Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Writers Wednesday

Trouble In Bugland” a fun, YA fantasy take on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes – with a twist!

William Kotzwinkle offers up an imaginative collection of five mysteries: The Case of the Missing Butterfly, The Case of the Frightened Scholar, The Case of the Caterpillar’s Head, The Case of the Headless Monster, and The Case of the Emperor’s Crown.
Inspector Mantis and his colleague Doctor Hopper are on the job seeking out clues, searching for motives, and making surprising deductions as they pursue villains and stop crime in Bugland.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Nonfiction Monday

Young readers will discover the wonderful world of nature in this new collection from QED Publishing in the U.K. titled Life Cycles.

Seedto Sunflower by Camilla de la Bedoyere provides a step-by-step look at the planting, germination, growth, and eventual maturity of the iconic sunflower. 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.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Writers Wednesday

From award-winning writer, Brigitte Goldstein, comes “Dina’s Lost Tribe” – a mystery that weaves together the lives of two women – one from the 14th century and the other from present day.  Historical scholar, Goldstein, draws on her extensive knowledge of Jewish and European history to create characters, plot, and setting that ring true and offer readers an experience filled with depth and heart.

You discuss your dissatisfaction the trends in historical studies that you encountered during your university years and your passion for literature and history. How did the contrast between your dissatisfaction and your passion inform and influence your writing?

Dissatisfaction is not quite the right word for the transformation I was undergoing. After many years of studying and a brief stint of teaching, I came to realize that I am temperamentally not well suited for academic history. I love history, the story of people in time, in various places and circumstances. I discovered in me a desire to put myself in the shoes of those who lived through the trial and tribulations. For me, fiction was a more compelling way of telling the story of the past. However, taking actual historical personages and fictionalize their lives, which is commonly done by historical novelists, likewise didn’t suit me. For me creating my own characters and developing a plot within a particular historical setting (well researched and authentically and plausible reproduced) would be a better and more exciting way of conveying historical events. My emphasis is always on the human condition, the struggle of individuals caught in the web of power beyond their control. Also, on a more personal level, there are always the inter-human relationships of love, deceit, intrigue, envy, stuff like that of which you don’t get much from academic paradigms interested to prove some thesis.

How does your career as a writer influence other areas of your life and vice versa?

My writing certainly has an effect on my daily life. I do most of my work during the night, early morning hours. I try not to answer the telephone while I am engrossed in a different world. Even though it’s not completely possibly, I try to stay away from current events. Not very successfully with the world in turmoil. But when wasn’t it? That’s one thing history can teach us: there’s always been upheavals, wars, conflicts, and very few peaceful periods—which is a gold mine for historical novelists.

What do you do when you are not writing?

At this point in my life, I am retired from working in publishing. I live by myself and have the luxury of disposing of my time as the spirit moves me. (This wasn’t always the case.) I read (mostly novels; I try to reread some of the classics), listen to classical music, ride my bicycle. Of course, I have a circle of friends, mostly associated with the synagogue I belong to. I travel by car to visit my children and grandchildren; I also have grandchildren in Israel whom I visit at least once a year.)

Briefly, what's your book about?

The core story centers on Dina, a Jewish woman, who lived in the fourteenth century at the time of the expulsion of the Jews from France. That was the original idea was to write a Dina story; Dina having been the daughter of Jacob in the Bible who was defiled (raped) by a local prince. My medieval Dina is left behind in a village in the Pyrenees as her family flees to Spain due to the fact that she suffers a similar fate as her biblical ancestress. She gives an account of what happened to her to her children, a document, or codex, that is discovered and deciphered centuries later by an American historian who was born in the mountains as her parents fled from Nazi persecution. So that is the connection: the persecution and expulsion of the Jews and the geographic area.

Dina's Tribe is a departure from your earlier novels: Court of Miracles: A Human Comedy of 17th Century France and Princess of the Blood: A Tapestry of Love and War in Sixteenth-Century France.  What led you to write a book that moved from the modern world to the historic? 

