Wednesday, April 4, 2018

IWSG: Tips for Getting through the Blogging from A to Z Challenge

Welcome to Insecure Writers Support Group Day (IWSG Day), or for some of you, Day 4 (a.k.a. D Day) of the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. I'm not doing the challenge this year but I've been an avid participant for several years. This month, I might just visit a few A to Z blogs to say hello.

I want to wish those doing the A to Z challenge stamina and the rewards of making new connections. Perhaps these three quick tips might help you through this month:

1. Visit as many blogs as you feel comfortable visiting each day. When I did A to Z, I visited many blogs on some days, and other days, not so much. On days when I didn't visit as many blogs, I was usually busy with other responsibilities in my non-blogging life. Understandably, you want to get the most out of this challenge. But remember to take care of yourself and your non-blogging priorities as well. 


2. Realize when it's time to give up on a blog. I remember visiting certain blogs on multiple days to leave comments without receiving any comments back from the authors of these blogs. Try not to take it personally when this happens. It might be that this blogger is simply overwhelmed by the challenge or that they're inexperienced with the etiquette that accompanies blog hops such as this. But still, I advise moving on to A to Z bloggers who show interest in your blog and what you're about as opposed to investing your energies in those who do not. 

3. Enjoy exploring new subjects. My blog focuses mostly on my creative aspirations, literature, and the kidlit industry. I follow many bloggers who blog in a similar vein. Through the A to Z Challenge, I've also learned from other bloggers who have shared their knowledge on a variety of additional subjects, including but definitely not limited to cooking, food, crafts, arts and culture, history, music, and people, places and things from all around the world. I hope you can learn something new this month too. 

Moving onto this month's IWSG question: When your writing life is a bit cloudy or filled with rain, what do you do to dig down and keep on writing? My short answer is that I look for the silver linings and rainbows. 

Are you doing A to Z this month? If so, how is it coming along? How do you carry on when you encounter "clouds" or "storms" in any area of your life?

Friday, March 23, 2018

Author Interview with Deborah Hopkinson

Today I am bringing you an interview with award-winning author Deborah Hopkinson (deborahhopkinson.com)
who lives near Portland, OR. I read Deborah’s recently published picture books INDEPENDENCE CAKE (Schwartz & Wade Books, illustrated by Giselle Potter) and ORDINARY, EXTRAORDINARY JANE AUSTEN (Balzer & Bray, illustrated by Qin Leng). INDEPENDENCE CAKE offers a “made-up tale” about Amelia Simmons, the author of America’s first cookbook who lived during the Revolutionary times. In Deborah’s story, Amelia makes 13 Independence Cakes, one for each colony. In ORDINARY, EXTRAORDINARY JANE AUSTEN, Jane Austen proves that the ordinary world can be written about in an extraordinary way. The reader sees how Jane Austen’s keen observation skills, simple English home life and upbringing, and her passion for books and writing contributed to her future success as an author.

The stories and illustrations in both books engaged me as a reader and brought me to two different historical regions- one in New England, and the other, England. 
From reading the preface of INDEPENDENCE CAKE, I could see there isn’t a lot of information out there about Amelia Simmons. So how did you venture out to write a story about her?
I wanted to write about that time period, and I love stories about little-known figures in history. Since historians have uncovered very little about Amelia Simmons, it seemed the perfect opportunity to underscore the difference between historical fiction and nonfiction, something I try to emphasize in my author visits in schools. I read articles by culinary historians including the late Karen Hess, who, in an introduction to the second edition of AMERICAN COOKERY, published in Albany in fall 1796, speculated that Amelia Simmons may have lived near the Hudson Valley and been influenced by Dutch settlers. Simmons used terms such as “slaw” based on the Dutch “sla” for salad, and “cookey,” from “koekje.” 

When I share the book with young readers, I also use it as a chance to talk about gender roles. I like to say that in our time, everyone helps at home, but who did the housework in 1789? We also look at Giselle Potter’s lovely spot art pages illustrating the various chores Amelia did, from picking apples to washing clothes, to spinning, sewing, and quilting and use that as a chance to talk about past and present and how technology has (or hasn’t) had an impact on daily life.

