Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Celebrating a Love of Children's Books

My kids' school has an annual Parade of Fiction, where the students (and teachers!) in the elementary school all dress up as characters from children's books. I'm going to be honest and confess that earlier this week, I was lamenting the upcoming parade. After all, each year, the Parade of Fiction requires us to put together not one, but two different costumes for each child--one for school and another for Halloween. I'm also not very crafty, but luckily my husband usually comes through with the creative elements necessary for some of the costumes.

But this morning, watching the parade, I took in the fact that it will be my daughter's last year in the parade, as she heads off to middle school (sniff!) next year. I am now thankful for all my memories of the Parade of Fiction, the opportunity to embrace the love of children's books (a passion of mine) and for photos such as the ones below. Dr. Seuss truly had it right. "Oh, the places you will go."

Pinkalicious from Kindergarten

The solar system (class theme) from second grade

Raina Telgemaier from Smile

Jack and the Beanstalk from first grade

Flat Stanley from second grade

 Rodrick from the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series and Annabeth from The Lightning Thief, third and fifth grades.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Guest Post: Researching Historical Fiction--Can it Really Be Done?

I'm thrilled to host author Martha Conway as she promotes her latest book, Thieving Forest, through WOW! Blog Tours. Writing historical fiction is a topic that has always fascinated (and if I'm to be honest, intimidated me) as a writer, so I was excited when Martha agreed to write a guest post on the topic for my humble little blog. You can check out a fun interview with Martha at The Muffin, along with a list of her blog tour dates and giveaways for her book.

About Thieving Forest: 

On a humid day in June 1806, on the edge of Ohio's Great Black Swamp, seventeen-year-old Susanna Quiner watches from behind a maple tree as a band of Potawatomi Indians kidnaps her four older sisters from their cabin. With both her parents dead from Swamp Fever and all the other settlers out in their fields, Susanna makes the rash decision to pursue them herself. What follows is a young woman's quest to find her sisters, and the parallel story of her sisters' new lives.

 The frontier wilderness that Susanna must cross in order to find her sisters is filled with dangers, but Susanna, armed with superstition and belief in her own good luck, sets out with a naive optimism. Over the next five months, Susanna tans hides in a Moravian missionary village; escapes down a river with a young native girl; discovers an eccentric white woman raising chickens in the middle of the Great Black Swamp; suffers from snakebite and near starvation; steals elk meat from wolves; and becomes a servant in a Native American village. The vast Great Black Swamp near Toledo, Ohio, which was once nearly the size of Connecticut, proves a formidable enemy. But help comes from unlikely characters, both Native American and white.

Both a quest tale and a tale of personal transformations, Thieving Forest follows five pioneer women and one man as they contend with starvation, slavery, betrayal, and love. It paints a startling new picture of life in frontier Ohio with its mix of European and Native American communities, along with compelling descriptions of their daily lives. Fast-paced, richly detailed, with a panoramic view of cultures and people, this is a story of a bygone era sure to enthrall and delight.

About Martha Conway: 

Martha Conway’s first novel 12 Bliss Street (St. Martin’s Minotaur) was nominated for an Edgar Award, and her short fiction has appeared in The Iowa Review, The Mississippi Review, The Quarterly, Folio, Puerto del Sol, Carolina Quarterly, and other publications. She graduated from Vassar College and received her master’s degree in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University. She has reviewed fiction for the San Francisco Chronicle, The San Francisco Review of Books, and The Iowa Review. The recipient of a California Arts Council fellowship in Creative Writing, she has taught at UC Berkeley Extension and Stanford University’s Online Writers’ Studio. Visit for more information.

Researching Historical Fiction: Can it Really Be Done? 
By Martha Conway

There’s something about the term Historical Fiction that still seems like an oxymoron to me. Yes, it’s set in the past, and part of the pleasure is transporting yourself to another, long-ago world, but it’s also fiction, so it doesn’t have to be entirely true.

Does it?

When I was doing research for my historical novel, THIEVING FOREST, I tried very hard to be accurate about many things: what a Potawatomi man might wear for his “everyday” clothes, what a Wyandot woman would do to prepare food for winter, how settlers would grind grain if there was no mill yet, and so on. But the biggest stumbling block, I found, came from nature. Which is crazy, because northwest Ohio, where the novel takes place, still exists.

