Monday, December 31, 2012

Book Review #15: The High Skies Adentures of Blue Jay the Pirate

This month's Animal Fantasy Book Review features a rollicking novel called The High Skies Adventures of Blue Jay the Pirate by Scott Nash.  If you hadn't guessed from my own WIP manuscript, Pirate Ferret, I'm a huge fan of swashbuckling adventures.  Pirate stories are even better when animals are the main characters, so I was very excited to read Nash's buccaneer book.  Here's the summary blurb:

Captain Blue Jay, notorious and feared pirate of the skies, has a fondness for collecting treasure, especially eggs. Unfortunately, sometimes his treasure hatches, and this time the hatchling is the strangest one the Grosbeak has ever seen. No sailor is certain whether the chick is a young god or just an oversized bird who needs too much food, but one thing is clear: the winds over Thrushland are shifting, and dramatic changes are in store for all. 

Whether outwitting a gang of thieving crows, outrunning murderous fishers and weasels, or rallying Briarloch’s beleaguered sparrows, this motley crew must do all they can to stay together and stay alive. And that’s just the tip of the bird’s feather! Offering a bounty of illustrations and a host of memorable characters — from an endearing star-nosed mole to an unlikely little warrior with a vendetta — here is a treasure for anyone who has ever wanted to take to the skies and see where fortune blows.

This is a fun and exciting read, full of lovable cutthroat characters and a good dose of humor.  While there are many aspects I loved about this book, I most admired Nash's world-building techniques as well as his delightful illustrations.

The concept of pirate birds pillaging the skies allowed Nash to create his own unique world full of avian culture.  A lot of topics are cleverly addressed, from how ships can sail through the air to what sort of weapons birds would use for fighting and plundering.  You can tell that Nash put a lot of thought into carefully crafting each detail that makes up this fantasy bird world, including foods, gods, treasures, clothes, enemies, friends, superstitions, medical remedies, and everything in between.  Even the exclamations and insults are a perfect mix of "pirate" and "bird," resulting in some giggle-worthy phrases like, "Shaddup, ya beetle-head or I'll crack yer beak in two!"  This careful attention to details and word-choices is so important in creating a fantasy world that readers will love from page one to "The End."      

An example of Nash's beautiful illustrations.

To paint an even clearer picture of this fantasy world, Nash also incorporates many illustrations in Blue Jay the Pirate.  Illustrations aren't standard in middle grade books, and there seems to be a lot of debate on whether or not they are necessary in novels for this age group.  In this instance, Nash's wonderful illustrations add a lot to the story.  With their pen and ink style and minimal colors, they look just like they belong alongside classic swashbuckling stories like Treasure Island and Robinson Crusoe.  While this book could certainly stand alone without the illustrations, the maps, characters, and scenes Nash depicts compliment the words perfectly, giving the story a new depth and extra-piratey feel.

If you're a fan of pirate tales and treasure hunts, then Blue Jay the Pirate is a jolly good book for you.  If you write animal fantasy, this is a dandy book to study and one you'll have a hard time putting down, too.  And if you are an illustrator, this is a superb book to see how well illustrations can compliment a novel-length story.  In short: should you read this book?  Aye!

You can find out more about Scott Nash and Captain Blue Jay on his website at:

And if you read this book, do let me know!  I'd love to hear what you think.  :)

Happy reading!

Note: The summary blurb and cover picture are from Goodreads; the illustration is from Nash's website, noted above.  The cover art and illustration are both (c) Scott Nash. 

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Zelda Calendar Contest 2012

You know how I said I had some very late news to post?  Well, this is it!

On November 30th, my entry was due for the 2nd Annual Legend of Zelda Calendar Contest hosted by the History of Hyrule.  Unfortunately, my mom was sick in the hospital all that week prior.  I considered dropping out of the contest, but did my best to try to finish my piece when I wasn't with her.  (Including a large amount of time when I probably should have been sleeping...)  I turned it in a whopping two hours before the deadline, but hey--at least I made it! 

This year's theme was "The History of Hyrule" focusing on historic events in the Zelda games.  Here is what I came up with:

Jump horsey, jump!

And here is my contest blurb:  In order to complete his quest, Link must travel to the Spirit Temple.  But time has destroyed the Gerudo Bridge.  The canyon yawns like the maw of a beast as Link stands on the precipice.  Epona stamps her hooves beneath him, tossing her head as she gathers courage.  Link takes a deep breath, sends a prayer to the three goddesses, and gallops towards his destiny.  

If you're not familiar with the Zelda games, this is a scene from "Ocarina of Time," and one of my favorite parts.  I tried to depict the scene as I imagined it when I first played Zelda--a massive desert, skeletal bridge, and colossal canyon that somehow Link and Epona had to leap over despite all odds. 

