Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Writers Wednseday

Join me today for an interview with New York Times Best-selling author Lauren Belfer as she discusses her new novel -- And After The Fire.

Lauren Belfer’s passion for history shines in this well-researched story that propels readers from the elite musical world of Sara Levy’s Berlin in the 1800s through the German holocaust to Susanna Kessler’s present day New York. Fact and fiction blend seamlessly as Belfer weaves the suspenseful story of two women whose lives are linked by love, death, and a long hidden Bach cantata. 

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer and how did you set about realizing that goal?
I decided to become a writer when I was six years old. I spent my early writing years crayoning stories about heroic pets. By high school, I was submitting my poetry to literary journals and receiving rejection letters from all the best places. Sometimes these letters included the words “thank you,” with the initials of the person doing the rejecting. I took this as a sign of enthusiastic encouragement. The first short story I ever published was rejected 42 times before it found an editor who loved it. The second short story I published was much more successful: it was rejected only 27 times. I learned early on that persistence is the most important trait a writer can have!

What do you do when you are not writing?
Although I don’t sit at my computer all day, being a writer seems to permeate every moment. Everything I come into contact with becomes a kind of research. I get ideas as I walk down the street, and as I read the newspaper.  In the evening I might go to a concert, or meet friends for dinner, or simply stay home and watch TV, and small details of what I see and experience spark my imagination. 

Briefly, what's your book about?   
 “And After the Fire” explores almost two hundred and fifty years of history through the prism of a fictional, prejudicial artistic masterpiece.

What attracted you to Fanny Mendelssohn’s story?
To me, Fanny Mendelssohn was a tragic figure.  She was extraordinarily gifted as a musician and composer, but when she was a teenager, her father told her that music could never be more than an “ornament” to her true calling as a wife and mother.  And she did fulfill her father’s wishes, marrying and having a child.  She was also among the most gifted composers of her era. Her husband and her mother both urged her to publish her music.  Alas her world-renowned brother, composer Felix Mendelssohn, discouraged her, and his opinion was the only one that mattered for Fanny.  Felix did, however, publish six of her songs under his name. As I worked on the novel, I kept asking myself – why did Fanny accept this injustice?

What would you like readers to take from your novel?
I’d like readers to feel that they’d read a good story, with compelling characters who stayed with them after they finished the book.

What are your current/future projects?
I’m working on several projects, but I’m very superstitious, so I can’t reveal the details until I’m finished!

What is your writing process?
On most days, I get up early and write while the world outside my windows still seems asleep.

Are there certain themes or ideas you prefer?
Each of my novels is separate, focused on completely different themes and settings.  Once I have an idea for a novel, I think about how the issues I want to explore would play out through the eyes of my characters.  Sometimes my characters surprise me, by going off in directions I couldn’t have predicted.  I make a general outline of my novels before I begin, but then I put the outline away, to allow the characters and their individual concerns and interests to lead the way.

What book(s)/author(s) have influenced your writing and how?
Dozens and dozens of writers and books have influenced my work.  I’ve created several shelves on my Goodreads page, listing the books that have most influenced me at different stages of my life, and as I wrote each of my three novels. 

Books that inspired me as I worked on “And After the Fire” include: “Possession,” by A.S. Byatt, “The Lost,” by Daniel Mendelsohn, “The Hare with Amber Eyes,” by Edmund de Waal, “Atonement,” by Ian McEwan, “The Blind Assassin,” by Margaret Atwood, and
“Embers,” by Sándor Márai

What are the most important elements of good historical fiction?
I believe that historical fiction should, above all, portray people living their lives from day to day without knowledge of what the future will bring.  Instead of looking back at the past from the perspective of the present, I think writers of historical fiction need to begin in the past, and strive to put themselves into the shoes of their characters.

What suggestions about revising would you offer for upcoming writers? 
Each writer I know approaches revising differently, so upcoming writers must figure out what works best for them, through trial and error.  I tend to write my first draft quickly, straight through to the end, without stopping to revise.  This gives me a sense of the overall arc of the story.  Then I go back to the beginning and revise, revise, revise, usually for years!

What’s one additional piece of advice about writing or publishing you’d like to pass on to upcoming writers?
The most important piece of advice I can give to upcoming writers is: Never give up.

Thursday, November 10, 2016


November is Picture Book Month!

