our imagination, and maybe not inspire future generations to achieve what was dreamed/proposed in creative works. (Cell phones first appeared in the original Star Trek.)

So, ignore the science - (but not all; some things are irrefutable like the laws of physics, and you don't want to be obviously ignorant about basic science or the audience won't believe your story.) Creativity and imagination sets us apart from all other animals...

At least for now.

Char 

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Pull Up a Chair, And Sit A While...

We all have a favorite chair. Maybe it's the big recliner you and the dogs can pile into on a cold night. Maybe it's the barstool at a local pub, surrounded by friends. My favorite is a lounger on a beach, under an umbrella, waves licking at my toes and a good book in my hand.

Least favorites would have to be the hard plastic one in the principal's office (whether parent or child), the dentist's pleather pit of misery, or the front seat of a VW bug (who is that short, anyway??).

This was my office chair:


As you can see it's suede, has a nice leather trim and nicely padded cushion. I added the wheels and shortened the legs because it's not really an office chair, but a dining one. It looked nice with my desk, and the height was just right.

Then I got a new desk.

The chair didn't work anymore.

It was too short, and reaching my arms up caused pain in my shoulders whenever I spent more than an hour in it working on my laptop.

So I started working on the couch. Too close to the TV, the cat, a comfy blanket.... And my productivity went down. Plus, I started getting neck pain from looking down at my laptop.

Time for a new chair. Before I bought one because it was a good deal, or because it was readily available to take home or before it looked good, I had to make sure it fit my needs. I measured the height of my desk, the height of space underneath where my long legs had to fit, and the width of the opening. Some chairs, those big executive ones, while they look really poofy and comfortable, were too wide and wouldn't fit under the desk, or even close enough to it (makes me wonder how anyone got any work done). Some had arm rests so long that prevented me from pulling the chair close enough. My arms would have been very tired after an hour of working. And really, does anyone use those rests? Some were too flat- I needed more back support if I was going to write longer than a blog post. I measured and sat in every chair in Staples. Finally I found a winner:


Yep, not much to look at, and there are no poofy cushions, but it fits all my specs, and unbelievably, is one of the most comfortable working chairs I've ever sat in. Short arms so I can be close to the desk. Adjustable height to fit my legs underneath. Adjustable back support. Quiet wheels. Mesh that has give and breathes.

     "The hard part of writing at all is sitting your ass down in a chair and writing..."
                                                       Jerry Pournelle, sci fi writer, essayist, journalist.

Sitting a lot is what writers do. We writers have a universal code- BIC which means Butt in Chair. It means working. Anyone serious about writing will do a LOT of sitting. Whether it's a Starbucks, the library, or your home, you've got to be comfortable so you're focused on putting down words, not fidgeting in your seat trying to relieve muscle pain.

Let me leave you with this thought:

     "It is the Chair in honor of all those who, however competently, embrace the impossible. Sit in
      that chair someday."                                               Robert Fulghum, author, Unitarian minister
   
 And yes, I'm sitting in my chair. We both have work to do.

Char

Monday, April 16, 2018

The task of querying agents is not only onerous, but it's almost soul-destroying; where else does a person set themselves up for multiple rejections- or just being ignored? Every artist, whether writer, illustrator, songwriter, singer, etc. faces this. It's hard keeping that stiff upper lip.

Just this past week though, I had the nicest rejection- (yes, you read that - rejection). Not only did the head of this literary agency write back to tell me no thank you and good luck (getting that much of response is rare. Nowadays it's "If you don't hear back from us, that's a no." Yeah, like we couldn't guess that), but she offered her thoughts. First she told me what she liked: the concept and the series potential. Then she told me what she didn't like: it moves too fast into the main premise, not giving her enough time to identify with my character, and that affected the voice. While it always hurts when either agents or editors say they don't like the 'voice' of the character, at least it gives me something to look at, to consider where I might make changes. The problem of moving too fast into the concept was the result of another professional telling me to 'get right into it.' Clearly these two have vastly different opinions. I'm going to go with the second opinion, and ease into the storyline. The concept of having that opening BANG! and the story starts, I believe, is wearing out. Readers, and industry professionals, seem to want more information about the character before we see their struggle. They kind of want to be friends first. While I have the issue of the voice to think over, I don't see a radical change. The character is a 14-year-old boy and their voice is generally different from girls (I have 3 boys so I know their mindset. Generally they are not drama queens or angsty, and not being either one myself, I can't write that voice. People like that usually annoy me anyway.).

So instead of licking my wounds over yet another rejection, I'm going to look at it that this senior agent saw the potential and that with some work (which I've already started), there's a future for this series.

In that spirit, I sent a personal thank you to the agent. It makes me wonder how often authors respond to her (or others) with a thank you for the sharing of their time and expertise. If an agent (or an editor) takes the time to do that for you, SEND a THANK YOU!

Now I'm off to read my character the riot act and get him in line-

Photo courtesy of Pexels/Pixaby


Keep writing and believing!

Char

Monday, April 9, 2018

Fly Me to the Moon- No, Make That the Sun!

My dad worked in the space program during the Apollo missions. His love of science and exploration was passed down to me; I love thinking about new worlds and exploring the cosmos. One of my favorite images to focus on during meditation is floating through space, gazing at stars and galaxies and planets. And if I couldn't be an astronaut (that whole math thing), then I could pretend to be one. It's one reason I write sci fi and wrote articles on space.

And it's why I'm traveling to the sun with the Parker Solar Probe.



If you read the above 'ticket,' my name will be on a memory card on the Parker Solar Probe as it journeys to our sun, collects data and gets closer to a star than mankind has ever been. Yes, the probe will burn up once it gets too close- along with my name, but in spirit I've traveled the universe farther than I dreamed.