Unlike Amelia Simmons, there’s more out there about Jane Austen. How were you able to write an interesting book such as ORDINARY, EXTRAORDINARY JANE AUSTEN and make it unique from other books out there about Jane Austen? How did you research Jane Austen for your picture book?
I’ve read quite a bit about Jane Austen, but to research this book I splurged and purchased Deirdre Le Faye’s masterful book, A CHRONOLOGY OF JANE AUSTEN, which delves into basically everything we know about Jane and her family. Although another picture book, BRAVE JANE AUSTEN, was published at the same time as my book, there haven’t been, to my knowledge, any picture books about Jane until 2018.

The most difficult part of writing this book was to try to capture elements of Jane’s life that would be of interest to young readers. When I speak to students, I always emphasize that anything hard – whether it’s sports, playing a musical instrument, or writing– takes determination. What’s wonderful about Austen is that she began practicing her writing craft from the time she was a child. She embraced revision, and she persevered in the face of rejection.

I like how you shared historical details of how people lived in the past, from how young ladies would play cards and trim their bonnets with lace in ORDINARY, EXTRAORDINARY JANE AUSTEN to what food people ate during the Revolutionary times in INDEPENDENCE CAKE. How do you research the setting for the historic places and time periods in all your books? (I see you have written a lot of books with historical themes.)
The short answer is that I read a lot, and depend heavily on scholarly works as well as memoirs and first-person accounts, or, sometimes, fiction written during the time period in which my books are set.

I write both nonfiction and fiction, and sometimes find myself more stymied by research questions when writing historical fiction. In nonfiction, first-person accounts can guide the narrative. But in fiction you suddenly find yourself spending hours tracking down some seemingly insignificant detail that doesn’t seem to be mentioned in any secondary source.

Since you wrote a book about dessert and another book about Jane Austen (both things I love), please tell me what is your favorite dessert (besides Independence Cake) and what is your favorite Jane Austen novel.
Alas, since developing food sensitivities that require me to be gluten free, I don’t get to indulge in dessert much these days. However, I will say I am partial to an excellent gluten-free chocolate cookie.

As far as Austen novels, PRIDE AND PREJUDICE is still at the top of my list, with PERSUASION and SENSE AND SENSIBILITY right up there too.

What books did you enjoy reading while you were growing up?
I loved THE SECRET GARDEN. I believe I first read Austen and Charlotte Bronte by the sixth grade, and also loved mysteries and read a lot of Dickens. (Whether I understood much about what I was reading then is another question!) In high school, I also read a lot of World War II books, adventure stories, and long historical fiction.

What upcoming book projects would you like to announce here?
Speaking of World War II, two of my new books are set in that period. D-DAY: THE WORLD WAR II INVASION THAT CHANGED HISTORY is a nonfiction title to be published by Scholastic in Fall 2018. In Spring 2019, my middle grade spy novel, HOW I BECAME A SPY, will be out from Knopf.

In addition, I am part of a YA project entitled FATAL THRONE: THE WIVES OF HENRY VIII TELL ALL, released in May 2018, and a picture book biography of the Buddha, UNDER THE BODHI TREE, coming this fall. 

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

IWSG: Turbulence

For new visitors, IWSG Day is a monthly event where authors in the blogosphere can share about insecurities...or in my case sometimes, just random thoughts. Today’s IWSG question is: How do you celebrate when you achieve a writing goal or finish a story? I fuel myself with chocolate quite a bit. Once I ran out of chocolate in my home and I don’t know if it was a coincidence that I was just less productive that week. 

Today I don't have an insecurity to share. 

Instead, I will share a short travel piece. During a recent plane flight I was on, the plane was experiencing turbulence near the end of the flight. Passengers were asked to remain in their seats. Then a passenger near me got up. She was chatting with her friend during most of the flight and might've missed the announcement. So as she was leisurely making her way down the aisle toward the bathroom, a flight attendant directed her back to her seat. With a dumbfounded expression, the passenger began to wander back to her seat. Then the plane really started shaking and before the passenger reached her seat, she fell over me. Although I was a bit annoyed, I was fine, as was she. Nonetheless, the moral of this particular story is to remain in your seat during turbulence on a plane flight.

But that doesn't mean when there is turbulence around us, that we must always remain in our seats. Lately, it has been hard for me not to feel affected by the turbulence from current events as well as stuff that has come up in social media. I'm relieved that people have been getting out of their seats and taking a stand for things that are worth standing up for. 

How do you deal with turbulence?

