Monday, January 30, 2012

My Review of Newbery Medal Winner "Dead End in Norvelt" by Jack Gantos

Last week I was excited to learn that DEAD END IN NORVELT by Jack Gantos was selected to receive the John Newbery Medal from the American Library Association (ALA) for the "most outstanding contribution to children's literature."

Back in the fall I read and reviewed DEAD END IN NORVELT  for Kidsreads.com and gave it five stars--the highest rating I can give for a book.

Gantos' novel has so much going for it, I don't know where to begin, so I'll summarize my review.

DEAD END IN NORVELT is part autobiography and part historical fiction, with some mystery and suspense thrown in for good measure. The setting is 1962 in Norvelt, Pennsylvania. The main character is twelve-year-old Jack Gantos, who has a problem. When he gets startled, excited or scared, his nose bleeds. And during the summer of 1962, there are lots of exciting and frightening events happening in Jack’s hometown. After he accidentally fires a live bullet from his dad's Japanese sniper's rifle, he gets in big trouble. To redeem himself he agrees to help Miss Volker, an elderly neighbor, with a special project.

Because of his Miss Volker's arthritis--and her promise to Eleanor Roosevelt--Jack helps type obituaries of the original residents of the town, which was established during the New Deal. During the summer an increasing number of original residents die, and Jack wonders if something sinister is going on in his home town.

While typing the obituaries, he also learns about how each resident has impacted the town. Besides Jack and Miss Volker, there are some strange residents in Norvelt, including his own parents, who are a study in contrasts of the era. His dad is a World War II vet who wants to leave Norvelt, while at the same time preparing for a Russian invasion from the Commies. His mom loves her community and wants to stay.

Without giving too much away, I'll add that Gantos uses a gentle touch to weave twentieth century American history into the story line along with wonderfully wacky scenes, delightfully memorable characters, and a mystery to boot.

You can read my entire review on the Kidsreads.com website.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Winner of A Cluttered Life and a Shout Out for Toilet Paper

Thanks to Pesi Dinnerstain for being my guest blogger on Monday as part of the WOW! Author's Tour.

Pesi, your post about your thoughts on "Trying to Find that Small, Still Voice" was inspiring!

Also, thanks to everyone who left a question or a comment for Pesi and once again to Pesi for her response to comments.

The winner of the PDF file of Pesi's wonderful book A Cluttered Life: Searching for God, Serenity, and My Missing Keys is:

TAMMY

Congratulations! I will get that to you this week.

For everyone else, you can find out how to buy Pesi's book on the A Cluttered Life website.

Next, I would like to welcome my newest follwer:

Rebeca Ruiz (aka Rebeca Wise)

Rebeca is an amazing writer and a sweet young lady who loves to read. Oh, and she has two adorable Dobermans. A regular at our Coffee and Critique group, her critiques are thoughtful and generous. She also is the new Vice President of Saturday Writers.

Rebeca also has a new blog with an intriguing title "The Toilet Paper Chronicles" with a blog address of tpchronicles.

If you're wondering why the unusual title, it's because Rebeca is a woman on a mission. She is using her blog to draw attention to Chron's Disease, which she was diagnosed with at the age of 12, and which is a disease that affects more than a million people in the United States. I think it's a wonderful use of a blog--increasing the awareness and enhancing the understanding of this disease. On her blog she will also post about books and writing.

If you get a chance, drop on over and visit Rebeca's blog and sign up to become a follower, but don't forget to bring your own paper.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Guest Blogger: Pesi Dinnerstein, Author of A Cluttered Life: Searching for God, Serenity, and My Missing Keys

As part of the WOW! Women on Writing Blog Tour, please join me in welcoming my special guest today, Pesi Dinnerstein (a.k.a. Paulette Plonchak).

Dinnerstein has written selections for the best-selling series Small Miracles, by Yitta Halberstam and Judith Leventhal, and has contributed to several textbooks and an anthology of short stories.

Dinnerstein recently retired as a full-time faculty member of the City University of New York, where she taught language skills for close to thirty years. She has been an aspiring author and self-acknowledged clutterer for many years, and has spent the better part of her life trying to get organized and out from under. Despite heroic efforts, she has not yet succeeded; but she continues to push onward, and hopes that her journey will inspire others to keep trying as well.

Today she will discuss something that I often struggle with, and I'm sure many of my visitors who are writers struggle with as well.

TRYING TO FIND THAT SMALL, STILL VOICE


“How’s the baby?” my friend asked.

“The baby?” I asked back. “What baby?”

