Monday, December 21, 2015

Peace, Joy and a Holiday Break

Holiday Blessings to all and we'll see you back here in 2016!

~the GROG team

Wishing you peace and prosperity in the New Year and time to hear what you are writing

The GROG writers are stopping for a breath. We will be back January 4, 2016.

Friday, December 18, 2015

The Sounds of Silence

By Janie Reinart

You need to hear what you're writing
and for that you need silence
~ Philip Pullman.

As we enter into the winter season, I invite you to embrace the stillness. Stop and take a breath

Writing and thinking are interconnected. Part of my writing process is luxuriating in the quiet around me. When I find that time, the silence becomes sacred

Here are some thoughts from creative people embracing silence.

“Without great solitude no serious work is possible.” ~ Picasso

“When I am, as it were, completely myself, entirely alone, and of good cheer–say, traveling in a carriage or walking after a good meal or during the night when I cannot sleep–it is on such occasions that my ideas flow best and most abundantly.”~Mozart

“On the other hand, although I have a regular work schedule, I take time to go for long walks on the beach so that I can listen to what is going on inside my head. If my work isn’t going well, I lie down in the middle of a workday and gaze at the ceiling while I listen and visualize what goes on in my imagination.” ~Albert Einstein

There is something greater and purer than what the mouth utters. Silence illuminates our souls, whispers to our hearts, and brings them together. ~Kahlil Gibran

“One of the greatest necessities in America is to discover creative solitude.” ~Carl Sandburg

"Be alone—that is the secret of invention: be alone, that is when ideas are born.”~Nikola Tesla

"To communicate through silence is a link between the thoughts of man."  ~ Marcel Marceau

Wishing you peace and prosperity in the New Year and time to hear what you are writing. The GROG writers are stopping for a breath. We will be back January 4, 2016.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

WHOSE HANDS ARE THESE? by Miranda Paul, Review by Kathy Halsey

Young children like to be engaged in a book, and Miranda Paul gives readers (age range 3-7) plenty of opportunities to be "hands-on" with her newest rhyming nonfiction picture book WHOSE HANDS ARE THESE? A COMMUNITY HELPER GUESSING BOOK from Millbrook Press, publication date Feb. 1, 2016.
A hybrid book, traditional picture book and guessing game, WHOSE HANDS features jobs traditionally explored with this age group, and occupations not as commonly known for the younger set. Readers learn about potters, news reporters, architects, and referees along with farmers, police, teachers and scientists. The bright, and inclusive illustrations by Brazilian native Luciana Navarro Powell, ensure that minorities are well-represented, too. People of color, women, and older people are included in the array of helpful careers. 
Structure & Design
Miranda and Luciana have found a great format for this guessing game using the page turn as a strong artistic device. For each occupation, we first see the hands at work coupled with the bouncy rhythm and rhyme. Next, the full page reveal completes the rhyme and we see/learn the answer to our question. For example, the science spread begins:
"Quest and test, these hands are turning,
Test again - these hands are learning!
Weight and count, their work persists.
These hands belong to...(page turn)


This repeating structure helps younger children predict and even anticipate the ellipsis and the page turn reveal. Even the first page takes advantage of the unique quality of the page turn as we see a hand ready to turn the page accompanying the text "Can you guess? Whose hands are these?"

Another design element that distinguish this book includes the deliberate order of occupations. The book begins with farmers and moves seamlessly to cooks - a la "farm to table." Children and astute adults can discuss where food begins and ends. The occupations conclude with the teacher who introduces Career Day in the next spread and there, on the bulletin board, the reader finds the final question, "What could your hands do?" 

The end papers delineate all the implements/tools of the trade for each occupation and another opportunity to engage children in guessing who uses what tool. Then the back matter gives us a visual cameo of all eleven occupations pulled from the book with detailed occupational information and handy synonyms for the career. Finally, the author's note inspires children and adults to dream big and fulfill their dreams. 

Author Miranda Paul and illustrator Luciana Navarro Powell give caregivers, teachers, librarians, parents, children and writers many reasons to read WHOSE HANDS ARE THESE over and over again for entertainment and information.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Attend a Library Convention! Here's Why. by Kathy Halsey

Columbus Skyline @ AASL
AASL and ALA are not alphabet soup that our favorite literary dog Martha cooked up. They're acronyms for the American Association of School Librarians and American Library Association. In the world of publishing, they have been called gatekeepers, but I prefer the word "ally." As a former school librarian myself, I know our goals are similar- to promote literacy and to engage readers for a lifetime. Librarian go to conferences for the same reason as writers: connections, professional development, and fun.