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

IWSG & Author Interview with Julie Dill

For new visitors, IWSG Day is a monthly event where authors in the blogosphere can share about insecurities...or in my case sometimes, just  thoughts on various subjects. Today's IWSG question is: What do you love about the genre you write in most often? Well, I can dish on what I love about any genre I write in. Since I'm working on a YA food novel right now, I will say that writing or reading about food allows me to think about something I enjoy doing, which is eating good food. Nom nom nom! 

Back in December, I shared here that I would like to profile authors here regularly again. 

For my first author interview of this year, I bring to you Julie Dill, an Oklahoma City resident whose debut young adult novel BLUFF (Amberjack Publishing) was released in 2017. You can follow Julie on Twitter @JulieDillOKC.

In BLUFF, 17-year-old Chelsea struggles with managing her cheer team expenses and her financially struggling household consisting of just herself and her single dad. Secretly, Chelsea assumes a new name and takes up playing poker at a local casino. Luck is on her side and a series of big cash wins at the table motivates Chelsea to keep returning. Things get challenging when sparks fly between Chelsea and a young pit boss. The pit boss doesn’t know that she’s an underage gambler. To keep up with her new hobby, Chelsea has to keep lying to those around her, and then things start to get out of hand...

What inspired you to write BLUFF? It’s weird how a character evolves. I really tried to create a unique character- a high school girl who wasn’t the norm. My personal life, as a teenager, could not have been more opposite than Chelsea’s so I really had to get outside of what I knew and what I was comfortable with to get in Chelsea’s head. I was reflecting on my first visit into a poker room, and in the early nineties there were hardly any women at all. Even today, you can still walk by a poker room and notice that the majority of the players are men. I think when you’re developing a character it’s important to raise the stakes as much as possible (pun intended). With BLUFF, I really wanted something different and that wasn’t already “out there.”


While BLUFF can be regarded as an “issues” story about a girl’s oncoming gambling addiction, I also considered this a fantasy fulfillment story. It was fascinating to observe the life of a teen who masquerades as a grown-up with some success. And don’t many teens wish they were adults? What would you say this story is about? Initially, it was Chelsea's attempt to try to get some quick cash. But long term, it became escapism for her. She could enter this world where she didn’t have to think about all of her responsibilities and just escape. My hope is that readers will recognize how easy an addiction can form.

Though I was often concerned for Chelsea’s safety and didn’t necessarily agree with her choices, I found myself looking forward to seeing what she’d do next. Tell me more about the character development for Chelsea.
Life is never easy for Chelsea, and that's what gives her some grit. She manages. She doesn’t have a choice. I think down deep Chelsea is longing for some maternal guidance, and that’s why I wanted her to have Ms. Stella. Overall, I view Chelsea as a good kid making bad choices, and that informed a lot of my decisions.

What books/authors did you enjoy reading when you were younger? THE BOXCAR CHILDREN was always my favorite. I still have the copy from my childhood with my name printed in the front. Bill Wallace (A DOG CALLED KITTY) visited my school when I was in fourth grade. I'll never forget it. I still have his book, too!

Tell me about the sequel for BLUFF. Will readers get to meet Chelsea’s mom? I continue to work on the sequel. Ms. Stella is my favorite character, and readers will get to spend a lot more time with her.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

IWSG: Doppelgangers

Today is the first Insecure Writer's Support Group event of 2018. Happy New Year. For those visiting here for the first time, IWSG Day is a monthly event where authors in the blogosphere can share about insecurities and other stuff going on in their lives...or in my case sometimes, just general thoughts on various subjects.

Recently, I came across an entertaining article on my news feed showing people photographed near their "doppelganger" in a museum painting. Certainly, at first glance, most of the images appear to show that the person's face has been duplicated in the painting beside them. Peering closer, I might spot subtle differences between the person and the subject in the painting. Perhaps the shape of the person's face is slightly wider than the one in the art, for example. Still, these people feel connected enough to the image in front of them to be photographed with it as if to announce "I found me!"

For many readers, that can be the appeal of reading a book (or watching a movie, TV show, etc...) where there's a character they can somewhat relate to, even if they're not exactly the same.

From a writer's perspective, when I come across a story another author had written with elements that mirror my own story, I can respond internally in two ways. One, I might think, Someone else gets it! Yay! Or two, I get insecure. Now people would think I'm biting off this work if and when mine gets published. Or my work might not even get published because industry folk would point to that other story and say, there's already a story like that on the market.

And still, I continue to write on.

Have you ever come across art that made you go, "That's me!" How do you feel when you come across another writer's work that's similar to what you're working on?