To celebrate, I'm running a GOODREADS Giveaway.

The Gingerbread Cowboy was named the 2007 Arizona Governor's First Grade Book. A special edition of 100,000 copies were printed and a book was given to every first grade student in the state.
To enter, follow the link in the sidebar.
Good Luck!!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Writers Wednesday

Young children are noted for their many questions. In Mama, How Does the Wind Start to Blow?, Jeanne Styczinski has framed her answer in the form of a delightful counting book. Beginning with the number one and a rising moon, Mama responds to ten questions that culminate in a surprising and heartfelt answer for her youthful readers.  The colorful illustrations are charming in their simplicity and provide a perfect complement to the text which begs to be read aloud. This one's a keeper! Pair with her follow-up book, Papa, Why Does the Sun Shine?

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

Looking back I think I have always been a writer. For the past thirty plus years I have kept a folder of stories and story ideas. What I didn’t realize at the time is that someday I would pursue publishing them. In 2011 I started my journey to publish my first book, Mama, How Does The Wind Start To Blow? and in 2013 my book was born. YAY!

How does your writing influence other areas of your life and vice versa?
I don’t think I can separate the two. It’s all mixed up! Thinking about writing and illustrating is just happening all the time. For example, when I’m at the grocery store I might be in the fruit and vegetable aisle and think of a gardening story or when I’m picking blueberries on my farm it might give me an idea for the book about colors I want to create. It sounds a little crazy but it’s who I am.

What do you do when you are not writing?
When I’m not writing and illustrating I love spending time with my husband and four crazy, lovable kids. I love being outdoors and doing such things as kayaking, hiking, and gardening. Another love of mine is searching for treasures at antique flea markets.

Briefly, what's your book about? 
Have you ever wondered how the wind starts to blow? In my whimsical counting story you will smile at the different creative guesses a child comes up with, but in the end
she learns her mother is just as creative.

What led you to write “Mama, How Does The Wind Start To Blow?”
Our youngest had just left for college. To be honest, it marked for me such a passage of time and a longing for my children’s younger days. Writing this story helped me remember all the things that were near and dear to them when they were small. They loved to play outside all summer long. I would be working in my gardens and they would go out and explore our woods. My children loved to chase butterflies and frogs. At night under the stars, they would watch the fireflies dance against the dark sky. Many nights we would hear the call of the great horned owl. So, these were the things I included in my story.

What would you like readers to take from it? 
To love books! I would like young readers to learn and experience the joy of reading and just having fun interacting with books. In my book they can also practice counting and recognizing numerals. As for parents, I want them to know that they can have fun creating their own stories when their little ones come up with worldly questions like my title.

What are your current/future projects?
I’m currently working on marketing my first two books, Mama, How The Wind Start To Blow? and Papa, Why Does The Sun Shine? In the spring of 2016 I retired from teaching and that has freed me up to go to schools and talk with students about writing and illustrating, which I have really enjoyed. I’m also working on my third book about friendship and diversity between and owl and a firefly. Its title, Who Will Be My Friend? To be released in 2017.

What led you to the decision to publish your own books?
Good question! When I was finalizing on my first story, Mama, How Does The Wind Start To Blow? I decided not only to write the story but to illustrate it. I was so excited!  I learned during this process that I love, love, love illustrating! Then later while doing more research I discovered most publishers don’t let you illustrate your own work. That’s when I decided to move forward and create JeanneKay Publishing and publish it myself.

What challenges did you face in getting your first book published? 
Since I’m new to the publishing world I felt like I wanted to learn the most I could about this industry. I spent a year researching publishing companies, authors, illustrators, dummy pages, ISBN #, copyright, etc…  I joined the professional group SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). Like any new adventure I had a huge learning curve, but I was up to the challenge. In many ways I thought that would be the challenging part of all of this, but it wasn’t. My biggest challenge was to put myself out there and believe in my work. I hesitated because I don’t have an art or journalism background, but in life sometimes you have to take a leap of faith and go for it! I am so happy I did.

Are there certain themes or ideas you prefer?
Life! I like to keep things simple. I really enjoy writing about animals and the outdoors. My books are what I consider a list book. Something happens at the beginning of the story (a problem) and then the character goes through a list of things and then at the end there is a surprise solution.