“The one you gave birth to this summer,” she said, beginning to sound alarmed.

“Oh, thanks for reminding me,” I said. “I forgot all about her.”

“How could you forget about your own baby?”

“Well, she’s so small that I can hardly see her,” I tried to explain. “I mean, she’s only the size of a splinter—so I keep losing her; and then I forget that she even exists.”

My friend stared at me in disbelief.

“But don’t you hear her when she cries? How can you not notice a screaming baby?!”

“What can I do?” I said. “Her voice is so small—even when she screams, it’s barely a whisper.”

“Then, how do you know when to feed her?” my friend pressed on.

“It’s a problem,” I admitted. “And, most of the time, I don’t remember to do it. Maybe that’s why she’s still the size of a splinter . . . . ”

I woke up in a sweat as my friend was about to dial the Child Abuse Hotline.

Horrified at this portrait of myself, I immediately tried to understand the deeper meaning of the dream. Using an old Gestalt technique I had once learned, I began a dialogue with the main character:

“Who are you?” I asked the baby—anxious to discover her true identity before she slipped back into my subconscious.

“I’m the writer that you always wanted to be,” she whispered.

I sat up in bed, suddenly wide awake.

“Then, why do you appear as a tiny infant?” I asked.

“Well, since you don’t nurture me, I can’t grow.”

“But I didn’t know even know you were there,” I said in defense.

“That’s because you’ve never been silent long enough to hear my small, still voice.”

I closed my eyes for a moment, trying to take that in.

“You’re right,” I finally said. “And I’m really sorry. What can I do to make it up to you?”

As she slowly drifted into the night, she cried out, “I need a pen . . . and a piece of paper . . . and someone—please—to listen . . . . ”

I’d been searching my entire life for that small, still voice—and, somehow, I had never heard her calling to me. In fact, I probably spent a good part of the time running in the opposite direction.

But inspiration comes at strange times and from odd places. I awoke the next morning unable to think of anything but that little splinter of a writer who could only get my attention in a disturbing dream. I ran out immediately and bought her a notebook with a big rainbow on the front and a matching pen.

“This is for you,” I told her. “It’s very tiny now—just like your voice—but maybe . . . if I keep listening . . . it will grow into a full-sized book someday . . . . ”





Synopsis:

Insightful, unsettling, and wildly funny, A Cluttered Life: Searching for God, Serenity, and My Missing Keys (Seal Press) is the story of Pesi Dinnerstein’s quest to create a simple and orderly life—only to discover that simplicity is not so simple and what constitutes clutter is not always perfectly clear. When a chance encounter with an old acquaintance reveals the extent to which disorder has crept into every corner of her existence, Pesi determines to free herself, once and for all, of the excess baggage she carries with her. Along the way—with the help of devoted friends, a twelve-step recovery program, and a bit of Kabbalistic wisdom—her battle with chaos is transformed into an unexpected journey of self-discovery and spiritual awakening.

Hope you enjoyed Pesi's guest post. Feel free to leave comments!

One lucky visitor who leaves a comment by Wednesday, January 25, will receive a PDF copy of Pesi's inspiring and humorous book.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Last Thursday and Today

Last Thursday, our area also got clobbered by a snow and ice storm just before morning rush hour.

Last Thursday, my husband had an appointment to have a biopsy done at a doctor's office, which is located in the middle of a busy hospital complex about 25 miles from our home.

Last Thursday, it took us over two hours to drive to the doctor's office because of the traffic and road conditions. I called ahead and let them know we were sitting in traffic and would be late--very late--for the appointment. Hubby's surgery didn't take too long. The nurse who assisted the doctor told me it took her four hours to get to work that morning, and most of the patients who were able to make it were late.

Last Thursday, when I asked her when we would know the results of the biopsy, she said the doctor would let us know the following Friday at Hubby's next appointment--but if there was a problem with the biopsy, they would call right away. In that case no news would be good news.

Last Thursday, we drove home nervous and anxious, not only because of the icy roads, but also because of fear of the unknown. Hubby was on pain pills for a couple days, but waiting to hear the results from the doctor was the hardest part.

Today was a different story.

Today, although it was very cold outside, the roads were dry and clear.

Today, it took less than half-an-hour to get to the doctor's office. We arrived early for a 10:00 a.m. appointment. Hubby got in right away. His appointment took less than ten minutes.

Today, we were out of the office and back in the parking lot before 10:00 a.m. Hubby wanted to have a late breakfast, so we did.

Today, the best part of the visit was that the biopsy was negative.