Even if you are a pre-published writer, you can learn so much from your local school library association conference or one of the national conferences. AASL came to Columbus, OH, my home town, this past fall and I attended the conference for only $25! The secret? Only purchase an exhibit/vendor hall pass. You will miss the great presentations, but chatting up vendors, getting piles of free books, and meeting amazing authors kept me busy.
Only some of the loot I snagged for FREE!
Make a game plan before you peruse the exhibit hall. It is a dizzying array of swag, companies, and librarians. I targeted the vendors by my writing interests: PB, NF,  and library/educational publishers. Look at their displayed books, snag a catalog, introduce yourself as a writer, and hand them your business card. (Tip: The best time to chat with folks you really want to meet is during  concurrent sessions. The vendor hall is almost empty and reps appreciate your interest.)
Discuss commonalities and areas of expertise with the reps. I pitched this blog and its readership to get a free trial to some library apps that could be useful to writers, such as StoryboardThat, an AASL best app. 
Science & Children Journal
Avail yourself of free professional magazines, also. I found PW, School Library Journal, a chapter book series pub, and best of all for NF writers, and Science & Children, a National Science Teachers Association journal. This particular issue's focus is writing in science. Many articles give the appropriate Next Gen Science Standards for articles. Writers can save time if they plug these into their science manuscripts. Visit NSTA for more resources. 
J. Patrick Lewis, Former Children's Poet Laureate
Author Tim Federle, writer of MG, PB, and funny drink books (He knows librarians & their habits well. LOL)

Connecting with the authors seen above along w/the likes of Matt de la Pena, Don Tate, Michael J. Rosen, and Melissa Stewart made AASL a stellar experience! 
Share your conference tips and favorite finds in the comment section so we can all benefit!

Friday, December 11, 2015

Chatting with YA author Ann Jacobus about her debut novel: Romancing the Dark in the City of Light -- Christy Mihaly

Author Ann Jacobus
Photo: Marc Olivier Leblanc
Are you interested in books for young readers about serious issues -- like depression or suicide? Could you use a few pointers about school visits? You'll love today's interview. 

I’m thrilled to be talking with a college classmate, Ann Jacobus, for GROG. When Ann and I knew one another many years ago, neither of us could have predicted that our paths would be crossing decades later in the universe of YA/Children’s Literature.

Ann’s debut book, Romancing the Dark in the City of Light, was published by St. Martin's Griffin/Macmillan in October. (Read the Publishers  Weekly review here.) This brooding and funny, dark and hopeful YA novel is set in Paris, where Ann was lucky enough to live for several years. Ann and I met up again recently in San Francisco.

Ann, thank you for agreeing to answer some questions for GROG.

AJ: Thank you for having me here, Chris!

Q: Congratulations again on the publication of Romancing the Dark in the City of Light. After reading your wonderful book from cover to cover, I have a few questions.

It's such an intriguing title – did your manuscript always have this name or did it develop over time?

AJ: The working manuscript had at least three different titles over the seven years it was “in development.” Before submitting to editors after a final (umpteenth) revision, I came up with a list of probably 90-100 potential titles with my agent, and then asked friends to vote. "Romancing the Dark in the City of Light" won, although we thought it was possibly too long and submitted under "Romancing the Dark." My editor preferred the long version, and she was right.

·  Q: I love hearing about all those titles! Tell us about writing this book. It deals with mental health issues, including depression, alcoholism, and suicide. What drew you to these topics? Did you start out with these themes in mind?

AJ: In late 2003—we were living in Paris at the time—someone ended up on the tracks in front of our metro train. I was with my daughter and got her out of there as quickly as I could so never learned exactly what happened. However, since I could find no mention of it in any media afterwards, I had to assume it was a suicide, as an accident or homicide would have been news. The incident haunted me, and I started writing about it several years later.
Ann in Paris, visiting a cemetery

I’ve been interested in the subject of suicide since I was a teen. I’ve done a fair amount of reading and research over the years and have volunteered on a couple of suicide crisis lines (currently San Francisco Suicide Prevention). I wanted to write a book about a suicidal protagonist, with a hopeful message. Lots of YA novels deal with the effects of suicide on others, fewer are told through the POV of someone who is suicidal. I struggled with feeling suicidal as a fifteen year-old, briefly, but unforgettably. I spoke of it to no one at the time. Decades later, I acknowledged it only after I started writing about it. There's a stigma about suicide that makes most of us uncomfortable. Sadly, it affects far too many teens but we can fix it if we’ll talk about it.

