Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Where Writing Began

Up until nineteen months ago, I emailed my dad stories. Stories of my day. Stories about my kids. Stories involving my dog. Stories centered on my family. These were not made-up stories. They were the stories of my real every day. And my dad emailed his stories back. We lived in different cities, but our stories kept us close.

But nineteen months ago, cancer weakened my dad, and he couldn't go to his office anymore, the home to his only computer. So our email story-sharing died. Three months later my sweet dad died too. I miss my dad, every day, and so did my stories.

One month after my dad's death, I began blogging, not this blog, but a different one. I shared my stories, the personal ones that I used to email my dad, and posted them to that blog. And once again my stories had a place to live. Each time I published a post, it was like emailing my dad because I knew each entry would be the kind of story he'd want to hear.

Out of emails to my dad and that first blog, my writing life arose. Unfortunately, I can't tell my dad that. But I did tell him how much our emails meant to me. One day as I sat by his bedside I said simply, "Dad, I really miss our daily emails." He turned tired eyes to mine and in a frail voice replied, "Me too." We both understood the power of written words.

Without knowing it, my dad gave me one of the greatest gifts of my life. He let my stories live. And that's where my writing began.

How did your writing journey begin? I would be honored if you'd share it here.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Marvelous Middle Grade (Minnesota) Monday: Breadcrumbs

Many nights I stayed up too late speeding through my advance reading copy of Breadcrumbs (to be released by Walden Pond Press in September) because the book is that good. Written by Anne Ursu, Minnesotan and author of the Cronus Chronicles trilogy, this novel will delight, challenge, and entertain. Ms. Ursu's capture of the middle grade voice is true and marvelous, and she causes us all to ponder - What kind of friend am I? She also artfully weaves a middle grader's perspective on divorce, adoption, and minority ethnicity into the story without these becoming the story.

The premise: Hazel and Jack were best friends. But then he wouldn't talk to her. And Jack vanished into the forest, reportedly with a shimmering woman covered in ice. No one paid attention or seemed concerned, least of all his parents. So Hazel entered the forest to find him.

What keeps readers reading: A real world (which is extra fun for Minnesotans) and an imaginary one rolled into one believable place coupled with characters who encounter decisions and change. Woven with Hans Christian Andersen's "The Snow Queen" in mind, Anne Ursu sculpts a tale all her own, rich with struggle and abounding in mysterious magic. Hazel must conquer her fears, reach beyond herself to help Jack, and care about the good of others rather than what might happen to herself. Breadcrumbs is the story of one brave girl, daring to do right, no matter the outcome.

Other MMGMers and their reviews:
Please follow the links listed in my right sidebar. ~~~~~~~>

September 27th, 2011! Snag your copy of Anne Ursu's Breadcrumbs. And snuggle in. You'll get lost in its world. 

Friday, June 24, 2011

Reading Diverse

What if everyone were exactly like me? Eek!! That is more than frightening, maybe even more so for my husband and kids. Ahem *clears throat* Yes, well, they won't be guest blogging about that anytime soon. But in all seriousness, take a moment and ponder that. What if everyone was the same? What if there were no pronounced differences in people? What if we all thought the same, looked the same, had the same interests, and acted the same?

B.o.r.i.n.g. beyond boring. It's our differences that make the difference and scoop in the interesting. We all know that. But, hover on this a minute or two: When you read books, do you consider if you're reading across a broad scope, one that represents the beautiful array of people that inhabit our world? Hmmmmm. Yes. Hover there. Weave it into the fiber of your being.

And once you do that, visit  this post. It challenges you to diversify your reading over the summer and, afterward, share your experience with others. There's also a horde of very cool prizes (BOOKS! What could be better?) involved. I'm joining the challenge and challenge you to do the same.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Blogging Freedom

A pattern developed. Right here on this blog. Right under my nose. All on its own. In the last few weeks. And I am free.

I'd searched for something like this after reading this post by Kristen Lamb. Her post caused quite a stir for authors, bloggers, and writers who blog about writing, but when I read it, I sighed. A happy, heart-lifting, freedom kind of sigh. Because, honestly, I don't want to blog about writing every time I post. Sheesh. Did I just write that? Yes, indeed I did.