Thank God! And thanks to all my family and friends for their prayers--every day.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Well Versed Acceptances and An Announcement

Earlier this week I received official notification that two of my essays won in the Columbia Chapter of the Missouri Writers' Guild contest for non-fiction. Both submissions will appear in the 2012 edition of Well Versed, the anthology of the CCMWG.

In addition to placing in the contest, I was excited for a few reasons.

Well Versed is a well regarded anthology. The 2011 edition won best book award in the 2011 MWG President's Contests.

Contest judges for the 2012 issue are esteemed writers and editors: Evelyn Somers Rogers, the Fiction judge,  has been associate editor of The Missouri Review since 1990. Poetry judge, Harvey Stanbrough, has had work nominated for the National Book Award. Non-fiction judge Becky Carr Imhauser, is a former newspaper and magazine editor who has written six non-fiction books and has had more than 900 articles published in national periodicals.

Even more exciting, two members of my critique group, Marcia Gaye and Alice Muschany, had works which placed in the contests and will have poems and essays included in the Well Versed anthology. Here's a link to the CCMWG site, with a list of the winners, bios for the judges, and the names of writers and poets whose work will appear in the anthology. If your name is among those listed, Congratulations!

Now for my announcement: Hope you will visit Donna's Book Pub next on Monday, January 23, when I will have a special guest as part of the WOW! Women on Writing author's blog tour.

Pesi Dinnerstein, author of A Cluttered Life: Searching for God, Serenity, and my Missing Keys, will post about "Trying to Find that Small, Still Voice."

I'm always happy to read advice from other writers, so I'm looking forward to read what Pesi has to say.

Until next time . . . Happy writing!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Thoughts on Creativity: Chocolate Covered Bacon, Anyone?

Yesterday was unseasonably warm for mid-January. With the temperature hoovering around 70 degrees, it was a perfect day to be out and about. Because it also was a holiday, a group of eight of us met for lunch at Lewis and Clark in St. Charles, MO, to celebrate my niece's birthday. Maybe it was the warm weather, but I decided to try something different. I ordered the spicy gumbo soup and house salad. It was the first time I had their gumbo, and it was a spicy surprise. I would order it again.

After lunch, four of us decided to take a walk down Main Street and visit some shops. First on our agenda was Main Street Book Store. Vicky, the owner, welcomed us warmly, and we chatted a bit. The store looks great. I intended to ask if Vicky had any copies of the St. Louis Writers' Guild anthology, but as usual I got side-tracked talking and looking around and forgot to ask. After my sister bought a crossword book for her husband, we were on our way.

The warm weather brought out shoppers. The street was busy, which is a good thing for the merchants, but not so good if you're trying to jay-walk across the street.

After a few more stops I bought some candles, and my sister-in-law found a cute pair of earrings. Next was Riverside Sweets for their peanut brittle, which my brother-in-law claims is the best he's ever eaten, and my husband also likes to munch on. Their chocolate-covered pretzels are yummy.  The store was crowded, with long lines to order ice cream and pay for candy. Some folks, entered, saw the long lines, then left.

After paying, I waited outside for the others in our group. I watched a husband, wife, grandma, and young girl about seven walk in then quickly exit. The girl complained, "But Daddy, I want an ice cream." Her father told her, "Life's a b****. We need to find a bathroom."  Why would a dad talk to his daughter that way, no matter how badly he needed to find a bathroom?

As we wandered to our cars I spotted a sign at another store. The white, letter-size sign was hand-printed in black and read: "CHOCOLATE COVERED BACON."  I did a second take on that one and wished I'd brought my camera.

My first thought was that eating meat covered with chocolate just doesn't seem right. As much as I like chocolate (and bacon is okay), I don't think meat dipped in chocolate would be tasty.  But what do I know? I've eaten ham cooked with brown sugar and pineapple on top. Maybe the chocolate covered bacon is a sweet and salty combination like a chocolate-covered pretzel.

As I got in the van and drove home I decided that judging without trying limits my experiences and narrows my thinking. While I doubt that I'll ever try the chocolate-covered bacon, my lesson yesterday was to enjoy the surprises in life--like 70 degree weather in January and spicy gumbo soup--and be open to new ideas and experiences. Isn't that what creativity is all about?

What about you? Have you tried something you didn't think you'd like but were pleasantly surprised?

Monday, January 16, 2012

Thoughts on the Golden Globe Awards - An Uncomfortable Evening

Last night I watched the Golden Globe Awards--well I caught most of the program--in between reading, talking on the phone, and doing laundry. 

