August 2012 Archives

Not Your Average Greek Myth - King of Ithaca

Tracy Barrett has given us a new look at Greek Mythology with her coming of age novel, King of Ithaca (Henry Holt, 2010). These characters become real under the author's skilled hands.

Telemachos, son of Odysseus, lives on the small island of Ithaka. His father has been missing since the Trojan war, but now that Telemachos is almost grown up, neighbors are saying the king must be dead and the queen needs to remarry one of them. Telemachos goes on a journey to find his father.

Tracy has published 19 books for young readers. Her newest book is Dark of the Moon, a retelling of the Minotaur myth. Read more about the author on her website.

Amazing Historical - The Year We Were Famous

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In 1896 Clara Estby and her mother left Washington state to walk all the way to New York City to save the family farm. The two women would write up their experiences and a publisher in New York would pay them and publish the story. The two fight illness, weather, ruffians, terrain, and dangers along the way. But will they meet their deadline and get paid?

The Year We Were Famous (Clarion Books, 2011) by Carole Estby Dagg is based on the true story of the author's great-aunt and great-grandmother. About this book, Carole says, "After fifteen years and twenty-nine rejections, I have finally given Great-Aunt Clara and Great-Grandmother Helga voices of the forward-thinking women they were."

Carole did an excellent job. While reading this very good book, I really felt the time period and the struggles of these two women.

I'm not the only one who things this book is good. Carole was awarded the Will Rogers Medallion earlier this summer for the book AND won the 2012 WILLA Literary Award for Children's and Young Adult Fiction and Nonfiction. This award is named for Willa Cather and is bestowed by Women Writing the West. Woo Hoo!

Read about how this story came to be on Carole's site. It's fascinating, too!

A query letter is

A query letter is like the perfect skirt: long enough to cover everything but short enough to be exciting.
Andrea Brown

Fascinating Premise - Wake

This is another book that I'm glad I don't have to wait on the sequels. Wake (Simon Pluse, 2008) by Lisa McMann is followed by Fade and Gone. (More books for my TBR pile.)

17-year-old Janie gets sucked into other people's dreams, so she keeps herself as far away from people who are sleeping as possible. She can't stop it. She gets sucked in at school or wherever she is. It's tiring watching these dreams and not being able to escape. Sometimes it's embarrassing knowing the things people are dreaming about, but sometimes it is very scary as Janie relives their nightmares with them. Will she ever be able to live a normal life with this curse?

I love how the author has "answers for your book report" on her website. You might also want to check out the other books Lisa's written, too.

Good and Creepy - The Cabinet of Wonders

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Sometimes it's great to discover the first book in a trilogy late--that means the sequels are already out and there's no wait to read them. That's what happened to me with this book, The Cabinet of Wonders, The Kronos Chronicles, book 1 (Farrar Strauss & Giroux, 2008) by Marie Rutkoski.

Petra Kronos has a pet metal spider named Astrophil, whom her father made. He's made other live metal animals, too. Mikal Kronos is such a good inventor, Prince Rodolpho commissioned him to come to Prague and build a clock. But when her father is returned to the family blinded (the prince had Mikal's eyes taken out), Petra decides to go to Prague and steal her father's eyes back. Along the way she'll get help from old and new friends, and find out there's more to this clock than she imagines.

This story is a great mix of fantasy and history with magical elements. I've already ordered book 2!

Until September 12th, you can enter a giveway for an advanced copy of Marie's next book, The Shadow Society, which is a YA book.

Marie is doing a book tour this fall. Here's the schedule on her website.

Writing and Life Balance

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I'm struggling with juggling everything in my life as yet again I took on a big volunteer position. Some days I think, that was such a stupid thing to do. But yet . . . I love the volunteering. And since I've moved to a new community it's a great way to meet people. Other days I remind myself I've achieved balance before. That means I can again.

Earlier this year a friend met with me and asked how I'd kept it all balanced. (This was before my life changed with a move, etc.) Here's what I told her and what I need to listen to again myself.

First, schedule days and times for the different tasks. And then stick to it.
I'm a morning person. That's when I should write. However, it's so easy to waste time on stuff that isn't creative. It's not that those things don't need doing, but I should do them later. Therefore, my renewed covenant with myself starts with the following Monday through Friday schedule:

  • Mornings: focus on personal or assigned writing. Obviously deadlines are important, but if I never get to write my stuff, I'm committing to too much work-for-hire or writing assignments.

  • Don't read any email, writing newsletters, or listservs until after lunch.

  • Blog posts, book recommendations on my website may be done in the afternoon.

  • Volunteer tasks may be done at 3 p.m. or after.

  • Until things are less busy, spend less than ½ hour per day on twitter and/or facebook.

There are a few planned exceptions to this new schedule of mine:

  1. Thursdays are my "write outside the house" days. I meet with a friend at a library and write. Unless I'm waiting for an email to complete a project, email can wait until I get home. If I am waiting for one, check for it then get off the internet.

  2. Fridays are "focus on my instructing" days. I'm paid to critique assignments and give instruction for my students. It takes time, so unless I have no students, this is the day's focus. Often this work flows over to Saturday.

  3. Monday finish up any instructing not done. I've been lax on this lately and it gets stretched out too far, which frustrates me. Being frustrated is counterproductive.

I like reading writing online resources: blogs, newsletters, etc. I like participating on writing listservs. I like doing chats or follow agent events on twitter. I like and need to read children's literature. There's a problem for me with these things--they take time and often distract me from my main purpose--writing. So, how am I handling this?

  • Selective subscriptions to writing newsletters and blogs. I've unsubscribed from ones I wasn't getting to, from ones that aren't as important to me, and even from ones I've enjoyed, but for which I just don't have the time.

  • Narrower participation in listservs. I've always chosen digest format, but now I've cut down to four listservs. Two are directly related to my volunteer position. One is for my local area writers. The last is a private small group of writers who support each other.

  • At the moment twitter chats just aren't happening for me. I'm not even reading transcripts. I'm rarely on twitter. If I am, I use tweetdeck.

  • Evenings, except for my Thursday critique group, are my reading time. Most of the time I read middle grade and YA fiction. But it's okay to read an "adult" book now and then, too. Or to watch a movie with my husband. Or spend time with friends or family.

Life and Volunteer Duties
I'm putting the "to do"s in the afternoons, evenings and weekends. This includes house hunting, laundry and chores, paying bills, shopping, etc.

That volunteer position - I'm committing to not spend every day on it, especially not Fridays. In the past I've found it helpful to have a different email for the volunteering. That means when I open "my" personal writing email, if I see one related to volunteering, I should not read it, but forward it to the other email. And then don't check that volunteer email until the scheduled time of 3 p.m.

Of course, sometimes there are appointments or other commitments which interfere--instead of stressing about them taking my writing time, my plan is to do what needs to be done and move on.

I think all this will help me be less stressed and more productive as I try to balance writing, life, and volunteering. Here's to "sticking with it."

picture courtesy of j mason on

A good title should

A good title should be like a good metaphor. It should intrigue without being too baffling or too obvious.
Walker Percy

A critical part of

A critical part of my process is letting the book lay fallow for a while between drafts.
Robin LaFevers

A character is what

A character is what he does, yes-but even more, a character is what he means to do.
Orson Scott Card