Here's the link if you want to check it out: http://parkersolarprobe.jhuapl.edu

Besides it being so cool to have my name on there, it reminds me of my dad (he collected a number of memorabilia like Lunar Module tech manuals, pictures, design papers, etc. while he worked at Grumman during the Lunar Module construction which I have donated to the Smithsonian. The chances of me learning how to pilot a Lunar Module are less than zero, so those important papers belong in safekeeping.)

And, by connecting with and following NASA, I find out all kinds of interesting things, like how much satellite/rocket garbage is orbiting our Earth, what are the new pictures from the Hubble Space Telescope, where the next possible killer asteroid is, and if there are worlds close enough for humanity to someday seek refuge when our planet is dying. Good stuff for sci fi novels!

Here are some cool links if you're of a sci fi bent:

https://www.nasa.gov (missions, news, pictures and contests from NASA)

https://www.seti.org (search for extra-terrestrial intelligence)

http://hubblesite.org (pics and info from/about the Hubble Space Telescope)

http://chandra.harvard.edu (Info from the Chandra Observatory)

https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/main/index.html (info about the space station)

https://spotthestation.nasa.gov/signup.cfm  (tells you when the space station is flying overhead in your area!)

Spotting the space station going overhead is my next project (NJ always seems to be cloudy or the station is going over at some ungodly hour, but I will track it down!).

Space is limitless....


Char

Monday, April 2, 2018

Well Looky Here.....

So the new issue of Publishers Weekly came in:



And inside was:



And look who's there... Jack!



Now that you see the first line, don't you want to know what happens?


Char

Monday, March 26, 2018

Step Up!

It's THAT time- to step up your writing and/or illustrating. Time to register for the NJ Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators annual conference this June in New Brunswick! Here's the info:

Who's going to be there

What workshops are going on

Who's giving critiques

Where can I register

Ok, I've done the work for you- gathered all the info in nice, tidy links. Click and read, then click and sign up!

Unfortunately, I won't be there this year, my baby is graduating (!!!!) close to that date and then we have a number of family obligations. Sometimes, you just can do it all. So 5 quick tips:

1- Have fun! Don't make it all about work. There is a cocktail hour, there are chances to chat and mingle. Relax!

2- Network. What good is going to the conference with all these fab EDITORS AND AGENTS and you don't chat them up? (don't be pushy or obnoxious or you'll never get published). They are there all weekend and unless they're busy giving a critique or presentation (or in the bathroom), say hello ask them about their fave books, what they're looking for, or share a joke. (It helps to know a bit about them before you chat. Do your homework for the ones you really want to impress!)

3- Be considerate. Don't give out copies of your manuscript. That's what e-queries are for. You'll get that info from Cathy, your Reg. Adv. AFTER the conference.

4- Don't waste the opportunity! Query and submit to all agents and editors that are a GOOD FIT for your writing. If an editor hates sci fi, don't be the jerk that sends them a space story.

5- Make friends. These are the same authors that may be next to you at book signings when you get pubbed, they may have the same agent and/or editor, they may love you and buy your books... So be nice, professional, funny, sweet, irreverent, and chill.

I wish you all good luck!

Char

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.

Char

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.

Char




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.

Char

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. 

Char

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.

JUDGES' COMMENTS: 

"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.


JUDGES' COMMENTS: 


"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...

Char 

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...

Char

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...?

Sigh.

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!

Char


Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Clear Your Desk!

Monday was National Clean Your Desk Day.

I wasn't totally successful.


Things I didn't clear/put/throw away:

1. My trusty thesaurus (it's the blue book on the corner). While my laptop has a built-in thesaurus, it's not as comprehensive. My laptop version gives a few examples, my worn paperback gives more than I can use, but the right word is always there. Since I'm in the middle of revisions on two middle grade novels, that precious baby is staying right there.

2. That pile of magazines stacked next to my laptop. I want to read them, have to read them, need to read them. But... I'm reading several novels, writing, revising, outlining... I don't want to take time from them to read articles on PR, etc. The perfect opportunity to go through and read is during the commercial breaks of a TV show or the NFL playoffs. If my beloved Patriots don't make it through to the Super Bowl, there will be no excuse on a Sunday not to read those mags, take the useful info, and toss the rest.

3.  That little red can.... of chocolate. As part of my New Year's goal is to work smarter, I've allocated myself one piece when I finish something on my to do list. And it can't be just anything, like washing the kitchen floor (done) because that's not important or related to my writing. Finish the blog post and query two agents? Score! Nothing like a little cocoa bean incentive.

4.  Various papers (scattered). They are bits of novel notes that need to be filed or tossed once I've incorporated them into the respective novels. Another is an outline for a romance novel I want to write. One is my darn To Do List. I need to deal with them one at a time. I'm determined to clear my desk by the end of the month.

5.  Old agendas (under that stack of white paper which is the latest mg novel). I go through my old agendas and transfer any important info into my new agenda. Things like birthdays, book festivals, conferences and awards submission dates, contact info I've scribbled down, and again, more novel notes. I don't rely solely on my phone calendar because that's crowded with stuff like doctor, dentist, music practice, volunteer, etc. appointments. And if I lose my phone (as I have been known to do), and don't have a backup, well, I'm just in a really bad place. Always have a backup!

I've made the deadline to have my desk cleared not in one day (that's just too crazy and impractical and stress-inducing), so by the end of the month is completely doable. That's the secret to writing or anything else- be practical, know or try to anticipate limitations, and work smarter.

Char