So after reading her post, I contemplated and listed things that encapsulate my life. Writing is one of those things, but my list hosts many other things too. And why can't this blog accumulate all those things in one place? I think it can.

Mondays evolved into sharing my love of middle grade books and linking with others who do the same. Wednesdays blurt writing blurbs. And Fridays are a free-for-all. And because it's a pattern, not a set-in-cement plan, I can follow it or deviate from it. Even the days I post, they can flex. Ahhhhh. I found freedom. And that was important to me.

What about you? If you're a writer who blogs, how do you determine what you blog about? And should writers mostly blog about writing? Let's talk.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Marvelous Middle Grade (Minnesota) Monday: Tango

Tango, written by Eileen Beha and published in 2009, continues my focus on middle grade authors who live in my home state.Tango brims with quirky, fun animal characters and intriguing people too. Animal lovers will adore this book as well as readers who want an adventurous romp.

The premise: Tango, a pampered and spoiled Yorkie from New York City, is swept overboard far, far from home. He swims, spits, and sputters his way to shore on Prince Edward Island. And all he wants is to go home. But Tango's silver charm name tag is plucked up by a cat on the beach where Tango came ashore and no one knows who Tango is or where his home might be.

 What keeps readers reading: Action, a delightful dog, and a runaway girl. As Tango searches for his silver name tag, he encounters friends and enemies. A fox named Beau becomes Tango's wise counsel. A sad widow becomes his caretaker. A runaway girl becomes his friend. But a pack of wild cats plan Tango's demise. Eileen Beha's Tango masterminds a tale of a dog who grows larger in heart than he ever will be in size.

Other MMGMers reviews and links:
Please find them in my right sidebar ~~~~~~~~>
And Natalie Aguirre interviews Nathan Bransford at Literary Rambles! Click HERE!  

Happy middle grade reading!

Friday, June 17, 2011

A Minnesota Author's YA Novel: Split

This summer I'm promoting Minnesota authors in my Marvelous Middle Grade Mondays. But when I read Split, a young adult novel by Swati Avasthi (a Minnesotan), I knew I had to spread word about it and her.

This riveting YA read, published in 2010, traces one family's pattern of abuse. Swati Avasthi portrays those who do the abusing, those who receive the abuse, covering up abuse, escaping abuse, staying within the abuse, and the devastation of abuse.

The premise: Sixteen-year-old Jace Witherspoon escapes his home and abusive father in Chicago and lands, many states away, with his estranged older brother. His mother stayed behind, promising she would join the two of them very soon. Jace reshapes his life knowing the secrets he escaped with could drown him at any turn.

What keeps readers reading: Page turning suspense and a tantalizing pace of revealed secrets. As Jace rebuilds a relationship with his brother, starts a new school, gains new friends, gets a new job, and starts to understand himself - all in a new place - he also knows what he left behind. His mom. The abuse. Lauren. And a big secret. Jace is haunted by it all. Split leads readers on a troubling, real, unpredictable journey. Swati Avasthi rivets readers from the opening sentence to the closing word.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A Pen Name?

In the dream, I enter a bookstore, sashay to the children's section, spot a table stacked with novels, and beam as I snatch one with my name on the cover.

And then the dream grows fuzzy and bends around the edges. What name is on the cover? What? My name.

But my name is Barbara Watson, and it's just so.....common. A google search boomerangs 32.2 million results. Adding my middle name Ann still bounces 3.23 million. The name filters into the same role as white drywall. Dull. Boring. Humdrum. Snooze. Now, I'm not saying I am those things, just that my name is. (Glad I clarified that one. Phew.)

This begs the question, should I have a pen name? And with the publication dream so far in the future, should I even be concerned about this right now? The answer is complicated, as most good things in life are. And the reasons I consider writing under a pen name are the same reasons you paint a wall. Color. Splash. Flavor. Pizazz.

