Thursday, November 29, 2012

Reading Out Loud

On Monday I mentioned that my thirteen-year-old daughter and I still read novels out loud together and that this seems to be a pretty weird thing -- most parents have long since given up reading aloud with their kids by age thirteen. But, as I also said on Monday, we enjoy it. In fact, we really love it. And my son read with us too until sometime after his fourteenth birthday. I've found there is something deep, meaningful, and powerful about reading written words out loud.

And as a writer, there is immeasurable value in reading my own writing out loud. I catch words and sentences that don't flow, ideas that don't fit, characters who are speaking out of voice, and just general icky-ness that I would miss if I only read the story inside my head. As a freelance editor, I encourage my clients all the time to read their work aloud, knowing they will hear word cadences that need rephrasing and all the other things (and more) that I listed above. Because, again, there is something deep, meaningful, and powerful about reading written words out loud.

What about you? Do you read your own writing out loud? Do you read the writing of others out loud?

Monday, November 26, 2012

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Keeper of the Lost Cities

My thirteen-year-old daughter and I read Shannon Messenger's Keeper of the Lost Cities aloud together--yes, I know she is years beyond when most parents read aloud with their kids, but we totally enjoy it!--and when I talked about featuring Shannon's book for a Marvelous Middle Grade Monday, my daughter said, "Oh! Can I write it?" Pretty awesome, right?

Here are her words. She typed them in Blogger herself and followed the format I use on Marvelous Middle Grade Mondays:

The premise: Sophie Foster is a Telepath - someone who hears the thoughts of everyone around her. When she meets Fitz, a boy who is also a Telepath, Sophie is forced to leave life as she knows it. She is forced to leave her human family, whom she has been hidden with since birth. But Sophie discovers there is somewhere she might belong, though the very existence of this place defies everything she has ever learned. She has new rules to learn and a whole new world to take in but this won't stop her from asking questions. Like 'Who are her real parents?' and 'Why is she so different?'

What keeps readers reading: The action and the story. There is a lot of action from the start and the story is very in-depth so once you pick it up, you don't want to put it down. Along with the world-building Shannon Messenger had to do, the story line is very well written, and I can't wait to read the second book in the Keeper of the Lost Cities trilogy.

What I loved: I loved the whole story. I loved the action, suspense, the story line, the fantastical cities, all of it. I also loved how each of the characters Shannon created were distinctly different from everyone else in the story, just like real people. This is a great book and I highly suggest it to anyone!!
For more middle grade reviews, check
Happy middle grade reading!

 From Barbara's daughter

Monday, November 19, 2012

What? Another Blogging Break?

The winner of Katerina's Wish by Jeannie Mobley is . . .
Julie DeGuia! 
Woohoo! Email your mailing address to barbarawatson94(at)gmail(dot)com.

And yes, yes, I know. Several weeks ago I took a blogging break, but it's Thanksgiving week here in the U.S., so I'm taking another one. Be sure to smile at and hug those you're thankful for.

And Minnesota's autumn provides many scenes to be thankful for. Here's just one. It's a lake not far from my home. Such beauty.

Happy Thanksgiving!
I'll be back on Monday, November 26th.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Insight: An Interview with Jeannie Mobley

Getting the backstory on a novel and its author is always fascinating to me. Here is a little of that backstory on Katerina's Wish and debut author Jeannie Mobley.

Jeannie, what is it like -- having your debut novel out in the big, big world?

In some ways it is underwhelming. Of course I'm excited to have gotten published, but the deal came two years ago, and nothing really big changed on my release day. Many people had already read the ARC, and it had already been reviewed several places. I was already setting up signings, a blog tour, a release party. So the day it hit the shelves was almost an imperceptible change, and that was a bit weird. There have been great moments since that day, though. Friends in other parts of the country have sent me cell phone pictures of my book on the shelves at bookstores and libraries. And the most gratifying moment was when a total stranger wrote on Amazon, "I stumbled on this book when I desperately needed a reminder to believe in my own dream and I am so glad that I did." To think my book had a profound impact on someone blew me away, and made every painful moment in the process completely worth it!

That is such a neat story! And speaking of stories, in Katerina's Wish, Katerina's neighbor Old Jan is a storyteller. Did you make up his stories or are they based in Bohemian (Czechy) tradition?

All of the stories are traditional folk tales. I love the eastern European parallels to the western tradition we are all more used to in the US. I did change some of them a little, though. I  shortened some of them to make them fit in the flow of the book better, and I wrote them in a way that sounded like an old man telling them, rather than a reading from a book.

Of all the tales in the book, the one that has been modified the most is the magic carp story that provides the premise. Usually, the wish-granter in that story is an elf in a tree that doesn't want its tree cut down. I have heard the story as a fish, though, and I found that fit the setting better, so I went with that version, even though I think it is less authentic.

Fiction gives you the right to do such things. :-) From where or from what did the idea of Katerina's Wish grow?

I had a dream that my family's farm had been taken away, and I was standing on a bridge, looking into the water, when a fish rose to the surface and offered to grant me a wish to get the farm back. As you can see, this isn't quite the story in Katerina's Wish. I woke from the dream thinking there was a good story there, but more than the story, I wanted to capture the feeling of the dream, that was both real and unreal at the same time.

Ah. I like that--how a dream can be real yet unreal, all at the same time. With your background in anthropology would you say an immigrant today experiences many of the same conflicts as Katerina's family?

