Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Place of Pets

It's no secret that I adore my dog. I've mentioned my sweet, gentle Golden Retriever Teddy many, many times, but what I haven't told is the story of how Teddy came to be part of my family--and that story is quite tragic. Teddy's existence in my family isn't tragic  . . . but what happened before he got here is.

Rewind to the summer of 2009. My husband, kids, and I planned an exciting and huge vacation to Washington, D.C. with an ocean stop-over in Virginia Beach. Over two weeks we'd be gone. We hired a house sitter who doubled as our dog sitter--a kind, respectful, trustworthy teenage boy. At the time, our family dog was Tucker. A two-and-a-half-year-old mixed breed who was large, high-spirited, energetic, and, well, hard for others to love. But I loved him completely. This is Tucker.

One day into our road trip to D.C., our dog sitter called and said Tucker nipped him when he'd attempted to take one of his art pencils out of Tucker's mouth. Indeed, Tucker was known for taking "things," running through the house with them, and playing keep away. (Remember I told you Tucker was hard for others to love?) Over the next few days, Tucker nipped our dog sitter several more times and bit my father-in-law seriously when he came over to assist our dog sitter.

With our permission, my father-in-law took Tucker to the vet and had him put to sleep. The call that Tucker was gone came while my family and I were eating lunch in the lower level of the Supreme Court. I knew it had to be done. A dog who bites is dangerous. I knew that. But my dog-loving heart was broken. And I knew how empty the house would feel once we returned home.

Only I didn't know how empty my heart would feel once we returned home and there was no dog waiting for me.

A month passed with my family being dog-less. To me, it felt like a lifetime. My husband and I had a dog in the house long before we had kids in the house--Tucker was not our first dog. My kind-hearted husband, who wasn't sure he wanted another dog after what happened with Tucker, consented to my pleas of, "Please? Please can we have another dog?" So we had a friend, knowledgeable in the personalities of puppies, choose a Golden Retriever from a litter for us.

Yes, someone ELSE chose our puppy for us.

And here's the sweetness that healed my broken dog-loving heart.

Three years later, my dear and loving Teddy looks like this.

So I know the power of pets and the purpose of pets and the unconditional love of pets and the joy and heartbreak of pets.

And when I write, I include pets in my stories. And when I read a story with a pet in it, I usually love the story all the more. Pets teach us and love us in different ways than people. I think they do that same thing in books.

What about you? Do you include pets in your writing? If you don't write, does a pet add something extra to a story you read?

Monday, June 25, 2012

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: The 13th Sign (cover reveal and contest!)

The cover for The 13th Sign by Kristin O'Donnell Tubb!

Stunning. And Intriguing. Simple. But complex.
*stares at cover*
*stares some more*

Kristin revealed her cover on June 13th (Everyone sees that right? The 13th Sign. June 13th. Yep.), so it's loveliness has been out for awhile, but I want to draw your attention to something she's doing with the cover reveal . . .

The 13th Sign releases in January 2013 (The 13th Sign. Releases in 2013. Yep again.), but Kristin is holding a cover reveal contest. Right now. With prizes. Lots of very cool prizes. Like books.
What's more awesome than that?
(I knew you'd agree with me.)

But first, here's a little teaser about the book from the jacket copy:

What if there was a 13th zodiac sign? 

You’re no longer Sagittarius, but Ophiuchus, the healer, the 13th sign. 

Your personality has changed.
So has your mom’s and your best friend’s. 

What about the rest of the world? 

What if you were the one who accidentally unlocked the 13th sign, causing this world-altering change—and infuriating the other 12 signs?  

Jalen did it, and now she must use every ounce of her strength and cunning to send the signs back where they belong.
Lives, including her own, depend on it.”

Completely fascinating, right? I'm certainly hooked.
And now for the cover reveal contest:

  1. Search the cover above for THREE zodiac symbols. Got them? Good! Then…
  2. Email your answers directly to Kristin at by June 30 to…
  3. Be entered into a drawing! The following will be doled out randomly to three folks who send in correct answers:
-a $50 IndieBound gift card!
-a signed hardcover of SELLING HOPE plus a signed paperback of AUTUMN WINIFRED OLIVER DOES THINGS DIFFERENT!
-a book “basket” including three middle grade books: BRIDGE TO TIME by Lewis Buzbee, THE STRANGE CASE OF ORIGAMI YODA by Tom Angleberger, and THE GIRL WHO CIRCUMNAVIGATED FAIRYLAND IN A SHIP OF HER OWN MAKING by Catherynne M. Valente
4.   BONUS! Anyone who includes a FOUTH zodiac symbol in their answers will get double entries for the above drawing!

And that’s it!  Start searching and emailing!

If you’d like to preorder THE 13TH SIGN, you can do so here  (Amazon) or here (Indiebound)! You’ll be automatically be eligible for the upcoming THE 13TH SIGN Preorder Contest!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Reading and E-reading in Middle Grade

A few weeks ago I interviewed CJ, my ten-year-old neighbor who loves (LOVES!) to read. But instead of a question and answer format, I'll share this interview more like a story--because I like stories, and so does CJ.