Uncomfortable is the word I would use to describe the event. Most of the audience looked like they were all dressed up to attend a wedding of a boss they didn't like, but had to attend anyway. Sitting at home I felt uncomfortable for them.

Ricky Gervais did a repeat performance as the emcee. Last year he was criticized for his put-downs of the audience, but his performance stirred up a controversy and generated publicity -- so that got him invited back this year. His jokes? weren't all that funny. His humor? was critical of the audience and the Foreign Press Association, who puts on the awards. Guess Ricky didn't get the memo about not biting the hand that feeds you. Or maybe he doesn't care. In any case, he set the tone for the event, which was, as mentioned above -- uncomfortable.

The room looked crowded and the tables were jammed together. After the winners' names were announced, guests stood to make room for winners to zigzag through the aisles to get to the podium.

Other attempts at humor fell flat. Jimmy Fallon looked foolish doing a Mick Jagger impresonation. And George Clooney's attempt at being funny by complimenting one of the other younger nominees about the size of his anatomy didn't get many laughs, expect from the guy who appeared happy with Clooney's compliment. Madonna swiped back at Gervais after she won an award, but calling him a girl sounded like an insult a teenager might hurl to get even.

Several winners thanked their families, their agents and a guy named Harvey something or other, whom they compared with as being God. Whenever Harvey's name was mentioned the cameras kept showing a balding man laughing and shaking his head. He seemed very pleased with all the fuss, so I guess he must be someone important--at least in Hollywood circles.

The evening was not a total waste.

Christopher Plummer's obvious love for his wife was touching. During his acceptance speech he commented how her "beauty and bravery take his breath away, even after all these years."

Michelle Williams accepted her award with grace and put it all in perspective when she spoke about her love for her daughter.

The first person Jessica Lange thanked after she accepted her award was the writer who created the great story. While a few other winners mentioned writers, Jessica Lange's came across as being sincere and not an afterthought. 

After watching last night's Golden Globe Awards, I've decided that I will make a note to watch movies (oops, I guess they're called films) that include Jessica Lange, Christopher Plummer, Michelle Williams, and a few other notables.

Did anyone else watch the awards last night? If so, what are your thoughts?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

My Article on "Writing Tips from a Contest Judge" is Posted on the Walrus Publishing Site

If you write short stories and one of your goals for the new year is to submit to contests, check out Walrus Publishing's recent posts.

The post from Lisa Miller, publisher and editor of Walrus Publishing. announces  "Twelve Months with Walrus, Monthly Short Story Contests Begins in 2012."   Lisa's publishing company is sponsoring monthly contests with cash prizes and opportunities to have your work included in an anthology which will be published in 2013. There is a small fee to enter the contests. Be sure to read the details and guidelines on the Walrus site.

While you're there, check out my article on "Writing tips from a Contest Judge."  I wrote the article shortly after I judged a short story contest, so the topic was fresh on my mind. I've included specific suggestions on how to catch a judge's eye and the one thing you should always include in your story.

Hope you find my article helpful, and if you enter the Walrus contests or any others listed on their website, good luck!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Traits of Successful Women Writers

One of my guilty pleasures on weekends is watching Book TV. Generally I wait until my hubby and grandkiddos are out and about or busy doing something else before I tune in. Otherwise I get groans from them because they want to watch something else.

Last night, after the late news was over and everyone else in the house was asleep, I switched to C-SPAN's Book TV and caught most of a presentation given by Marji Ross, President of Regnery Publishing. Last night's presentation was a broadcast of a talk she gave in November at the Heritage Foundation.

The title of Ross's presentation was "Seven Surprising Secrets of Best-Selling Female Authors...and How Your Future Happiness Might Depend on Them." Her talk really was a celebration of women in a positive way--not anti-male at all -- which I found uplifting. She spoke candidly about how she worked through the grief of losing her husband, how she is open and honest with her daughters, and how she is a champion for publishing books with a conservative slant.

The primary focus of her talk, however, wasn't on her conservative politics, but on what she has learned after years in the publishing industry about the traits that successful women writers share. I'm always trying to learn from others who are much more experienced and wiser than I am, so I grabbed a notebook and pen and took notes.

The following are the highlights of her talk--at least what I jotted down late last night -- about traits shared by successful women writers and publishers.

Successful women writers: 

* Understand the value of building relationships (vs networking). Networking has come to mean what can I get from you in exchange for giving you something I have, where building relationships is more long-term and personal.

* Like to communicate and share their experiences with others. More women belong to book clubs than men, for example.