Since the time of my studies of French literature and history at the Sorbonne, medieval and early modern France had a special fascination for me. So my first two novels were set in that time and place. My graduate studies at NYU were more closely focused on modern European history, especially modern Germany. So my Dina book actually combines these two areas as far-flung as they may be. Somehow I pulled them together. Both stories were originally conceived as two separate novels. But once I got started with the medieval Dina’s story, the characters of refugees from Nazi Germany sort of beckoned to come in.

Both you and your main character, Nina Aschauer are historical scholars. I'm not a big believer in coincidence so tell us how that came about.

Not too much of a coincidence though not in any way biographical. It just seemed logical that Nina should become a historian. She was very intrigued about her birth and the history of her people, the Jewish people in modern and more remote times. So was her cousin the narrator who brings the stories of these two women together.

What are your current/future projects?

My most recent novel is an award-winning historical mystery Death of a Diva—From Berlin to Broadway. It starts out with the murder of an international star of screen and stage at a Broadway theater in the summer of 1941. The investigation then traces the victim’s life from her humble origins in a Viennese ghetto to stardom in Weimar Berlin and then the émigré haven in New York. The narrator is a young woman, herself a German-Jewish refugee, who is the main character in the novel I am currently writing in which she returns to Germany in 1946, under an assumed identity, to find her grandmother who may or may not be alive.

Where do you get your information or ideas for your books?

From history, historical research, and most of all from my imagination.

What is your writing process? Do you follow a regular routine?

As I mentioned above, I write mostly at night. I am not hung up on writing a certain number of words a day. Sometimes I just sit and think for a long time and live the scenes in my head before I put fingers to keyboard. I should mention that at the start of a project I use yellow pads and a pen. After about a chapter or two, I ease over to the computer.

Are there certain themes or ideas you prefer?

This may sound trite, but my ultimate concern is to portrait aspects of the human condition. I am not a political or ideological writer, I don’t preach, and, in accordance with Isaac Bashevis Singer, I don’t try to redeem the world through my writing. I just try to be first and foremost a storyteller of exciting stories.

What book(s)/author(s) have influenced your writing and how?

I often describe myself as a nineteenth-century writer. Most of the writers that inspire me most come from that period or the early twentieth century. The great Russians –Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina is certainly one of the greatest novels ever written; Germans like Thomas Mann; French like Balzac and Stendhal. Victor Hugo was a great influence on my earlier novels especially Princess of the Blood. Thomas Hardy, Edith Wharton, Herman Melville, Philip Roth, an eclectic bunch, are some of my favorite writers in the English language. Among more recent writers are Nicole Krauss and Julie Orringer.

What are the most important elements of good historical fiction writing?

Compelling characters and plots. What makes these compelling is a usually a hero or heroine with tragic back story, an overriding goal for the character to pursue and obstacles to overcome. Conflict, inner and outer, love and loss, and more conflict. Without conflict there’s no story. There also has to be development. The main character is put through the mill by those forces, human or natural and comes out changed, a different person. Who wants to read about a walk in the clouds or through a flowery meadow and peaceful evening by the hearth with a character who has no doubts and all is well with the world?

Talk about revising and/or suggestions about revising for upcoming writers. 

Revision, revision, revision! No first draft is ever publishable, no matter who the writer is. But you also have to let go at some point and hand it over to a copy editor, preferably two different copy editors, and in the end a proofreader. Many writers think they can wing it and do without a professional editor (don’t rely on a friend you think is good at writing; not even people in a writing group have the requisite skill and eye for detail). Everything has to be edited. I worked in publishing as a production editor and know from experience that this is an essential part of any published work—even great writers get edited.

What's one additional piece of advice about writing or publishing you'd like to pass on to readers and writers? 

If you are a writer, if you feel the calling, not someone who had an idea for a book one day, write, write, write, but keep a job on the side or marry comfortably. Publishing is a tough business. I have not been able to figure out what criteria agents, editors, and publishers apply. Don’t be discouraged by the clichés they dish out. If you are young enough and have the energy keep on storming the bastion.

Anything else you'd like readers to know about you and/or your book? 