CJ is the oldest of four kids and has just finished fifth grade. In her family of six, she is the only one who truly loves reading, and CJ will give any book a chance, although fantasy is her favorite genre. She even reads things she doesn't like and can't remember not finishing a book she started.

An extremely proud Nook owner, CJ told me she probably reads half her books on her Nook and half are traditional books. She prefers the Nook, however, because she likes to personalize the screen, font, backlighting, and other fancy jazz to fit her mood. In her fifth grade class of 32 students, CJ knew six other kids with e-readers.

I asked CJ what she might say to a friend who doesn't enjoy reading, and she said she would tell them that reading improves your imagination because you have to put the book into a picture. When it comes to a book's ending, CJ likes the story to end on a question, things don't have to be wrapped up all pretty and fixed just so. CJ also re-reads books (some many times, especially those on her Nook) and reads multiple books at once!

CJ told me a lot of other things--for instance, she enjoys writing as well as reading and she even had a poem published this year in A Celebration of Poets which features young poets. But the one thing that struck me the most was when CJ said, "Reading makes me who I am."

CJ's preference of her e-reader and the e-reader's popularity among her classmates bodes well for the future of e-readers and prompts this question from me (although I am certainly not the first to ask it): Will traditional books disappear completely at some point, making e-books and other digital formats the only way to read? What do you think?

Monday, June 18, 2012

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: 2012 Newberys and Editing Services Winners

First things first . . . 
Thank you for making my Editing Services launch fun and exciting! Please spread word to anyone who is looking for a freelance editor or contact me yourself if that person is you.

The winners of the 5,000 word Content Consults are:

Woot! Yay! Hooray!
I will email both of you in the next few days with specifics.

And now, Marvelous Middle Grade Monday . . .

The 2012 Newberys!

Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos, this year's Newbery winner, is a humorous historical whose main character is named . . . Jack Gantos! How much of the story comes from the author's real boyhood I don't know, but this book has one of the funniest scenes I have EVER read. One night as I lay in bed reading, I laughed so hard and for so long and so loudly, I woke my husband, and my kids should have woken in their various rooms down the hall, but thunderstorms don't even wake them up. The scene involved deer hunting and farts (and makes me laugh just thinking about it).

Breaking Stalin's Nose by Eugene Yelchin (illustrated by him too), is historical also. It is searching, sad, and triumphant. It's a look inside the Soviet Union during the rough and turbulent times of Stalin's reign. A time when citizens were told to spy on one another for the future glory of their country. A time when citizens were lied to, treated harshly, and foreigners completely untrusted. What Sasha Zaichik learns about his country, that maybe the government is all built on lies, breaks your heart.

Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai is ALSO a historical (YAY! I have a deep love for middle grade historicals), and this one is set as Saigon falls to the North Vietnamese. It is also a novel in verse, and part of its beauty comes in its sparse but perfect word choices. Ha, the main character, has only known her country at war, but as Saigon falls, she and her family must flee without knowing if her father is dead or alive. They end up in Alabama, adjusting to everything that is so different than what they know and love, and still wondering what happened to Ha's father.

That's my take on this year's Newberys. Have you read them yet?
For more middle grade recommendations, visit Shannon Messenger's links. 

Happy middle grade reading! 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Never Surrender Blogfest

Inspired by Elana Johnson, I joined her call for the Never Surrender Blogfest. Her newly released book, Surrender, brought about the idea, and she called on bloggers and writers to share a time when we kept going, when we didn't surrender . . . here's my story.

My son was born prematurely--large for a preemie at 5 lbs. 4 oz. but still a preemie. At 34 weeks, he was not ready to be born. His lungs weren't ready to breathe air. His tiny body was unable to keep itself warm. His digestive system was not prepared for milk.

This was my passage into motherhood. A mom to a tiny baby, a tiny baby that doctors and nurses could care for better than I could. A mom to a tiny baby who remained in the hospital long after I was released.

My husband tried gallantly to help me, even in the middle of his own brokenness. But sadness, uncertainty, and doubt consumed me.

A few weeks after his birth, things grew especially rough for my son. During a blood transfusion, I sat beside his bassinet. His eyes--his beautiful, dark, perfect eyes--opened and locked on mine.  It was not the first time he'd looked at me, but in that moment, I truly became my son's mother. I was his fiercest protector, his strength when he was weak, his strongest supporter, the one who would teach him about going on when things get tough, the one who would not give up. Ever. Because I was his mom--and a mom who has a God who didn't give up on her.

My son is now fourteen and I have a daughter on the cusp of thirteen. And teenagers present a whole new side of momming, but when things get tough and parenting grows hard, I look into my kid's eyes and know--there's no way I will give up.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Editing Services Launch (with giveaway!) and Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

Announcement and Giveaway First!

No, I don't have a book deal, but I am launching editing services for middle grade and young adult writers! (And I have since amended my services, stating my arm can be twisted to work with writing for adults, depending on genre. Updated June 20, 2012). With an extensive background in teaching, writing, and reading, I am now combining these three loves into one new and remarkable thing. Please take a minute and click on my 'Editing Services' tab--found right above my name and bio in the upper right corner of my blog--to see which services I'm offering and the costs of these services. I'm SUPER excited to begin this new venture!