I'm so glad you asked this question, because one thing I hope my book does, is create opportunities for a discussion of these issues that remain so important today.

I think immigration have remained at the heart of the American experience throughout our history, and so I tried to make Katerina's story, while true to a historical time and place, a struggle with some of the issues that all immigrants face in all times--including today.  Coming to America for a better life and finding prejudice, exploitation, danger, and a severe language barrier have always been part of the immigrant experience. At the same time, I think the willingness to keep striving, and hoping, and reaching for the dream has also been a part of it, that has often led to a better life for the children of immigrants. The American dream has always been hard won, but many have won it all the same.

I'm thankful for my own immigrant background, those generations before me who dreamed, pursued, and persevered so my family and I can be where we are today. Many people envision writers writing all day, dressed in their pajamas, with a cup of coffee by their side. Does this describe you?

At this precise moment, yes. I am writing this in my bathrobe, with a cup of coffee at my side (in my favorite pirate mug, reserved for my writing time.) In my defense, however, it is well before noon. The way I have balanced my writing with my day job and family obligations is to be an early morning writer, who writes while the family is still in bed. So I don't ever get the all day part. But I can still dream, can't I?

You certainly can! Jeannie, I think chocolate is the most perfect food. Which food fits that bill for you?

I cannot think of a single thing to add to this statement. Is there any other answer?

For you and me, I guess not. :-) For my readers, what do you think: Which food would you describe as perfect? And don't forget to enter the giveaway of Katerina's Wish, just scroll to the post below.

Jeannie, thank you so much for sharing with us today.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Katerina's Wish (with giveaway!)

The very lucky winner of my ARC of True Colors is:

Hooray! Email your mailing address to barbarawatson94(at)gmail(dot)com.

And for today's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday's feature . . .

Katerina's Wish by debut author Jeannie Mobley! 

This book came to my attention while browsing a local bookstore. I mean . . . That cover. Those colors. The silhouette. It's perfect. And then I read the jacket flap . . . and knew it was a book that contained so much more than just a story. Tune into giveaway details at the end of this post.

The premise: Thirteen-year-old Katerina and her family arrived in America in 1900 with a dream of owning their own farm. But after almost a year, Katerina's dad is still working in a Colorado coal mine and the dream skids further and further away each day.

 What keeps readers reading: A blend of an active plot and the strong characters who bring that active plot to life. This story moves and flows with good times, hard times, tragedies, and celebrations. It is the journey of immigrants, trying to make their American dreams come true. Katerina and her family, a neighbor boy named Mark, and his storyteller father Old Jan live through troubles at the coal mine, encounters with a prejudiced store owner, and so much more. Holding fast to their dreams sometimes seems like a foolish thing, but sometimes dreams are all you have.

What I loved: Katerina's resilience and her bravery. In the face of constant change, Katerina changes--each time with a dream tucked in her pocket and a will to keep dreaming, despite what other people and her life circumstances throw her way.

Jeannie Mobley has offered a copy of Katerina's Wish for giveaway! Enter by 8pm Sunday, November 18th, 2012 by commenting on this post. U.S. mailing addresses only, please. Winner announced Monday, November 19th. And join me Thursday for an interview with Jeannie Mobley!

For more middle grade fun, visit the links put together by
Happy middle grade reading! 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Insecure Writers Support Group: Vulnerable

Ahhhh. It's one of my favorite blogging days--the across the world meet-up for the Insecure Writers Support Group. If you'd like to join, sign up here.

Today I'm feeling vulnerable. My first official post is live on The Kindness Project Blog. I say official because my other Kindness Project posts have posted right here--on my own blog. But last month The Kindness Project launched a group blog, so now my posts will be over there. And the bashful, reserved part of me feels intimidated to be over there.

So over here on my blog, I'll voice my insecurity about being over there on that blog. Please visit me over there by clicking this link right here.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: True Colors (with ARC giveaway!)

True Colors by Natalie Kinsey-Warnock releases officially on November 13th. But, sneaky me, I have an ARC that I've already read, and the very best thing I can think of to do with an ARC is share it! Giveaway details at the end of this post.

The premise: On the day Pearl Harbor was bombed, Hannah Spooner found a baby on her doorstep and named her Blue. Blue, now ten years old, loves Hannah and their life on their Vermont farm . . . but she can't help wondering about her mother.

What keeps readers reading: Blue's journey. It's not a journey of the physical kind; instead it's a journey in finding family history and finding where she fits. There is richness in this multi-layered story -- it's the story of a girl and where she came from, and it's also the story of a town and where it came from. Also bundled in the layers is the age-old question of "just who counts as family?" and how friendships change as the years go by. Holding all the layers together is Blue and her journey of understanding herself.

What I loved: Oh wow. Dare I say I loved the symbols in this novel? As an English teacher I believe I can and will. :-) There is a quilting symbol and a cat symbol and a cow symbol (among others) -- all woven into the story's very fiber and providing deep undertones. Maybe they'll go unnoticed by middle grade readers (and that's okay), but they are beautiful stitches in this novel's fabric.

To enter the giveaway of my ARC, simply comment on this post by 8pm CST on Sunday, November 11, 2012. Blog followers get their names in the hat twice. U.S. mailing addresses only please (I apologize for this, but I've had so many giveaways in the past few months, I had to do it this way). Winner announced on Monday, November 12th.

For more middle grade links, see Shannon Messenger's blog. 
Happy middle grade reading!