If I toss the idea of a pen name around, I guffaw (or at the very least giggle), but this post last week by Jami Gold, forced me to consider it more seriously. Even consider it right now. Because if I (or, in dreamland, a publisher) declare my real name too vanilla later on, there's much to re-brand at that point. Twitter. Facebook. This blog. A website. Maybe other things I'm not even aware of.

So, reboot the dream. I enter a bookstore, sashay to the children's section, spot a table stacked with novels, and beam as I snatch one with my name on the cover. What name is on the cover? Barbara (Something). Because I can't be anyone but Barbara, but maybe I should snag a last name with some snazz.

A pen name. What do you think about them? Do you have one? Have you considered one? If so, why? If not, why not? Share any insight you wish on pen names.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Marvelous Middle Grade (Minnesota) Monday: The Mostly True Story of Jack

The Mostly True Story of Jack, written by Kelly Barnhill, will be released in early August 2011 by Little, Brown (I was thrilled to receive an advance reading copy). Ms. Barnhill has numerous non-fiction books published for kids, but this is her debut novel. The Mostly True Story of Jack  weaves a tale riddled with mystery, friendship, magic, and home. An even blend of unique boy and girl characters mixed with eerie but delightful creepiness produces a book any reader will devour.

The premise: All his life Jack has been invisible, forgotten really, especially within his own family. When he is sent to live with his aunt and uncle in Hazelwood, Iowa, Jack expects to remain forgotten but instead he's noticed - almost like everyone has been awaiting his arrival. Jack makes friends, the bully is after him and not someone else, and the town's most powerful man shadows him.

What keeps readers reading: Suspense interlaced with characters you care for (and some you don't). The Mostly True Story of Jack balances mystery reveal and character building in a tantalizing manner with Kelly Barnhill striking just the right mix of 'sticking up for your friends' and 'what will happen next?' Jack, the forgotten boy, finds mystery, friendship, and magic, but just where is home?

Other MMGMers reviews this week:
Please locate their links in my right sidebar ~~~~~~> 

Friday, June 10, 2011

And the Winner is . . .

~ Margie ~
She is a writer, contributes to the Word Wranglers blog,
 and has won this truly remarkable book!

I just picked up Heather M. Bouwman's signed copy this morning! Margie, please email me your mailing address. My email is in the right sidebar.

Thank you to all who commented! The winner was literally drawn from the proverbial brown paper bag as I do not know how to manufacture those fancy random generators people speak of.

May you all have a remarkable journey as you read, read, read. Return here on Monday for my second installment of MMGMM: Marvelous Middle Grade Minnesota Monday!

Thank you, Heather, for writing this remarkable story and sharing it with readers, young, old, and all between.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Action? Verbs Needed!

When I photograph my family, my perpetual favorites are action shots. Here are a few choice ones from a trip to the eastern shore of Lake Michigan last summer.

I treasure them because they show what we did, not just where we went. But many times when I write, an apt action word escapes just when I need it as a best friend.

When I read, on the other hand, I marvel at the impressive and flawless word choices of other writers. And I scrunch up my jealous face because it appears effortless. It's not effortless, but the flowing so fluidly that it seems to be, that's what I'm chasing.

Last week I vowed to pocket pen and paper when I read. My oath: jot down riveting verbs. Verbs and their jolt caffeinate writing. So now I harbor a verb list. Small sampling of verbs I've collected: fume, jostle, anchor, flick, waft, rattle, swagger. When I'm writing, the list lies beside my computer, so if my mind numbs or freezes over, I glance at my verbs, find one that's just right, insert it, smile, and proceed writing.

Floating and cramming verbs through my brain transports them into my writing. What writing tricks have you discovered for finding words that are just right?

Monday, June 6, 2011

Marvelous Middle Grade (Minnesota) Monday: The Remarkable & Very True Story of Lucy & Snowcap

The Remarkable & Very True Story of Lucy & Snowcap by H.M. Bouwman begins my Marvelous Middle Grade Minnesota Mondays! All summer I'll be posting MMGMMs rather than MMGMs as I feature authors who live in my home state.

H.M. Bouwman has graciously donated a signed copy of this truly remarkable book which will be given to a random commentor on this post. Comment by midnight CST on Thursday, June 9th; winner revealed here on Friday, June 10th! (Mailed only within US or Canada). My blog's very first give-away! 