I'm pretty happy with how this turned out, and really stepped out of my comfort zone. This was my first time painting: a canyon, rock formations, a sword, a front-view galloping horse, a rider, tack, sand, dust, ropes, and a perspective like this. (This totally counts as my one human-drawing for the year, too!)  I also used a few textures for the sand and rocks, which I've never tried before.  I really had fun with the color-scheme in this piece and was inspired by pictures of Monument Valley for the background.  I'm not too thrilled with the finished canyon, but it was my first attempt at drawing one, so now I know what to do better next time. (At least I got over my fear of painting rocks!)

Surprisingly, that little shadow of Link and Epona was by far one of the trickiest parts of this piece.  (Front view characters + strong side-lighting = one difficult shadow!)  And for any Zelda fans reading this, you may just find your favorite fairy-obsessed fellow hidden in the background...

As I said before, this is a rather delayed post.  I already found out that my piece did not make it into the final 2013 calendar, but I really don't mind.  This was a FANTASTIC learning experience, and with everything else going on at the time, I'm just happy I finished it.  You can see the superb winning pieces here: historyofhyrule.blogspot.  (The official calendar can be downloaded for FREE at the link, and you can also create one with your favorite entries, too!)  The winning pieces definitely give me something to aspire to next year!

If you want to see how I've improved as a digital artist, you can see my last year's entry here.  Comparing them makes me feel pretty good about my progress over the past twelve months.  

A big thanks to Melora who hosts the event at History of Hyrule.  She is one of the nicest artists I've met and puts so much time into this project.  I can't wait to see what next year's theme will be!  :)

Note: Link, Epona, and the Legend of Zelda are (c) Nintendo.  This is just my humble homage to them.  All references for this piece are credited on my deviantArt page here.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas!

I just wanted to wish everyone a Merry Christmas!  I truly appreciate everyone's support and kindness that you've shown me over the year.  This blog truly wouldn't exist if it wasn't for your nice comments and loyal reading! 

I hope everyone has a lovely holiday with their family and friends.  :)



Saturday, December 8, 2012

December Update

I'm sorry to say it's been a little quiet around here recently.  Unfortunately, life has been rather chaotic these past few weeks.  My mom had a big health scare, so I've spent lots of my time at the hospital and helping out.  I'm really behind in everything, but that's okay.  She's getting better now, and that's really all that matters.
As such, I've had to re-think some things around here.  I missed my November Animal Fantasy Book Review, so I'll just post it for December.  (I don't think anyone will mind if I'm one month off.)  I also have some various things to post that are late-news at this point, but I figure late is better than never!
I also can't believe it's already December!  (Seriously, where did 2012 go?!)  In some ways, this bums me out.  These last few months have been so crazy and unpredictable that I feel like I'm really behind in my life.  There are lots of projects, revisions, and submissions I wanted to accomplish, but now they may just wait until 2013. 
I usually swear an oath at this point of the year that I'm going to enjoy Christmas OR ELSE.  It never really works, so instead, I'm just going make it my goal to roll with the punches for the rest of 2012.  If we don't put up a Christmas tree, it's no big deal.  If Christmas cards go out on December 24, that's okay.  And if the family wants to bake cookies or see Zoo Lights or watch The Night They Saved Christmas for the billionith time, than I'm just going to drop what I'm doing and join in.  Being together is more important than answering emails, running errands, and even submitting Pirate Ferret to that dream agent.  I'm going to try my best to make this my Zen Christmas--one without expectations and plenty of wiggle-room for whatever comes my way.
I hope the season isn't finding you overly-stressed!  (Maybe we should all just take a deep breath and go drink some hot chocolate for ten minutes...)     
Note: Clip art is from Google Images.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

COSCBWI November 2012: Year-End Celebration

November's COSCBWI meeting was a gathering to celebrate our published members. Authors Nancy Roe Pimm and Amelia Shearer and illustrator, Nikki Boetger, were the showcased members. They told their inspiring success stories and shared their books with us. Each member found a completely different route to publication, and it's always so heartening to hear there are many ways to break into the business. (Just like there's no wrong way to eat a Reese's.)

With drinks and desserts in hand, we then shared as a group everyone's writing and illustration goals for the end of the year. Many of the members are getting ready to submit to Kristin Ostby after attending the COSCBWI Fall Workshop a few weeks ago. Some are blazing their way through NANOWRIMO, and others are just dipping their toes into the world of children's writing by attending their first COSCBWI meeting. I wish everyone the best of luck as they pursue their year-end goals! :)

This was the last monthly meeting for 2012. We're currently planning an exciting schedule of meetings for 2013, and our Regional Advisor, Linda Miller, would love to hear any input from our loyal members. Feel free to email her at, or drop a message on our new Facebook page at (You can even leave a comment here and I'll be sure it gets to her!) Thanks for helping us have a successful year!

Happy (early) Holidays! I look forward to seeing the COSCBWI gang again in 2013!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

Today is one of my favorite days of the year: Thanksgiving!  I just adore this holiday, from all the tasty food to spending time with my loved ones.  In today's fast-paced society, I think it's important to put those smart-phones away, sit down at a table, enjoy the company of friends and family, and just take a moment to give thanks for all the wonderful things in our lives.

