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!