In a way. Part of the reason I chose northwest Ohio was because I was intrigued by a huge swath of land called the Great Black Swamp. I’m from Ohio, and I had never heard of it before, partly because it pretty much no longer exists except for a few state parks. So how do I describe land that no longer exists, and that was, by all accounts, uninhabitable, which means there are no essays or journal entries (or at least very few) about it?

I was drawn to the Great Black Swamp for the very reason I had such a hard time researching it: it was unknown, it was thought to be unknowable, and I wanted a place where my character could get lost. And I did my due diligence: I walked through a few of the state parks and forests that still remained. But my experience was vastly different from what my protagonist’s would have been.

The trails were neatly marked, and the trees and bushes trimmed. The ponds and lakes didn’t bleed into the surrounding marshland but seemed very contained. My protagonist, Susanna, would not have been able to see where she was going because of the tall cattails. If the sun was hidden, she would have had a difficult time distinguishing the points of the compass.

It was no longer a wilderness.

I looked at some pictures of the Great Black Swamp, and I read the few journal entries that I could find about it, and then I had an idea.

I looked at swamps in South America.

Okay, swamps in South America are going to be vastly different than swamps in northwest Ohio, but what I wanted was the feel of being in a swamp. And I had a hard time visualizing that until I found places that indeed were true wildernesses and not state parks. (Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE that the state parks exist, and for myself I’m happy walking along the tidy trails!) When I got on the internet and found pictures of people canoeing along narrow rivulets in Brazil with dark foliage hanging overhead, or trying to set up camp in a marshy stretch of land, I found what I was looking for.

And in a way this experience symbolizes what I feel about historical fiction: you research the time and the place and the people, and then you find creative ways to make your story seem more true.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

New WOW! Blog Tour for Lifting the Curtain Starts in January

I'm excited to be working on a new blog tour for WOW! Women on Writing, especially given the timeliness of the topic. If you're passionate about the state of our educational system, you'll definitely want to be a part of this blog tour. We are looking for 12-15 bloggers to host author D.A. Russell with a mix of interviews, guest posts, book reviews, etc. Below is the tour information:

Tour Dates: Jan. 5 - Jan. 30

Title: Lifting the Curtain: The Disgrace We Call Urban High School Education
Author: D.A. Russell
Genre: Non-Fiction

Synopsis: KIRKUS and CLARION both praise this impassioned whistleblower book about the serious issues in today's urban high schools.

The quality of education in today's urban high schools is a disgrace, and both our high school administrators and career bureaucrats in Department of Education are remarkably effective at hiding the problems behind the curtain of the school entryway. Attending an actual class would shock most parents, revealing schools that are unlike anything that we experienced just 15-20 years ago. We might know about a couple bad teachers, or hear the incessant cries for more funding, or notice the building needs major repairs. But we can never get behind the curtain to see the real, systemic causes of widespread failures in educating our children.

About the Author: D.A. Russell has spent the last ten years as a math teacher in one of the urban high schools used as an example in Lifting the Curtain. He is an honors graduate of Dartmouth College, and received his master’s degree from Simon School, where he was valedictorian of his class. Russell is a decorated Vietnam veteran. He has two children that he treasures, and four grandchildren. His son is a police officer who served in the US Army in Afghanistan, earning a Bronze Star for valor. His daughter is a lawyer and his most passionate fan and honorary literary agent.

Russell has taught and coached children for decades. Few things are more important in his view than to cherish the children who are our real treasures in this world.


Participate! Please email me at with your blog's URL and your available dates. We schedule 2-3 stops per week. You will receive a copy of the book! I look forward to hearing from you!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Retreat to Paradise - A Short Story

Have you ever written something and then completely forgot about it? I'm guilty of this myself. I found a short story recently and had to chuckle a bit. I remember writing it for Writer's Digest as one of the "Your Story" entries, where you come up with flash fiction piece based on a one-sentence prompt. I can't remember exactly what the prompt was now, but it had something to do with "seven people go out on a chartered boat and only six return." From there, I came up with the story below. I never heard anything back from Writer's Digest, and I did submit it to another flash fiction contest where it made the first round and then languished. Since then, it's just been sitting on my computer. I thought I'd share it here for fun--clearly I was reading a lot of chick lit back then.

Retreat to Paradise

Samantha leaned over the side of the boat and stared into the crystal blue water. She was thinking about him . . . again. At 32 years old, she hadn’t expected her life to turn out this way when she left him seven years ago. They met on a whim while she had been on vacation with a few friends trying to clear her head before figuring out what she wanted to do with her life. He struck up a conversation with her and three days later her friends had left without her.