I know I have a lot to be thankful for this year: a happy family; a loving hubby; healthy pets (no ferret-hospital trips so far--huzzah!); great friends, and a lovely home.  Of course, I'm always thankful for my loyal blog readers, too!  Your support means the world to me!

I hope everyone has a very happy Thanksgiving!  Be sure to laugh, love, and eat lots of pie!  :)

Note: Image is from Microsoft clipart.

Monday, November 12, 2012

A Closer Look Into Hindsight

Recently, someone told me that hindsight is 20-20.  I've heard this saying plenty of times before, but the more I thought about it, the more I disagreed with it.  Hindsight is not 20-20; it is murky and often blind as a naked mole rat.  (Yes, I like rodents better than bats.)  And like a naked mole rat living underground, there are infinite routes and tunnels it my choose to follow.
Death by dragons or dinos?  Choose!
Am I getting too metaphorical for you?
When I was little, I loved reading those "Choose Your Own Adventure" books.  However, I hated making decisions on which story line to pursue.  Whenever I came to a fork-in-the-road page, I'd flag it with a scrap of paper so I could come back and follow the other choice later.  It took me forever to read those books, and the pages were bursting with paper scraps by the time I was done.  I just needed to know the outcome of every option the writers put in there.  (This probably says a lot about me, no?)  
I think hindsight is more like this: a "Choose Your Own Adventure" book, only in real life you can't go back to follow those other paths.  (Or naked mole rat tunnels.  I'll let you choose your favorite metaphor.)
This conundrum has been weighing on my mind recently.  I've always been interested in writing and art--in wanting to become an author or illustrator. (Or both!)  When I was in college, I made the tough decision not to pursue a minor in art.  I won't get into the complications that led to that decision, but the result was that I shut off the "art" part of my brain, and drove my passions into the world of creative writing instead.  I put away my sketchbook for over half a decade, threw myself into my writing classes, and chased after my dream of becoming a published author.  And that was that.   
If you've been following my blog, then you know I've slowly been getting back into my art over the last year.  In many ways this has made me happy; in others, not so much.  I'll openly admit that at the ripe ol' age of 26, I'm not at the artistic level I'd like to be. Recent workshops I've attended have made me regret my no-art-minor decision, resulting in my current lack of a solid art foundation.  I practice and learn with each new piece, but sometimes I wonder what a class on color theory or composition would have done for my current work.  And while I adore the deviantArt community I've joined, I'm often struck dumb by artists half my age who exhibit talents and skills WAY beyond my own.  They inspire me, amaze me, but humble and sadden me, too, forcing my thoughts to sixteen-year-old Kathryn and a million unanswered "What If's."
While a part of me kicks myself for my past decision, the other part looks back and sees that book full of countless paths and paper scraps.  My decisions have led me to where I am today, but would I prefer the outcomes of another path?  I'm not so sure. 
Let's say I chose that art-minor in college.  Would the hours I spent dreaming of Ellis and Bannock in my dorm room been replaced by dreams of picture books instead?  Would the time I spent honing my writing craft been spent sketching and painting?  Would the drive that pushed me to draft my first novel been funneled into artistic pursuits?  
And that's just during college.  Afterward?  What if I'd attended illustrator sessions instead of writing ones at conferences?  Would I have missed the gems of advice that strengthened my writing skills?  And my time at home?  Would I have tirelessly pursued The Beast of Bannock if my hours were split between art and writing?  Would I have experienced every rejection, every workshop, every revision, and every encouragement that's molded me into the writer and person I am today?  Would I still have found the strength to open my heart beyond Bannock and tell the story of a scrappy pirate ferret, too?
I don't know--and of course, I never will.  Maybe if I'd pursued art, the two interests would have fused into a super-passion, making me a better person than I am today.  Or maybe Ellis and Tentacles and all my characters I love so dearly would just be ideas pushed away to the back of my mind.  That thought is overwhelmingly terrible.  But deep down, a part of me thinks it would probably be true.
And this is why 20-20 hindsight is full of baloney.  There are no black and white answers when dealing with the past.  Do I currently wish I was better artist?  Yes.  But when it all comes down to it, would I potentially swap all I've achieved as a writer to become that better artist?  No.  N-O!  I don't know where that "Choose Your Own Adventure" choice would have led.  I could have become a prisoner in a medieval dungeon, or a hostage to aliens, or a writer that never wrote a book.  And that is an outcome I never want to see.
I may not be able to paint like this....
...But at least I have them.  :)
So why have I subjected you to my wistful ramblings?  Because I'm guessing that at some point in your life, you've felt this way, too.  Your past regret could be related to anything, from a job offer you declined to a conference you skipped, or something as simple as a crush you never asked out.  Maybe it would have changed your life; maybe it wouldn't have mattered one bit in influencing the cosmos.  But if the past and regrets haunt you at night, I hope you take comfort in this: 
Don't think about what might have been.  Think about what might NOT have been.
I might be nuts, but it helps me sleep better at night.  :)
So where will I go from here?  I've always felt like the little engine that could, so all I can do is keep chugging along, striving for improvement.  Maybe I'll take some art classes, maybe I'll go back to school for a second degree, or maybe I'll find myself in the middle of an adventure where giant naked mole rats are trying to eat me.
But those are choices for another day.
Note: Image of "Choose Your Own Adventure" book is from Wikipedia.  The painting is "Whistlejacket" by Geroge Stubbs, also from Wikipedia.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