The Remarkable & Very True Story of Lucy & Snowcap was published in 2008 and is currently a finalist for the National Homeschool Book Award. Click here to find out more about this award. With its magical mix of fantasy with a history twist, this book will appeal to all readers.

The premise: When Lucy's baby brother is born, the midwife instructs her to take him to the Lifestone Garden and leave him there to die. She suspected this might happen, for all the men and boys in the Colay Islands have recently turned to stone. As she climbs the mountain to the statue garden, little Rob's foot turns cold and hardens. But Lucy is strong and wills her brother to live.

What keeps readers reading: Adventure, magic, and irresistible characters. Ms. Bouwman weaves two very different (but somehow very alike) twelve-year-olds, Lucy and Snowcap, into a mysterious adventure fraught with kidnapping, escapes, thieves, rebellion, and magic. If Rob is to survive, he needs Lucy and Snowcap, natural enemies, to work together, trust one another, and rely on the stories that live in each of them.

Because my kids and I read this novel aloud together (and they are the book's target audience) and because I know Ms. Bouwman personally, I'm including excerpts from my kids' reading journals. My son said: The author gives vivid descriptions. I can see what's happening and fully imagine the characters. My daughter said: I like the story plan. It's very interesting and the characters come to life. I enjoy the sense of adventure and Lucy's mission.

Thank you, Heather, for writing this remarkable story and sharing it with readers, young, old, and everyone between.

Other MMGMers reviews this week:
Find their links in my right sidebar ~~~~~~>  

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Settling Esther B (Guest post by author Anne Ylvisaker)

Today is beyond thrilling here at Novel and Nouveau - author Anne Yvlisaker is guest posting! Her most recent middle grade novel, The Luck of the Buttons, was released this year. She is also the author of Dear Papa and Little Klein. This past Monday I reviewed The Luck of the Buttons (scroll down two posts) and asked Anne if she would share about the writing of it. Here is what Anne shared:

Settling Esther B

Each time I’ve started a novel, I’ve set out simply to tell the story of a character who captured my imagination, and to explore a turning point in that character’s life.

In the case of The Luck of the Buttons, I’d been thinking a lot about my paternal grandmother when Tugs Esther Button started inhabiting my imagination. Esther Tomina Bunde, Grandma B, has been gone for nearly 14 years, but I miss her every day. She was funny and mischievous, a baseball fan, an adventurous spirit.

One thing always bothered me about Grandma B, though. Grandma was smart, yet she was paralyzingly self-deprecating, adverse to achievement, affected even in old age by repeated admonishments from her father that she not get a swell head. Even after her death, I felt pain for her childhood self.

I saw a picture once of Grandma B as a twelve year old, all limbs and buck-toothed grin, arm in arm with a friend, both in long striped socks, roller skating. That photo is long gone, but while writing The Luck of the Buttons, I imagined Tugs as my grandma in girlhood, faced with the same admonishment, and I imagined my grandma as Tugs, standing up for herself, set free at last to explore her boundless potential.

~ Anne Ylvisaker

A young Grandma B

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Writer's Life

Only recently have I logged into the writer's life, and even more recently have I come to more fully understand what that means. And you'll have to excuse me, being new in my writerly skin means I make all kinds of mistakes. For example, I use way too many adverbs (and I actually like them), but I'm learning. Many things. About writing and the writer's life. And how that fits into the other life I've been living all my life.

One thing about the writer's life that struck me like a fun surprise party where I'm the clueless surprised one was the support system writers provide. The writers I've met encourage, strengthen, brace, foster, reassure, spur, sustain, and fortify me. Daily. I have no idea why I was surprised (shocked really) by this support system, but I was. And continue to be. Daily.

Some of these writers I've met in person, others I've connected with through blogs, Twitter, or emails, but the result is always the same - a community who extends a hand and assists me as I build my writer's life, brick by brick, word by word. And I thank you, each of you, for helping me wrap myself more comfortably in my writerly skin.

Was there anything that surprised you about the writer's life?