Monday, December 11, 2017

MIDDLE GRADE WONDERS—book review on I'VE GOT A SECRET

I'VE GOT A SECRET, a candy apple book published in 2008 (yes, an oldie but goodie!) by Scholastic and written by Lara Bergen, starts off with a great title, and the book cover shows one girl whispering in another's ear, while just a few lockers down stands who viewers will suspect is the crush of at least one of these girls.

That should get the attention of some middle grade romantic hearts.

Sure enough, the secret involves the boy. The secret also propels the story along at a good clip for quite a ways through the book. We can't help wondering when Amanda, the MC, is going to fess up to her first best friend, Kate, and another best friend (whom she met at summer camp and who moved to Amanda's town) that she lied to them.

I was reminded of Pinocchio's nose growing, a familiar plot that has been reused over the ages and seldom fails. Didn't fail this time, either. The secret in the book is about a lie, one which I can't tell without spoiling the read for you. But, as often the case with lies, once it's told, more lies are needed to cover the first lie, and then more lies to cover those lies, and pretty soon the truth is an ulcer growing in your gut. Luckily, Amanda doesn't get an ulcer, but she does experience some serious stress.
 
Yet, while the book definitely shows what a nightmare can stem from one little lie, it doesn't come off in a preachy way. The reader is totally engrossed in what's going on, turning pages, anxiously waiting to find out if someone's going to call Amanda on her lies, before she musters courage to bow down and admit what she's done.
 
I think readers ages eight to eleven will be delighted with this book. Older readers might think the ending a little too pat, that everything's tied too nicely into too big of a bow. Personally, I was looking for more reaction from Amanda's peers once they learned the truth. That doesn't mean I didn't find the events believable. Also, for young readers, I can see where the author wouldn't go too spastic with the reactions, because that would hardly entice anyone in the same predicament into doing the right thing.
 
For writers:
 
If you're looking for perfect pacing in juvenile fiction, this book is a good example. It also does a wonderful job stretching out the tension. You can't help but worry for Amanda each time it looks as though her lies will be discovered in the next paragraph, or the next page. But of course, something always happens to postpone that moment, and that's the best way to draw out the tension. Bergen has an excellent handle on holding just enough information back to keep the book interesting, but not too much as to confuse or frustrate the reader.
 
She used the Snowball Method for plotting, whereby you start with a small ball, and as the plot progresses the ball gets bigger and bigger, like rolling a snowball. It's the same principle with Pinocchio's nose growing bigger and bigger with each lie he tells.
 
If you're looking for a good example for how to implement this method of plotting into your work, while still letting your reader get lost in the story so much that they don't recognize it as technique, but simply this girl's reality, these 146 large-fonted pages are for you.

Happy reading!
 


Wednesday, November 29, 2017

7 ways to make your spouse or partner HAPPY, HAPPY, HAPPY!



1. Fry two chickens instead of one. If it’s Southern fried, leftovers are always welcome.
 
2. Offer up homemade soup for a side dish, even if you have to buy it from a neighbor.

3. Bake (or buy and pretend you baked) cookies once a week and tell him/her she looks great.

4. Make (or order) a true gourmet feast at least once a month.

5. Let him/her eat as you talk, and pretend you think he or she is really listening.

6. Have a dish of fudge, peanut butter cups, or anise candy in each room. Yes, the bathroom too.

7. Ask him or her what he or she would like for supper, then be sure to call the delivery service in time.

Now, which one of these have you already tried?

Have a good day and happy feeding!

Monday, November 20, 2017

Gender Issues?

Please help me out.

In anticipation of the coming season, and to prompt smiles from little grandchildren, I pulled out this placemat. (No signature on the actual art, but the back says this placemat was made in the USA, and it's copyrighted by Greenbrier/Scentex .)



At first glance, I saw both boy and girl snowmen in the picture. But then I had to ask myself how I came to that conclusion? I try not to grab onto stereotypes, but I guess we all do now and then.

So I'm asking you all. I assumed the snowman on the front of the sled was a guy. To his right and back on that hill, that one seemed to be a younger snowperson, but again a male. The one behind him, higher on the hill, that's a girl. And back to the couple on the sled – the one in the back must be the girl. And no, I did not come to this conclusion because I have any ridiculous notion that women should always follow the men.

Anyway, I had to study the picture to figure out why my assumptions were so gender specific. I hoped that I didn't assume the couple on the sled were female on the left and male on the right (front) just because the front snowman is bigger. A walk through town would prove to anyone that size doesn't matter. So I looked closer.