Writing is one of the most difficult things to do, but it is also one of the most gratifying endeavors if that’s the muse that gives you wings.
The idea for Dina’s Lost Tribe (it wasn’t called that in the beginning) resided in my head for many years and when the birth finally took place it turned out very differently than originally conceived; the story metamorphosed under my very eyes. I often didn’t know where it was going, what turn it was going to take. That’s what’s so exciting about creating your characters and stories. I certainly never foresaw the ending of Dina. No spoilers please.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

New Picture Book


My new picture book - AVAILABLE NOW on Amazon - Buy Now.

The adventure of a young groundhog who is frightened of his shadow until a fun-filled journey through the woods and farms surrounding his burrow allows him to discover his courage on Groundhog Day.

An author's note provides information about Groundhogs.

Cross curriculum connections for: Folklore, Shadows, Groundhog Day, and Groundhogs.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Nonfiction Monday

New – From Animal Planet’s Animal Bites Series

WILD ANIMALS provides young readers with a nature adventure in a variety of habitats across multiple continents. Japanese Macaques enjoy spa days. African bullfrogs seal themselves in underground burrows to survive year-long droughts. African bull elephants weigh as much as two pickup trucks. Humpback whales hunt using “bubble nets” and only male Zebra finches can sing. These are just a few of the interesting facts that fill the pages.

Like the other books in the series, the animal sections are interspersed with thematic units with specific tabs such as Where They Live, How They Live, Vista (showing animals in their environment), Big Data (facts and figures), Animal Gallery (highlighting similarities and differences) and so on. Stunning action-filled photographs, informative notes, colorful maps and charts make for easy access to information and will delight both youngsters and adults as they explore the amazing diversity of wild life on our amazing planet.

A great addition to home, classroom or school library.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Writers Wednesday

Today's special guest is British author James Rice. 

His debut novel, Alice and the Fly has been well received and fans of YA fiction will find much to appreciate in this novel about a shy teenager's struggle with fear and obsession when he confronts his attraction to Alice. 

This well-crafted story, told from two points of view -- Greg's journal and police transcripts -- is moving, dark, and humorous in turns as it explores that most difficult concept -- love. 

What did you learn about yourself in the process of writing Alice and the Fly?
Well, the main thing I learnt was that I could actually write a book (which I assumed was impossible). Also I found that writing is a way for you to take some really crappy things you’ve experienced (either firsthand or not) and try make them into something that brings happiness to the world. (And sadness – it’s a sad book too, in parts. But sadness can be good, sometimes.)

How does your career as a writer influence other areas of your life and vice versa?
Well the money’s helped, to a degree, and I feel like I have more of a purpose now. It gets in the way a lot because I have to spend vast amounts of time at the computer when it feels like I should be out frolicking (or whatever people do). To be honest it hasn’t had that big of an effect, really. I thought as soon as I got a publishing deal Will Self would be on the phone inviting me to some olive and cheese party, but life just carries on. It’s still fun though, to go into bookshops and, you know, see it. And I love writing, so I’m pretty happy not to be frolicking, really.

What do you do when you are not writing?
Read. Eat. Sleep. I’ve been teaching at my old university, which has been great and has taken a lot of time. I like to lie down. I think if I was part of the 1% billionaire club and didn’t have to engage with the world at all I would probably just lie down forever and eat peanut butter and not get up.

What led you to write Alice and the Fly?
I wanted to write something about school. It’s a traumatic place to have to spend so much of your childhood, I think, and so I wanted to do something which felt real to me, in terms of what school life is really like. I actually started it back when I was still in high school, but it was terrible. I took a run at it a few times, in different forms. It was a short story, a film script, a concept album (don’t ask). And then when I was studying an MA I wanted to write something longer and so I thought I’d try out that idea again, see how it had aged. I wrote the first chapter and people liked it – it even won a competition. I felt like I was onto something. So I carried on.