COSCBWI Fall 2012 Workshop Recap

Last weekend, COSCBWI held their 4th Annual Scarlet & Gray Writers and Illustrators Event!  It was a great half-day workshop, with wonderful presentations led by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers editor, Kristin Ostby, and author-illustrator, Lindsay Ward.

If you couldn't attend the event, shame on you!  You missed a fantastic learning experience.  But, I'm still happy to share some of the day's pearls of wisdom with you.

Session 1: Kristin Ostby, "The Intersection of Literary and Commercial Middle Grade Fiction"
During Kristin's first session, she discussed Literary versus Commercial fiction.  Commercial fiction, she explained, are books that are on the best seller lists and ones readers don't want to put down.  (Think Hunger Games and Harry Potter.)  Literary fiction, on the other hand, are quieter books that often deal with deeper topics and timely issues.  (Think award winners and starred review books, like Wonder by R.J. Palacio.)  Kristin suggested we all think about our work in terms of "Literary" and "Commercial" and to compare it to others in the market.  She also recommended that we all read widely in both categories and learn all we can from their successes.  By understanding where our books fall in the market, she said we can do a better job presenting them in the best light.

Session 2: Lindsay Ward, "The Perfect Marriage: Illustration & Text in Picture Books"
Lindsay led the second session of the day, which was full of useful information for both illustrators and writers.  As she explained, words and pictures are both oh-so important in picture books, relying on each other to produce an end product that kids will love.  She explained the different types of picture books, including:

-Symmetrical: The illustrations and text reflect one another.  Readers can read the text and look at the illustrations separately, but gain the same understanding.
-Complimentary: The images and text are integrated, and readers need both to understand the full story.
-Contradictory: The image and text don't "work" together, but still tell the story.  Books like these often tell two stories in one.  (She suggested reading Time to Get Out of the Bath, Shirley by John Burningham to understand this better.)
-Wordless: The entire story is conveyed through pictures, with no words.  It's a less-common picture book style that is often hard to pull off, but can be spectacular if done right.

Lindsay explained that by understanding these different types of formats, writers can think about how their words will work with illustrations.  Similarly, illustrators can be more aware of how their art will affect and illuminate the written story.  Lastly, Lindsay recommended that both writers and illustrators read all they can in the market and study what makes the best picture books stand out from the crowd.

Session 3: Kristin Ostby: "The Middle Grade Marketplace: What Works (and What Doesn't) for Boy Readers"
The last session focused on the reluctant readers of the world: Middle Grade Boys.  Kristin explained that in general, boys move away from reading the older they get.  This can be due to many factors, including their development rates, learning techniques, competition from TV and video games, and a lack of interest in feelings (which often run rampant in literature.)  Fortunately, she assured us that boys WILL read if it's something they're interested in!  Kristin recommended we study the books that capture boy readers in the market, including Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Captain Underpants, and Origami Yoda.  She also said to pay attention to the other trends that interest them, including popular movies and video games.  By thinking about the humor, themes, activities, and genres that snag their attention, we can make sure our books are something they won't just cram into the bottom of their backpacks.

I'm so glad I got to help in the planning of this year's wonderful Scarlet & Gray Event!  Kristin and Lindsay were delightful speakers, and I think all of our members learned a lot from the sessions.  (I know I did!) 

If you missed this workshop, don't fret--COSCBWI will have more great events soon!  Do check out our website at  Our last monthly meeting of 2012 takes place on November 14, when we'll be celebrating our published members.  (Please note: it's a week earlier than usual, so mark it on your calendars!)  Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A Doggy Nightmare!

Today is Halloween!  While it's a fun day of dress-up for kiddos everywhere, it's a horrifying day of doggy costumes for canines.

Yes, every year owners like myself enjoy cramming their pooches into outfits of the most hilarious and wacky variety.  Dogs slump their ears and tails as they endure wearing googly eyes on top of their heads, frilly tutus, and jiggly extra-appendages.  And why do we take joy in their suffering?

Because it's so darn adorable!

Submarine Bailey says, "Why, human, why?"  (Yes, that is a doggy frown.) 

My dog, Penny, has grown accustomed to my need to put her in ridiculous outfits once a year.

Year 1: Angel Penny says, "I can't see!"

Year 2: Spider Penny says, "I still can't see!"

Year 3: Reindeer Penny says, "Really?  We couldn't skip one year?"

Which brings us to this year!  Presenting Hula Penny!

Year 4: Hula Penny says, "At least I can see..."