* Know they need character to have integrity. They listen to their internal moral compass. Women remind society to stay on the right trail.

* Look for win-win solutions. Success is not finite; success breeds success.

* Know that little things matter, but they don’t lose sight of the big picture.

* Understand that service is strength. Serving others doesn't make a person weak; it can make them indispensable

* Celebrate differences between men and women.

Ross suggests women writers should:

* Be trustworthy and supportive.

* Embrace the success-breeds-success philosophy.

* Be problem solvers rather than just problem spotters.

* Volunteer to overcome depression and lonliness.

* Figure out what they believe in, write it down, and share it with their families. The act of writing down one's beliefs will help clarify them.

* Always bring a pen and paper (or iPad) to take notes.

* Be a person of character and live a life of integrity.

* Avoid chasing success only to leave happiness behind.

* Bring passion to your work.

* Be on a mission to reach people rather than just selling books. As you reach people, books will sell.

* Be an expert in something. Find your niche.

* Realize that books are changing their role in society. While e-books may continue to grow in popularity and sales, physical books will gain value as gifts.

As I re-read my notes this morning, I decided to share them with my readers. I agree with Ross that sharing experiences with others and building relationships is important, as well as is being supportive and embracing the success-breeds-success philosophy.

So, what do you think? Do you agree with her observations and suggestions? Are there any traits you would add?

Friday, January 6, 2012

In Wine is Truth and Iron Sharpens Iron

"In vino veritas." - In wine is truth. (Plato)

"As Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another." Proverbs 27:17

In my last post I discussed how I believe I've become a better writer by belonging to a weekly critique group. My Coffee and Critique group is a source of inspiration.  About 8-10 writers show up each week, but some weeks we have a dozen or more members sitting around the table drinking beverages and offering suggestions on manuscripts.

As the middle child in a family of seven, I'm comfortable being a part of a large group and I'm all about inclusion. But in some instances, smaller has its advantages.

In addition to my weekly critique group, I belong to a small group of women writers called In vino veritas--in wine there is truth, or IVV for short. Our IVV monthly dinner is an occasion to share candid, casual, and confidential conversation that doesn't leave the table.

Once a month the four of us meet for dinner at an Italian restaurant, where our first order of business is to order wine. After we toast one another, we enjoy dinner, drink some wine, and share ideas about writing, publishing, freelancing, teaching, editing, books, and almost anything related to writing. 

We also talk about our families and our problems; we share our successes and insecurities and continue to talk until one of the employees dims the lights and lock the doors. Oh, and the servers there love us. Last night the waitress we had in December came over to our table to day hello. She told us she wished we would've sat in her section. Did I mention we all are friendly and courteous to the wait staff and are big tippers?

On nice evenings we stand in the parking lot and talk some more. It is a relaxing, yet invigorating evening. 

I truly believe that just as "iron sharpens iron," when writers are in the company of other writers, be it a dozen or only two, they too sharpen their writing skills and become better writers.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Thoughts on Writing: Critique Groups

If someone asked me to name the factor that has affected my writing most, hands down it would be belonging to a good critique group.

Over the years I've belonged to several groups and I've benefitted from each one in some way. Belonging to a good critique group has helped me become a better writer and has helped me get published, but most of all, I've made life-long friends.

During the day on New Year's Eve, Bill Mueller, a member of our weekly group, received a phone call from an editor at Writer's Digest. A story Bill read at critique group last year won second place out of more than 1700 entries in the crime fiction short story contest. Bill is an award-winning and accomplished writer whose work needs little improvement. When he read his story--I believe in two sessions--it was about 99-percent there. Our group made minimal suggestions. In the WD contest, Bill won big bucks, several books, and recognition on the WD website and in their magazine. How's that for a critique group success story?

If you're wondering what this Christmas-day photo below of my grandkiddos--who are about to take a ride on my brother's tandem bike--has to do with belonging to a critique group, here's what: 


Both involve teamwork and trust.
Someone has to take the lead. While critique group members can help, the writer is in control.
Like a first draft, you need to take a test drive before you start.
A bad partner (or group) can mess you up.
A good partner (or group) can help you get to your destination quicker and safely.
When you fall, you have someone to pick you up.
When you get to the finish line, you have someone to cheer you.
It's fun!

If anyone has thoughts on the benefits of a good critique group, please share them in the comments. I'd love to hear them.

Writing to Heal

One way I’m coping with breast cancer—and the side effect of chemo brain, which causes forgetfulness and muddy thinking—is to write.   ...