 Your book deals with serious topics of mental illness, alienation, dysfunctional families, and violence. What challenges did you face in creating a work that wouldn't become too dark for a YA audience? 
To be honest I didn’t think about audience at all when I wrote it – I wrote it for myself. I mean, these characters are teenagers and I was a teenager when I came up with most of the material and it felt like a very real, teenage experience to me. I don’t really think you have to worry about darkness in terms of teenagers – it’s the darkest period of most people’s lives.
Mental illness is a challenge to write about because there are so many myths and clichés and potential to offend people who have to deal with it. I tried to use all of that, to play with these ideas society has, and subvert them. I don’t know if it worked. I’ve had some people challenge me on it, but (so far) only people who haven’t actually read it.

What would you like readers to take from it? 
That empathy is everything. That you should be kind to others. That you should find love wherever you can and hold onto it. That you should be yourself. That you shouldn’t let fear hold you back. Be brave, be bold, but most of all be kind.

What are your current/future projects?
I’m writing another novel at the moment which feels like everything right now. I’m ‘in it’, so to speak. It’s going well – at the minute I love it. Hopefully it will change the world. We’ll see.

The book alternates between Greg's journaling to share his internal voice and police transcripts to provide readers with an external interpretation of events. What led you to that choice of structure?
It came near the end of the writing process, actually. I liked the idea of finding another found footage-like way to give other sides of the story and this seemed like a great way to hear from some other characters – give the reader a break from Greg’s voice – whilst also hinting at what’s to come. Also it allowed me to get some dialogue in the novel (I like writing dialogue).

Did you have the book plotted to the point where you knew it would end in tragedy or did the ending evolve as the characters developed?
I always had the ending. Apart from that I did little plotting, just ran with certain plot threads and characters. I wrote the scenes I wanted to write and then figured out the structure at the end. I would not recommend this as a writing technique though. Sure, it was fun, but it took a long time. I don’t know if I’d have been able to do it any other way though. There’s no right or wrong way to write a novel, as long as it gets written.

Are there certain themes or ideas you prefer?
Teenage love is my favourite theme, probably, because it’s so amazing when you’re a teenager – everything is so new and exciting. I enjoyed writing about that. Also the visual image of the spiders and how much fear and dread they cause (people have refused to read it because it has spiders in). That was where the initial spark came from – this idea that spiders are just the perfect representation of people’s fears.
The main theme is this sort of self-fulfilling prophecy though – that Greg is actually lovely, but because he’s treated a certain way he’s made to act a certain way and this plays into all the preconceptions about mental illness. And this just snowballs. And of course we have his perspective, so we know he’s not to blame, but we also know how it must look like to other people too. Which makes for a great deal of humour and sadness.

What book(s)/author(s) have influenced your writing and how?
Recently I decided to make a pile of all the books that influenced Alice… and I ended up with two huge, towering piles of books. It’s amazing how wide-ranging your influences can be. I like a lot of modern American greats like Don DeLillo, David Foster Wallace, A.M. Homes, Nicholson Baker. Also British authors like Niall Griffiths, Cynan Jones, Kevin Barry. Stuff that’s experimental and interesting usually, though I’ll read anything. To prepare for Alice… I read loads of teen-narrated books. The most influential were Apples by Richard Milward and When I Was Five I Killed Myself by Howard Buten (and obviously The Catcher in the Rye).

What is the most challenging aspect of your writing process?
Self-doubt is the one thing that holds me back more than anything. I try ignore it, put it to one side. I tell myself: ‘Remember, you can always delete stuff that doesn’t work. But if you sit there too scared to write anything bad you’ll never write a single word.’

Talk about revising and/or suggestions about revising for upcoming writers. 
Well, read a lot. And give yourself time – time is the most important part. Hindsight is your best friend.  Writing is boring and time-consuming – learn to accept that and you’ll be ok. Bad writing + reading + time = good writing. Stick to that formula

What's one additional piece of advice about writing or publishing you'd like to pass on to readers and writers? 
Publishers are lovely and nothing to be scared of. And they’re desperate to receive good writing – just as desperate as you are to produce it. So don’t worry about never having your work seen by a publisher – it will be if it’s good enough. Just worry about the quality of the work. That’s your job.


Anything else you'd like readers to know about you and/or your book? 
Just how happy it’d make me if they read it. Even more so if they liked it. And if not, well, that’s ok too. I’ll try harder next time. J

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