The snowgal on the back of the sled definitely looks more girly in the face than the one on the front. After letting my gaze ping-pong between the two snow people, I realized that the eyes are closer together on the one I assumed to be a female, and that smile is narrower. The whole head is smaller, so the face has to be smaller. But in this situation, it gives this snowperson a dainty look, whereas the wider face, and the arrogance in the upturned nose, of the front snowy being makes it look more masculine.

The same differences can't account for the snow people on the back hill, because these are far enough apart in space and placement (on this placemat--hee!) that the one I assumed to be the girl would have to be smaller just to be correct perspective-wise. So size truly doesn't make a difference or tell me an answer here.

Yet I still think the back one on the hill looks more feminine and the front one more masculine.
Before I drive myself crazy analyzing this matter, can anyone tell me why, or whether I'm right or wrong in my assumptions, and how you justify your answer?

I'm sorry, but weird little things like this tend to bother me until I come to at least an understanding, if not a solid answer.

Hope to hear from you soon!

Friday, November 17, 2017

Get More Than Inspiration--Get Shivers!




A good friend of mine suggested I use this song to inspire my next big project. So whenever I find my energy lagging during my WIP, I give this a listen. Thank you, Terri!

Shivers, yes. Motivation, heck yeah!
So get writing!
:-)

Monday, November 13, 2017

IF YOU WANT TO SKIP TO THE GOOD STUFF...

––start here.

The idea of writing a duper (I’ll tell you whose word that is later, much later) important blog post crossed my mind, you know the one, that meandering, stream-of-consciousness piece about:
(drum roll please …)
Why it’s important to break your anxious trigger finger and avoid hitting that “send” button too soon.

But then I found someone who could say it better.

It doesn’t matter if you are submitting promotional work as an ad rep, your best cartoon that surely deserves space in the New York Times, or a fictional story taking place on the planet Who Cares
Don't submit too soon. Here’s Anna Sabino to tell you why.

I also considered doing a little public whining in behalf of the many artists not getting paid adequately, or at all, for their work. But then I found somebody who could say that better, too.
Introducing: Jon Westenberg

And then I considered a fine point about the correlation between these two articles. You should definitely read Anna’s first, because if you are lazily thinking of submitting that crappy first draft, you won’t really have the right to jump on the bandwagon of not-so-happy artists speaking out to get paid for what they do. Who’s going to pay for a practice piece?

On the flipside, once you have your artistic gift to the world truly ready for the taking, then read Jon’s article, because you certainly shouldn’t be working for free. Well, you know. Unless the whole world turns that way, and the electric company no longer sends you a bill, and your accountant goes over your expenses and sends you a note stating, “Thank you for letting me serve you. It’s been my honor,” with no invoice attached.

Until that day comes, don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself and attach your own invoice to all those favors of long hours of work many folks ask of you.

That’s all I’ve got to say for today.

Happy reading, and if you like this article, please share it.



Friday, November 10, 2017

A NEW DAY, A NEW GOAL? SERIOUSLY?

Excuse the confusion shown in my title. That's my confusion, not yours.

I do believe in having daily goals, but as of late my goals have changed. For the past week, I've had three darling grandchildren here, two-year-old twins and their four-year-old brother. That said, my daily goal is simply to survive.

I really commend myself when I get a paragraph written, revised, or even thought about during nap time. I give myself an extra pat on the back if I get through a single meal without a single spill. By anyone, including me. I mean, right now, that ranks as a miraculous feat.

Anyway, I thought I'd let you all know why I may be slow in visiting your blogs, updating mine, or even thinking bloggy thoughts. I plan to get back to a normal schedule next week. Or maybe the week after, because next week I might be busy recuperating. How young I don't feel – I don't want to count the ways.

Happy thoughts!

Monday, October 30, 2017

MiddleGrade Wonders, a column by Danica Flotten, coming soon, plus a few fun photos to view!


We had a fun weekend in Rochester, Minnesota, visiting with lots of family for darling six-year-old Janessa's birthday party. My husband and I enjoyed the day at a pizza place with our daughters, their spouses, our highly intelligent grandchildren, and a whole lot of fun kids. Janessa, of course, is
wearing the princess crown.


One of the unforgettable attendees was DANICA FLOTTEN (left) , a cool Wisconsin sixth-grader and our new columnist for upcoming posts, MIDDLE GRADE WONDERS. Watch for them (planning the first and third Mondays of each month) and read the random thoughts of Danica F., along with great reviews of awesome middle grade fiction. Please tell all the middle graders you know to stop by for Danica's thoughts and reviews.

Me with my hair clipped up while
concentrating on my art.



Danica is the camera-happy girl
taking photos of the birthday girl.