At first, working side-by-side with him was a welcome distraction from the real world, and lying in his embrace at night under the midnight blue sky dotted with stars, she could lose herself in his tanned skin and warm brown eyes. But eventually, Samantha had tired of the isolation and began to long for the fast pace and endless possibilities of the city. He had tried to talk her out of leaving, but she had made up her mind and left before he could convince her she was making a mistake. She was certain moving back to the city, renting a loft apartment and taking on a “normal” job would all lead her down the yellow brick road to happiness, marriage, and children.

Now, she tried to ignore the sound of her colleagues talking about — what else? — executive presentations, the common ground that brought the seven of them to the resort in the first place. There was Richard, the undereducated and overpaid senior vice president and his twenty something assistant Phoebe, who didn’t even try to hide the fact that she had been sleeping with Richard since her first week on the job. Tom was a 55-year-old workaholic who had been stumbling around the conference in a fog since his wife had finally walked out on him the week before. Chantal, the stereotypical career woman who was more interested in climbing the corporate ladder than raising a family had brought her dowdy husband along on the retreat, but no one bothered to remember his name. And then there was Jay, whose silky voice and confident demeanor made him a no-brainer at leading sales conferences, but whose not-so-subtle gropes Samantha had grown tired of fending off. Today, they were taking the morning off to tour some of the local islands on a chartered boat, but that hadn’t stopped the conversation from turning back to brand management and corporate communications.

But she was still thinking about him. The memories often flashed through her mind as she worked overtime polishing the images of an impressive client list and eating Chinese take-out every other night with no Mr. Right on the horizon. She still lived in the cramped loft apartment. She did work for a great company with a competitive salary and benefits, and conferences to tropical destinations were definitely perks envied by many of her friends, but what else? She brushed away Jay’s hand as it ran up the side of her shorts again and looked at him sternly over the top of her sunglasses.

The boat docked and she stepped out on the sandy white beach, her eyes instantly drawn to the tiki hut at the water’s edge. A gaggle of bikini-clad women were crowded around the bar, sipping fruity frozen drinks. Seven years ago she had been one of them. His head was lowered, but she instantly recognized the hair she had run her fingers through so many times. He looked up, and his eyes met hers and he began to smile as the group walked toward the hut.

“What’s good here?” asked Richard, as Chantal gave a bored sigh and Tom attempted to wipe some of the sweat from his brow with the back of his hand.

“There’s a drink, the ‘Slammin’ Sam,’ that's pretty good,” her former love replied. “I'll make up a batch for your group. Miss, would you like to help me out?”

He held out his hand to Samantha over the bar. She hesitated for a split second, thought of her lonely apartment back home and catalogued file of take-out restaurants and gave him a slow smile in return.

“Why not?” she asked, as she helped her climb over the bar, and much to her delight, Jay’s jaw dropped to the ground.

Four hours later, after many rounds of ‘Slammin Sam’s’ and general sun-drenched relaxation, the group boarded the boat to head back to the hotel.

But this time, only six returned.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

What You Can Find on Your Hard Drive When You Really Go Looking . . .

If you're active at all on social media, you've probably heard about the importance of "curating content" for your blog, Twitter and Facebook feed, Pinterest, etc. It's something I've thought about quite a bit as I struggle with my own platform. Should I focus more on writing about pop culture? Do I need more blog posts about writing for children? Am I not posting enough book reviews?

But at the end of the day, I'm a writer, and I write many things. There was a time in my life when poetry was a favorite form. I need to put out a disclaimer here and say I've never formally studied poetry writing, and I don't' really follow any specific rules when I write it, but I've always felt the free verse is therapeutic for me. I've decided to start sharing more of my writing on this blog that hasn't been published anywhere and probably won't be anytime soon, such as flash fiction and poetry. Sharing my creative writing is always very hard for me, so hopefully this will get easier over time.

Autumn Calls, Once Again . . .

Fall brings a chill into the air

my hands

my stare

glazes somehow

as I reminisce about

this lost soul

kindergarten beauty queen


that is

homecoming in

my long plaid dress

unable to escape the flowers

in my arms

deep in the heart of Texas

night sky.

Autumn Days II

Blessed is the spirit

that wanders down this

dusty road and

memories of blond-haired

All-American boys sometimes

drift in and out of my

Zephyr state of mind

tornado drills

my swing under the oak tree

playing 45s all day long

with Billy and Blondie while

they’re all on the playground

white lies and yet

precious young minds

are so fragile

on the railroad tracks . . .