And . . . to get business rolling, I'm offering a giveaway of editing services--a mighty fine time to test them out for FREE! Details of the giveaway and how to enter are at the bottom of this post.

And now, on to Marvelous Middle Grade Monday . . .

When fellow MMGMer Pam Torres featured The Great Wall of Lucy Wu by Wendy Wan-Long Shang several weeks ago, I immediately placed it on my to-read list. It sounded so fun and threw in a main character who learns about herself and her family too. What's not to love?

The premise: Lucy Wu, a Chinese-American, is about to enter her sixth grade year, in which everything is going to be perfect. But when Lucy's parents decide she will attend a Saturday morning Chinese school which interferes with basketball practice and Lucy's grandmother's long-lost sister from China is coming for a very long visit, Lucy's perfect dreams unravel.

What keeps readers reading: Lucy's real-ness. She's a real kid with real problems, real concerns, and real bully after her too.

What I loved: The weaving of Chinese culture into the story's fabric. Pieces of the language, food, history, and traditions flow naturally within the plot, and readers learn all about these things without realizing they are.

For more middle grade recommendations, check out Shannon Messenger's links.

Details on my editing services giveaway:

Two (yes, TWO!) of you could win a 5,000 word (FREE!) content consult of your middle grade or young adult manuscript--meaning I will heavily evaluate the first 5,000 words of your manuscript and return it to you with re-write suggestions, character and plot analysis, and running commentary throughout the 5,000 words. Think freelance editor combined with super-power critique partner.

To enter the drawing, simply comment on this post and indicate you are interested in the giveaway. If you're a blog follower, that's an additional entry. If you refer someone to this giveaway (and they enter), that earns you an additional entry (make sure they tell me who referred them). Tweet the giveaway (include @BA_Watson in the tweet along with my blog link), one more entry.

If your email address is not on your blog or profile, please include it in your comment. Entries for the giveaway are open until Sunday, June 17th, 2012, at 8pm CDT. Winners announced on June 18th.

Thank you for helping me launch my editing services!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Winner of BOY + BOT

 Back from North Dakota in time for my daughter to draw a name from the brown paper lunch sack . . .
The winner of BOY + BOT and related prize pack of bracelets, stickers, frisbees, and other fun stuff is:

Yahoo! Email your mailing address to:
barbarawatson94 (at) gmail (dot) com
and I'll get the book and prize pack to you!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Time Away

This week I'm spending a little time with family, which means heading to North Dakota's farmland. Not only were my parents and grandparents raised on northeastern North Dakota farms, but my current manuscript (a recently finished first draft) is set smack dab in this part of North Dakota.

This photo of my daughter and my mom was taken a few years ago, but this is the land my grandpa farmed. And although my grandpa is long gone, those are his grain bins, and someone else's North Dakota wheat still ripens in the backdrop.

This part of North Dakota is a place I can see, feel, taste, smell, and hear without effort because I visited so many times while growing up. The flat, open spaces. The inky black soil. The waving wheat. The eternity of sky. The warm summer breeze. The unique and quirky small towns. I love it all. If you've never seen a North Dakota prairie sunset splash its electric orange and hot pink ribbons across the sky, you've missed one of the most beautiful sunsets on earth.

The giveaway of a very special picture book is still open; scroll down one post to enter. I'll be back next Monday with something very new and very cool to announce, but for now, I'm gathering writing inspiration in North Dakota.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Perfect Picture Book Friday: BOY + BOT (and a giveaway!)

Today I'm joining a bunch of others who promote picture books every Friday! I was lucky enough to win a copy of BOY + BOT in a giveaway from Laurisa Reyes, and I'd like to share it with one of you! Details for entering the giveaway are at the end of this post, and author Ame Dyckman signed this copy too, so that's extra cool.

BOY + BOT basics:
Author: Ame Dyckman; Illustrator: Dan Yaccarino
Published by Alfred A. Knopf, 2012
Fiction book for ages 3 and up
Themes: friendship and understanding

Opening sentence: A boy was collecting pinecones in his wagon when he met a robot. 

Synopsis: A boy and a robot become friends. They are a lot alike, but when Bot accidentally turns off, Boy thinks he's sick. And when Boy falls asleep, Bot thinks Boy needs repair. Through understanding their differences, Boy and Bot can help one another and become even better friends.

Fun learning activities: Designing a cardboard box robot costume as well as investigating why people need food for energy and machines need oil or gas to operate would combine activities with kids who are more artistically bent with those who like the science of things.

Perfect Picture Book Friday was started by Susanna Hill, and you can find more books and activities right here!

To enter the giveaway for BOY + BOT simply comment on this post by Saturday, June 9th, 2012, by 8pm CDT. If you're a blog follower, you get two entries in the drawing. Winner announced on Sunday, June 10th. Ame Dyckman also sent some cute BOY + BOT prizes (like bracelets, stickers, mini frisbees and more) that I'll pass along to the winner too. 

Snuggle together with kids you love and share some books today!