Wednesday, October 25, 2017

SUE'S REVIEWS!--PIANO TIDE



PIANO TIDE by Kathleen Dean Moore


For Readers:

Piano Tide is a beautifully penned novel set in a fictional town along the Alaskan coast. Thanks to the author, Kathleen Dean Moore, the mental picture of the place downloads into your readerly perspective at the first encounter:

From the distance, Good River Harbor looked like a string of gulls flying along the water below the mountain range, or a rim of barnacles just uncovered by the tide. One thing it did not look like was a town, but the town fathers could be forgiven for that. The wilderness was desperately steep; the only place to put a building was on a tidal flat that flooded twice a day. So the worthy fathers raised a boardwalk fifteen feet above high tide, a long wooden pier parallel to the shore, and along its length, built their houses on pilings. 

The tiny town's rich ecology epitomizes the sort of location tourists and opportunists are drawn to, and in that element lies the story: a virgin land being raped for its natural resources, its only protection a handful of inhabitants whose jobs and livelihoods depend upon a capitalistic endeavor they've come to hate. It's a brewing storm brought to life by an endearing bunch of characters who include their newest neighbor, Nora, a young woman who steps off the ferry and asks for help moving her piano up and into her new home.

Piano Tide goes beyond providing a good story, it is also a reflection on nature and those of us who strive to protect and preserve what can't be replaced. The descriptions of wildlife and native plants are vividly drawn and presented in remarkable number. The author, Kathleen Dean Moore, is an award-winning naturalist, philosopher, and activist. A triple punch of talent that pays off for readers in this deceptively simple look at the extent we will go for the things we cherish. 

Reviewed by Sue Ellis.

Counterpoint, 2016
ISBN 978-1-61902-791-6


For Writers:

Sometimes a cast of characters come along who fit so well into a plot that they seem to exceed even what the author might have hoped for them. There are revelations about personality, ambition, wisdom (or lack of), and the capacity for love. When it's well done, it leads to a genuine acquaintance with what is human in all of us. As I read Piano Tide, I couldn't help but think of Brain Doyle and the good-hearted magic he worked with the folksy characters in his coastal novels, so I wasn't surprised when I read, on the acknowledgment page at closing, 

To Portland writer Brian Doyle, who grins at the mysterious chiming of our novels; we are born, he says, of the same “salt and song.” 

Certainly a strong plot is at work, certainly a moral lesson is at stake, and clearly heroes emerge. But to experience it all while we lean back and gratefully breathe in the spirit and tenor of the thing—that's magic to make a writer proud.

Monday, October 23, 2017

The Problem with Sticking to a Time-Management Plan…

Last night I made a plan to be extremely efficient and productive today. And every day, really, but I would start with today. That said, I tucked my energy into bed last night with the care of a doting mother, pulled the blanket up high and patted it tight around the edges. Had to make sure my energy was fully rested and ready to go this morning.

And sure enough, it seemed to be. Crossed the first thing off my list at 6 AM – have coffee. By 6:30 I was at the computer, answered a couple emails, then put my eyes to the first paragraph of last week’s work. That went smooth. The second paragraph wasn’t bad either. An alien must’ve come in and traded third paragraphs with me, but no problem, I said. With so much bright-eyed energy at the ready, I could stick an hour into that paragraph and not get behind schedule, or I could simply highlight it and save it for another day.
I chose the latter and checked out paragraph four.

Oops. Seems like aliens not only took over that paragraph, they inserted a few characters or words from another planet and left it as some sort of puzzle for me to decipher. That called for another coffee break.
Recharged and on to paragraph five. Good heavens.

On to paragraph six. Forget it.
On to paragraph seven. I’ll just highlight that one with paragraph six, five, four, and three.

On to paragraph eight – lately my lucky number (I won $15 at bingo last week with my last number being B8.) But the Irish gods were not with me today, because eight was actually worse than seven, which was worse than six, but honestly not quite as bad as five. And I’m not looking any further.
Time for another cup of coffee to calm my writer’s nerves.

I guess number nine must be my lucky charm this week, because paragraph nine had a little zing to it. There was a sequential order to the thought process, too. And no alien words!
I zipped along with reborn confidence, paragraphs 9, 10, and 11 hitting me like a sunny day. To my surprise, paragraph 12 practically waved at me with a pleasant greeting, and paragraph 13 put to rest all my suspicions about how nasty the number 13 could be.

Then came paragraph 14. Ugh.
Paragraph 15. Double-ugh.