You see?  She's gotten much more tolerant of my doggy torture devices with each year.  (Or perhaps I've just crushed her soul into submission.)

I assure you, we did still have some miserable pictures during this year's photo session, though.

Penny says, "Are we done yet?"

"I hate you."

Fortunately, she loves trick-or-treaters so much that she forgets she's wearing anything after two minutes.  :)

I hope you have a wonderful Halloween!  (And Penny hopes you don't dress up your best canine buddy as a spider or submarine.) 

Happy Halloween! 

Note: All photos of Penny were taken by me.  Bailey is my mom's dog, and the picture was taken by my little sister.  (Used with their permission, of course.)

Monday, October 29, 2012

Book Review #14: The Mistmantle Chronicles: Urchin of the Riding Stars

This month's Animal Fantasy Book Review returns to one of my favorite subjects: woodland critters!  The Mistmantle Chronicles by M. I. McAllister is a well-loved series with a cast of squirrel, hedgehog, otter, and mole characters.  I've seen them on bookstore shelves for years, but I admit I was a bit behind the times in picking one up.  With five books in the series, I decided it was high time for me to jump into book one, Urchin of the Riding Stars.  Here is the book blurb:

Orphan Urchin never intended to be a swashbuckling squirrel.  Abandoned at birth on a Mistmantle beach, this mild-mannered acorn hunter was raised by the island's squirrels, otters, and moles.  He gains entrance into the royal court, thanks to the support of his hero, the dashing Captain Crispin.  But something is wrong in the peaceful kingdom of Mismantle.  Under the influence of the squirrel captain Husk, the King is enforcing severe measures against his people.  Crispin himself is falsely accused of a horrific murdered and banished. 

Can little Urchin, a mere smidgen squirrel, defend his master and his people? 

First off, I want to dispel a misconception.  While the cover of this book contains a sword-wielding squirrel and the plot involves forest animals fighting for the home they love, this is NOT a Redwall knock-off.  Yes, there are many similarities between the two, and since Brian Jacques' pioneered this realm of animal fantasy, it's hard not to compare them.  But I can happily say that Mistmantle is not more of the same, but rather something else for lovers of animal fantasy to enjoy.  While there are many aspects I liked about the book, I most admired McAllister's writing style and world-building techniques which makes her series stand out in a crowd of woodland critter novels.

One of the first things readers will notice about Mistmantle is how pleasurable and easy it is to read.  Now don't get me wrong: I LOVE Jacques' Redwall books.  That being said, I sometimes find them just a teensy bit long-winded.  (Please don't hit me!)  I certainly wouldn't claim that Mistmantle is for a younger readership or pre-Redwall audience, though; the writing is just as beautiful, and the plot is just as engaging and complex.  Mistmantle simply proves that sometimes less is more.  I was pleased to find that the plot moved swiftly and didn't get bogged down in unnecessary details or characters.  With today's readers (and array of electronic distractions), this is becoming increasingly important.  If you write animal fantasy, you should definitely see how McAllister crafts a compelling, adventurous, and epic story without using 400+ pages.

In addition to writing a great story, McAllister also created a delightful, unforgettable world.  World-building is so important in any fantasy story to help the reader connect with the story.  The Isle of Mistmantle is home to lovable creatures with a distinctive culture.  The chapters are filled with careful details on what the inhabitants eat, believe, fear, celebrate, wear, use for medicine, etc.  Further, the book contains words unique to the woodland culture, such as the Riding Stars (their term for a meteor shower) and Threadings (tapestries).  The mix of details and specific terms brings such a richness to the Mistmantle world, making the reader want to return as soon as they turn the last page.  (I know I did!)

If you love animal fantasy books, then Mistmantle is a sure-fire winner for you.  If you write animal fantasy, this is a fantastic book to study, and one you'll definitely enjoy reading, too.  And if you're a die-hard fan of Jacques' work and convinced this is just a Redwall copycat, I ask you to give Mistmantle a chance.  (I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.)

You can find out more about McAllister and the entire Mistmantle series on her website here:

And if you read this book, do let me know!  I'd love to hear what you think.  :)

Happy reading!

Note: Summary blurb is from  Cover art is from McAllister's website, noted above.

Friday, October 26, 2012

COSCBWI October 2012: Overcoming Obstacles with Rae Carson

This month's COSCBWI meeting was a real treat, featuring author Rae Carson!  Rae is the Ohioana award-winning author of The Girl of Fire and Thorns and the recently released sequel, The Crown of Embers.  She led our group in a discussion on overcoming obstacles throughout the publication process--a situation many authors face throughout their careers.  She didn't focus on the common obstacles (such as scoring an agent or learning to write a winning query letter), but instead shared her perspective on deep-rooted and often unpredictable road blocks.