Alcohol abuse often goes hand in hand with both depression and thoughts of suicide. Alcohol can be used to “self-medicate” by those suffering from mental anguish, and it can remove inhibitions that might otherwise prevent someone feeling suicidal from attempting. While I didn’t start out planning to include alcohol in the story, it was a natural fit and helped make things tougher for my protagonist–which of course, is what we writers must do.

·  Q: Your book has a lot to teach readers of all ages. 
   What’s different about your life, post-publication – what does being published change?

AJ: Publishing a novel with a major house was definitely a big milestone and one I worked toward for fifteen years. But it happened in so many increments over such a long period of time in my case, that it doesn’t feel much different! The biggest moment had to be when my agent and I received the offer to buy my manuscript. After the contract was signed, I felt like a published author but it was another year and a half until the book came out. Having less time to write my next novel now is one of the more challenging differences of life post-pub.

Ann's book launch: with some of her favorite fans: her kids!
·  Q: Have you done school visits? What do you like and dislike about them? Words of advice?

AJ: I’ve only done a few school visits, and I really enjoy them. RTDITCOL is appropriate for high school-aged kids and up. I have taught writing to younger kids and adults both, but talking about this edgy story as well as mental health with high school-aged readers is especially rewarding. They aren’t as locked into the stigma and are open to information about suicide and its prevention. There’s a lot we can discuss and share, and getting teens (or any students) involved in interaction helps hold their attention. Visuals help too, but you need to be able to carry on if the projector doesn’t work.

I try to think in terms of the audience. What information will interest and help them? Also, how can I entertain them? In this case, I’m giving them facts about suicide prevention. They also want to know about us as authors, but not too much. How did we get where we are? What did we have to overcome? How did the book evolve from idea to printed copy? It’s fun to show them how nerdy I was at their age and also let them in on a few inside secrets, i.e. chewing bubble gum aids in concentration and is my go-to for solving plot and character problems. One high school student assured me that studies have shown chewing gum improves concentration and focus.

Ann at a recent school visit.
Another tip: Don't post pictures with the faces of minors without permission!
Can you read the slide? It says: "Becoming a YA Writer."

The best advice I ever got about visits is “over prepare, then go with the flow.” Things will go wrong or at least not as you planned, so having back up plans and knowing your stuff cold is key. Finally, allow yourself to be nervous. Work with it and it will (ideally) eventually go away.

·  Q: What other promotional efforts have you made? How do you feel about this aspect of the writers’ life?

AJ: YA readers are online and can be reached via the hundreds, probably thousands, of YA blogs out there. Most of my promotional efforts have involved interviews and guest posts with YA blogs starting as early as last spring with the Fearless Fifteeners, a group of YA and middle grade debut authors with novels coming out in 2015. To date I’ve written about 25K words total, many for a “blog tour” that took place in the weeks around release.  Then social media, especially twitter and facebook, along with my web site, support all my other efforts. Targeted conferences are another good bet, such as those for YA librarians, or YA novel cons or festivals. I hope to land some presentation opportunities at mental health gatherings. You can see one of the big YA blogs here.

While I’m not as crazy about promotion as I am about writing alone at my desk, I am up for talking about mental health and suicide, especially with teens, anytime, anywhere, and am grateful for any opportunity to do so.

·      Q: Is there anything you wish that you had known before you started on the path to publication?

AJ: I would try to make better use of the time prior to publication for working on the next novel. Yes, I heard this advice a long time ago but didn’t heed it. Also, don’t be afraid to throw out entire scenes that aren’t as strong as they need to be. Every time you re-write something it’s better (usually, anyway). Keep re-writing, re-visioning, not just tweaking the same stuff over and over. Finally, more than anything else, we need perseverance and patience. I heard that, too, and didn’t quite believe it.

·   Q: Great advice, no matter how many times we hear it! What’s next for you in your writing life?

AJ: I’m working on a companion book to RTDITCOL that takes place a year and a half later in San Francisco and features some of the same characters as well as some new ones. For a complete welcome change of pace, I have a middle grade novel about a talking, flying dog I’d like to revisit, as well.

Many thanks for your time, Ann. And below are some resources (with links to websites) that Ann has provided, about suicide prevention and related topics:
Ann Jacobus earned an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She lives in San Francisco with her family.  
Find her at:

For books tackling tough topics for younger readers, see our earlier GROG post about picture books on these subjects. Thanks for stopping by GROG today.