I also like having an educational piece to my books (it must be the teacher in me). Both of my number books have a counting chart at the end for children to practice counting 1-10 and in my new book, Who Will Be My Friend? I have two pages set aside at the end of the book so children can learn facts about the different woodland birds they read about in my story.

What book(s)/author(s) have influenced your writing and how?
There are soooo many, but Lois Ehlert is the one who has influenced me the most as an author and illustrator. I meet Lois years ago at a national reading conference. I’ve meet many authors and illustrators in my teaching career but when she spoke about her work, it sang to me. I absolutely love the colors in her books and the way the shapes are put together on a page and so do children. Other authors and illustrators are: Eric Carle, Clive McFarland, Leo Lionni, Holly Berry, Todd Parr, Mo Willems, Jan Brett. The list could go on and on…

What are the most important elements of good writing and/or illustrating?
I have spent many years teaching young children to write. During the writing process I teach them that you can only write about what you know, how you feel and what you have experienced in life. I feel this is so true, even for adults. All of my stories come from my life experiences of things I have done and hold dear in my heart. I think the most important elements in writing is that you are passionate about what you are writing. If you are passionate that will come through in your writing. As for illustrations, I think color, color, color is sooo important. Young children love color. I also feel it is very important that your illustrations should tell the story, especially for young readers that are looking for clues in the illustrations to help them read.

Talk about revising and/or suggestions about revising for upcoming writers.
I love revising! I love looking at a story from different perspectives and from every angle once it is written. I call it “playing with the story”. I’m looking for the best fit for the story and what makes sense. When I think I’m done I let it sit on the shelf for a while (could be a week or two or sometimes more) and then go back to it. I don’t rush a story, I let the story evolve. When my story is resting on the shelf that doesn’t mean I have totally forgotten about it. I’m experiencing life and looking for other connections or details that I missed or could be added. Don’t be afraid to take a break from your writing, sometimes I think clearer about a story when I’m away from it.

What's one additional piece of advice about writing or publishing you'd like to pass on to readers and writers? 
Don’t wait! If you have the passion to write or illustrate just start! If you are enjoying what you do it will show!

Monday, October 17, 2016

Nonfiction Monday

Tadpole to Frog by Camilla de la Bedoyere introduces this subject by answering the question “What Is A Frog?” From there, the text provides an overview of the life cycle and an expanded exploration of Frog development from a basic description of mating to egg, to tadpole and the mature frog. A general look at the life of a frog includes an interesting discussion of hibernation.

True to the series concept, the text is readily accessible for children and accented with illustrations featuring crisp, up-close photographs, and clearly labeled diagrams. Notes for parents and teachers provide related activities for further exploration. A glossary and index complete the 24 page paperback book.

Thursday, October 13, 2016


October is National Pit Bull Awareness month.
To celebrate, I'm holding a GOODREADS Giveaway for my book. The giveaway ends October 22, National Pit Bull Awareness Day.

Meet Monty 

A remarkable rescue dog with an international following. From his guardians to his doctors, Monty's loving spirit captures hearts with an I-can-do-it grin and a wagging tail.

See the sidebar to enter now.

GoodReads Giveaway

October is National Pit Bull Awareness month.
To celebrate, I'm holding a GOODREADS Giveaway for my book. The giveaway ends October 22, National Pit Bull Awareness Day.

Meet Monty 

A remarkable rescue dog with an international following. From his guardians to his doctors, Monty's loving spirit captures hearts with an I-can-do-it grin and a wagging tail.

See the sidebar to enter now.

Monday, October 10, 2016


Explore Light and Optics! by Anita Yasuda is chock full of information for young minds. A timeline tracing the history of optical science from the 130 CE book, Optics, by Claudius Ptolemy to the anticipated 2018 launch of the James Webb Space Telescope opens the book and along with an introductory discussion to answer the question “What are light and optics?”  

Written for ages 7-10, the “STEM” friendly text is easy to read, with thoughtfully structured chapters, links to primary sources, and questions to prompt further investigations. Colorful illustrations provide informative visuals. Sidebars highlight “Words to Know” and give thumbnail biographies of scientists such as Kepler, Galileo, Ritter, and Kao. Twenty-five projects engage budding scientists with plenty of hands-on activities. 

The Gingerbread Cowboy Book Trailer