Some of the obstacles she brought to light included:

The Inability to Complete Projects
-There are lots of reasons and excuses why writers never finish projects
-Writers may get bored, outgrow an idea, or simply give up when the going gets tough

Outside Expectations of Failure 
-Writers often face a lack of support and understanding from non-writers (even family and friends)
-With the odds stacked against writers, many people just expect you to fail
-Writers may face resentment by loved ones due to the time and attention they dedicate to writing

-Money necessities often make writing difficult
-Job demands may force your writing to the back-burner
-The costs of conferences and networking can be a strain on your wallet

Not Writing Good
-Sometimes you learn that your writing stinks even though you thought it was awesome
-Sometimes when you learn your writing stinks, you want to crawl into a hole and pretend you don't exist

Really Crappy Luck
-Sometimes bad things happen and there's not much you can do about it
-Timing can be everything (i.e., you write an awesome ninja book and one is published the next day)
-Sometimes your feedback can be so contradicting, you don't know what to do at all

I don't know about you, but I find this list 100% accurate!  While these obstacles may seem a little depressing, Rae assured us there were things we could do to avoid and overcome them.  She advised us to hone our craft and attend classes, workshops, and conferences as much as possible.  She also said that sometimes it may be necessary to re-think your target audience, re-write a novel, or even get a second agent.  If you don't find support at home, seek out writing friends who understand what you're going through (and can offer critique feedback, too!)  And of course, she told us to never EVER give up!

A big thanks to Rae for coming in to speak to COSCBWI!  You can learn more about her and her books at  (I just loved The Girl of Fire and Thorns and can't wait to read the sequel!)

You can learn more about COSCBWI and our upcoming events at  I hope to see you at our next monthly meeting!  :)

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Belated Art News: 2013 Calendar Results

Updated jaguar: now with more jaguar-ish spots!

D'oh!  Remember this post about the Northern Ohio SCBWI 2013 calendar contest?  Well, I completely forgot to let you know the results! 

Voting took place during the conference a few weeks ago, and I'm pleased to say my entry made it into the 2013 calendar!  You can see all the winning pieces on the Northern Ohio SCBWI website here.  There were a lot of really great entries this year, and I'm very honored that my piece was selected.  (You can find instructions for purchasing a calendar through the above link, too.  It's a good way to support a wonderful organization!)

I can't wait to see everyone's art in the finished calendar!  :) 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Fall Update

Apologies AGAIN for the lack of posts around here.  It's been Tax Season 2 at my office--and this year was brutal.  (I'll never understand why so many people wait until the absolute last minute to do their taxes!  Grrrr.....)  Fortunately, the filing deadline was October 15th, so I can put that behind me now and get back to my life again!  :)
Quick reminder: don't forget that the COSCBWI fall workshop is coming up on October 27th!  (It doesn't even conflict with the OSU game!)  Our speakers, editor Kristin Ostby, and author-illustrator Lindsay Ward have some great presentations planned.  You can still sign up at  Don't wait, though--registration ends soon!
Now it's time to nap, play a little catch up, and get back to my writing, reading, art, and blogging again!  
Note: image is (c) Microsoft clipart

Thursday, October 4, 2012

COSCBWI Sept. 2012: Show, Don't Tell!

Big apologies for my delay in posting the COSCBWI September meeting summary!  Goodness, it's been a busy few weeks!
September's meeting featured our Regional Advisor, Linda Miller.  Linda led the group in a discussion on the oh-so important topic, "Show, Don't Tell."  This is something writers hear often, but what does it mean?
Linda explained that there are many ways writers can "tell" their stories.  Common signs of "telling" include blunt prose, a lack of description, and information dumps.  For example:
Six-year-old Timmy loved sports.  He couldn't wait for his big soccer game tonight.  He wondered if he would make a goal.  He also wondered if his dad would come.  Dad often had to work a lot, and sometimes he missed important things, like Timmy's games and other after-school activities.  
Yawn.  Big yawn.
There's nothing wrong with that paragraph; it's just not very interesting, is it?  You probably wouldn't want to read an entire book written like that.  (And you can bet kids won't, either.)  
To fix this problem, Linda said to remember your action words and adjectives.  (Instead of, "he walked," perhaps use "scurried" or "raced" or "trudged.")  You can also use inferences so the reader understands information without it being shouted at them.  (i.e. "It was winter," can be inferred by writing, "The snow was falling.")  Lastly, she went over the 5 senses and how their use can help paint a more vivid picture for your reader.
When you consider the many options you have to jazz your writing up, you can rework your story accordingly.  For example:
Timmy bounced in his seat as Mrs. Brown wrote subtraction problems on the chalkboard.  He couldn't focus on math--not when he had a big game tonight!  His team, the Mighty Tigers, were on a winning streak, and sure to beat the Sunnydale Elementary Blue Jays.  The chalkboard faded as he thought back to last week's game.  He'd run across the field in a black and orange blur, scoring not one, but two goals!  Everyone cheered, and his mom shouted from the bleachers.
Timmy's stomach flipped when he remembered the empty seat beside her.  Dad had missed the game--and the two before that.  "Sorry, kiddo.  I have a big business meeting.  But I'll be there next time, I promise," Dad had said.  Timmy sighed, wondering if he would actually keep his promise this time.
The same information is conveyed that was in the first example, but now Timmy is a more developed and dimensional character.  The reader wasn't told every fact, but came to the same conclusions based on the implied information.  (i.e. The empty seat showed Dad missed the game, while the first version just told us that his Dad worked a lot.)  Before, the reader didn't feel close to Timmy or the facts about him, but now he's a character kids can relate to.  When the reader is emotionally invested in the story, they keep turning the page.  And THAT is our number one goal as writers.
Of course, you don't want to use every one of the methods at the same time to "show" instead of "tell," but peppering them in will certainly make your story shine.  Just choose the techniques that work best in your scene.  And if you're having trouble, read lots of books!  All that pretty prose from professional authors will rub off on you in no time.  :)