Paragraph 16. Geez, seriously? What was I thinking? Too many donuts that day? Too much grease in my system, clogging any thought waves from coming out of my brain?
Paragraph 17. Thank God for coffee. Mug in hand, I answered a few more emails. Checked Facebook, “liked” a thing or two while sipping my coffee as though it were my last cup, then diligently set myself back at the computer.

Was that the noon whistle? By gosh, it’s lunchtime.
An hour later, whining to myself that so much of the day was gone already, I remembered I have a class at 1:30. Time to get ready for that––would hate to waste it by being unprepared. But first, my schedule says I was supposed to post a blog article this morning on Time Management and Productivity. But I don’t really have time to write anything unique other than to recount how my first day went on my new schedule, after lovingly tucking my energy into bed early last night so that I could conquer the world of writing today.

That’s it! Happy writing! It’s class time for me.


Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Analyzing Picture Books--CREEPY PAIR OF UNDERWEAR!


A quick study of the picture book written by Aaron Reynolds and illustrated by Caldecott honor winner Peter Brown. This wonderful little gem is published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.
A short time ago, I posted a brief spiel about turning your negatives into positives. Around the same time, I had attended a writers’ group (of which I’ve been a member for years).
A fellow writer brought up the subject of a picture book she wasn’t crazy about. She said it was too creepy, this book about creepy green underwear. Imagine that––a picture book about underwear.
But the fact that they were creepy, that they glowed, intrigued me. So of course, I read the first few pages on the Amazon “look inside” feature. That’s what convinced me this was a book for my shelf. So I bought a copy.
It just goes to show that one person’s nightmare is another person’s dream. Anyway, I was a little leery I might not like the book after the first few pages. After all, I do trust the judgment of my writing friend. But then there’s that little warped part of me that she probably doesn’t have. The side that thinks glow-in-the-dark underwear would be cool.
And they really are, when you think about it. At least in the context of the book, where the little boy rabbit character is afraid of the dark, and yet trying to act like a big boy. He thought the underwear were awesome during broad daylight at the store. But he wasn’t so crazy about them when they glowed in the dark of his room. A creepy, ghoulish green glow. So he tries repeatedly to get rid of the underwear, but those creepy things keep mysteriously coming back.
That was a cool aspect of the book, but that’s also what I wasn’t sure about it. There is never an explanation as to how these underwear traveled from place to place, but I can see where a little kid would definitely believe it. I couldn’t help but wonder, did some crazy witch cast a spell on them? Or were they underwear left behind from Chucky? How could they just come back by themselves?
I really wanted an explanation to this. Not that I wouldn’t buy into the cursed underwear or magic spells stuff. Of course I would. I just wanted to know what gave these underwear the power to reappear every time the boy got rid of them. They were purchased in a store, not a haunted old castle. A store, so they were made by a manufacturer. So how did the manufacturer make these underwear magical? (Yes, I know I’m over-thinking it, but that’s me.)
Regardless, I’d still recommend the book to anyone for the sheer enjoyment of the story. It’ll make you laugh if you’ve ever been around a child a wee bit afraid of the dark, and yet one who, despite his fear, wanted to act grown up. Maybe that was you, once upon a time.
The thing is, Jasper, the little rabbit, fails again and again to get those creepy underwear out of his life, but he does finally manage it. I’m not going to tell you how. You’ll just have to read the book. Trust me––you’ll love it.
And then as the story goes, once the underwear are gone and Jasper is comfortable back in his plain, white, boring underwear, he goes to bed. In his dark, dark, bedroom. A bit too dark, he thinks. So now he wants the “glowing” underwear back. But it’s too late.
His solution––he goes to the store and makes a major purchase. Now he has oodles of green glowing nightlights all through his room, and so he’s no longer afraid of what might be hiding in the dark. So this little boy turned a negative, creepy underwear, into a positive––a cool night light.

The book runs a couple spreads longer than the standard 32-page picture book, but it’s mostly illustrations, and wonderful ones at that (adorable expressions). My guesstimate is that it’s between 600 and 700 words.
Get the book Creepy Pair of Underwear!  

Happy reading!

Monday, October 16, 2017

We made it through our last show for the year!

It was a very busy craft show, at least in the morning.
 
Here are a few
items we had displayed. The canvas paintings were taken down early due to downpour after downpour, but it was still a good show. Most other items--coffee boxes and snowman boxes-- are painted with exterior paint and sealed, so a little rainwater was no problem, plus they were under the canopy. With the landscapes hanging on the sidewall, we didn't want to chance rain sneaking down the side.  This first painting is shown without a frame, but you can see it framed on the wall a couple photos down. I guess these landscapes will give me a head start on the next show, and hopefully it won't rain.