You can find out more about COSCBWI's upcoming events at: www.coscbwi.orgAnd don't forget: registration is now open for our October 27th Fall Workshop featuring editor Kristin Ostby and author/illustrator Lindsay Ward.  You can register at

Hope to see you at our October meeting AND Fall Workshop!

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Book Review #13: The One and Only Ivan

This month's Animal Fantasy Book Review features a new species: gorillas!  Katherine Applegate's The One and Only Ivan was recommended to me, and I'm so very glad I picked it up.  Here's the blurb from the book's website:

Ivan is an easygoing gorilla. Living at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade, he has grown accustomed to humans watching him through the glass walls of his domain. He rarely misses his life in the jungle. In fact, he hardly ever thinks about it at all.

Instead, Ivan thinks about TV shows he's seen and about his friends Stella, an elderly elephant, and Bob, a stray dog. But mostly Ivan thinks about art and how to capture the taste of a mango or the sound of leaves with color and a well-placed line.

Then he meets Ruby, a baby elephant taken from her family, and she makes Ivan see their home—and his own art—through new eyes. When Ruby arrives, change comes with her, and it's up to Ivan to make it a change for the better.
The One and Only Ivan is inspired by a true story about a gorilla who spent most of his life on display in a mall.  In Applegate's story, public outcry helps rescue Ivan and the other animals, but it's Ivan who sets the ball in motion.  The story is beautifully written and poignant, and leaves the reader thinking about wild animals in captivity long after the last page.  What I admired most about this story, though, is the range of emotion Applegate conveys and how she presents the world through Ivan's point of view.

The book is told from the title character's first person perspective.  Ivan's voice and thoughts are solidly "gorilla."  He starts out as a very simple narrator.  He's more interested in the here and now (and what tasty things there are to eat in it) than what was or what might be.  His art incorporates the banana peels at his feet and he wonders how Julia, the janitor's daughter, can draw things from her imagination.  What's remarkable is that the reader can actually see Ivan's simple nature on the page--literally.  The book is written in very small paragraphs, with large spaces between each.  Chapter numbers are non-existent (though there are "titles" at the top of some of the pages), and the book mimics the day-after-day-after-day feel of living in captivity.  Ivan would probably have continued on in his rut if Ruby, the baby elephant, didn't wind up in the cage next to him.  Her presence (and never-ending questions) causes him to remember his painful, buried past and think about the future.  It's a remarkable set-up: the reader sees the world through the eyes of Ivan, and in turn, Ivan begins to see the world through the eyes of Ruby.  And by seeing the world in a new way, Ivan decides he can change it in his own, gorilla way.  (Which I certainly won't spoil for you!)         

This gorilla-viewpoint may seem like it would be monotonous or humdrum as it reflects a life in captivity, but it's actually the opposite.  Ivan (and Applegate) say so much in saying so little.  Ivan's life may seem boring from his cage, but the cages around him are full of animals, too.  Ivan's thoughts and interactions with his neighbors brings so much emotion to the story.  One minute I was laughing; the next I was getting teary.  My favorite line in the book takes place when the animals are talking about where they came from, and the dog character declares, "Everyone has parents.  It's unavoidable."  (Which is hilarious on many levels!)  Making readers feel such a wide array of emotions is difficult to do as a writer, but incredibly important.  This skill sets apart "good" books from "great" ones.  If you want your own novel to fall into the "great" category, you should definitely study how Applegate tugs at her readers' heartstrings AND tickles their funny bones.

If you love books about zoo animals/primates/elephants/dogs, this book is certainly for you.  If you love books that make you laugh or cry, it's also for you.  In fact, if you're a person who doesn't even like animal fantasy stories, I still think this book is for you.  This is one of those rare books that I truly believe would appeal to any reader because it's simply a great story.  And of course, if you write animal fantasy, then you owe it to yourself to read this book.  (No excuses.  Get your tushy to a bookstore pronto!)

You can find out more about Ivan (the real and fictional one) at the book's website here:  And if you read it, do let me know.  I'd love to hear what you think!

Happy reading!

Note: Cover art and summary blurb are both from the book's official website, linked above.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

2012 NOSCBWI Conference Recap

I'm home from the Northern Ohio SCBWI conference, and all I can say is: Boy do they know how to put on a good event!  This was my fifth year attending, and their special tenth year anniversary conference.  Each year I've attended has been chock-full of pearls of wisdom and interesting publishing tidbits, and I'm pleased to say this year was no exception!

If you couldn't attend, shame on you!  But, I'm still happy to share my favorite pieces of advice from each keynote and breakout session.  :)

Keynote #1: Tina Wexler, "Navigating the Author/Agent Relationship"
Agent Tina Wexler got the conference started on Friday night with a fun--and informative--speech on the relationship between agents and their author/illustrator clients.  For all writers and illustrators still searching for an agent (like me!), she said to think about the qualities you like in your friends and business associates.  (Honesty?  Professionalism?  Encouragement?)  That list of attributes should help you find an agent you'd like to work AND who would work well with you.

Best Advice: Don't just find the agent who can sell your book.  Find the one who LOVES what you write.   

Keynote #2: Michelle Poploff, "Nuts & Bolts of the Acquisition & Revision Process"
Editor Michelle Poploff gave the first keynote address on Saturday morning.  She explained the acquisition and editorial processes, from the first time she reads the manuscript through when it's bound and ready for purchase.  It's a long process, but very rewarding in the end! 

Best Advice: At the end of the day, remember it's the STORY that's important!  (So write the best one you can!)

Breakout Session #1: Tina Wexler, "How To Know When It's Time to Query"
Agent Tina Wexler led the first breakout session I attended.  It's hard for writers to know when it's time to take the leap and send their manuscripts out into the world.  Tina gave us some tips and checklists to help determine if our work is ready.  She recommends stepping away from the manuscript for a while, getting opinions from trusted readers, and reading lots of published books.  She also told us to make sure the manuscript is as polished as possible in order to give it the best chance for success. 

Best Advice: Your manuscript is ready when YOU are ready and believe in your work. 

Breakout #2: Cinda Williams Chima, "Spellcasting: Building Believable Magical Worlds"
Cinda Williams Chima is one of my favorite Fantasy authors, and I never pass up the chance to hear her speak.  She led our group in a discussion on world-building.  Cinda recommends that writers really think about the aspects of the world they're creating--including medicines, animals, government systems, cultures, food, rules of magic, etc.  Don't overwhelm the reader with these details, but integrate them with your story so the reader becomes immersed in the world.

Best Advice: Writers must make the incredible credible.

Keynote #3: Chuck Sambuchino, "The State of Children's Publishing Today"
Editor/Author Chuck Sambuchino gave a keynote during lunch about the children's publishing industry.  He gave us some good tips for improving our chances of publishing success, including working on multiple projects (aka, "don't have all your eggs in one basket") and building your online platform.  He advised that while having a great manuscript is the most important thing, it certainly can't hurt to start building a following with your online presence, too!

Best Advice:  Know what you're getting into with traditional and self-publishing.  There are pros and cons to each, so do your research!

Keynote #4: Quinlan Lee, "Words & Numbers: An Agent's Role in the Publishing Process"
Agent Quinlan Lee gave the second lunch keynote.  She went over all the many tasks she does for her clients, and how it's her most important job to match the author with the editor who is most passionate about the manuscript.  She also gave some tips about how to snag an agent, including attending SCBWI conferences (check that one off the list!), doing careful research, and citing referrals if possible.  (So if J.K. Rowling critiqued your book and loved it, let agents know!)

Best Advice: Make your readers think, laugh, and want to keep turning that page!

Breakouts #3 & #4: Mara Purnhagen, "Crafting Your Query"
Author Mara Purnhagen led a special double-session presentation on writing query letters during the afternoon.  She went over the do's and don'ts of crafting a query, including formatting guidelines and common mistakes writers make.  She said to be succinct, but also to entice the agent/editor with your mini-synopsis so they'll want to read more.  Something interesting she noted is that many agents read queries on their iPhones and Blackberries during their commutes, therefore they might only see part of your query on their tiny screens.  As such, she recommended writers get straight to the point in their letters, so they don't waste precious space (or an agent's time!)

Best advice: Don't give up!  You may have to send dozens--or hundreds--of queries in order to find that "YES."  (But that one "YES" is worth every rejection!)  

Keynote #5: Whitney Leader-Picone: "Designing in the Digital Age"
Designer Whitney Leader-Picone gave the final keynote of the day.  She went over the many different types of electronic media used in children's publishing.  I'm not exactly "with it" when it comes to technology, so I really enjoyed hearing about the various formats and devices.  Whitney also showed us several apps that publishers are using to get kids reading, as well as enhancing some of their favorite books into new, interactive experiences.  Best of all, she told us that e-books aren't going to dethrone traditionally published books at all--they just give kids another way to enjoy stories!

Best Advice: Digital is fun, but print is NOT dead!

And that summarizes my experience at this year's Northern Ohio SCBWI Conference!  A big thanks to the organizers for putting on another fantastic event.  I can't wait to attend my sixth year in 2013!  :)