Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Writers Wednesday

As a writer and reader of historical fiction, I'm particularly pleased to introduce Welsh Author Tracy Rees and her debut novel, AMY SNOW, published by Simon & Schuster. This richly detailed adventure is set in Victorian England and follows the struggle of Amy Snow, abandoned at birth, as she unravels a trail of clues that will lead to a remarkable, life-changing discovery.

 Your biography mentions you are a Cambridge graduate with a degree in Modern and Medieval Languages. Has that background influenced your writing?

As a writer, I believe that everything we do and every experience we have, in some way feeds into our writing. It’s not necessarily a direct process. It’s not as simple as, for example, you fall in love so you write about love, or you travel, so you write about a journey. But our lives shape our subconscious and our subconscious shapes our writing. Certainly my time at Cambridge was a huge privilege and gave me a sense of possibilities and potential at a young age. I met some wonderful people and of course, had a marvellous opportunity to learn - both those things feed me and help me thrive. It’s also a very inspiring, beautiful setting, which is important to my artist’s soul! It was a long time between graduating from Cambridge and becoming a writer at last, but I think that seeds were definitely sewn during that time.

What did you learn about yourself in the process of creating Amy Snow?

I learned how determined I can be, and how driven. Because Amy Snow was shortlisted for a major competition in the UK on the basis of a 10,000 word entry, I had only five months to write the rest of the book. I knew I had a capacity for hard work but this took it to a new level! But I knew it was the opportunity of a lifetime to do the one thing I’d always longed to do, so I went for it! I also learned a lot about the wonderful ways that the creative process works for me. I’m not a planner - I’m a “go with the flow” type writer. If I open up and accept the ideas that come, as they come, for example, I do better than if I try to use my brain to steer the process. 

What do you do when you are not writing?

When I’m not writing I have so many interests I wish we had a forty hour day! I love to spend time with friends and family. I am learning to play the piano and have my first piano exam coming up shortly. I love walking in the beautiful countryside near my home and also visiting new places. I do yoga and tai chi and zumba. I love drawing and reading (of course!) and going to the cinema and theatre. I also enjoy pottering around at home, cooking and growing plants in pots - that’s a new love of mine; I’m hugely impressed that my plants are still alive!

Briefly, what is Amy Snow about?

Amy Snow is about a young girl, Amy, who was found abandoned in the snow as a baby. She was discovered by Aurelia Vennaway, a young heiress, who insists on taking Amy in despite the disapproval of her parents. The two form a fast, if unusual, friendship, but Aurelia dies young when Amy is only seventeen. However she has left Amy a “treasure hunt” of letters, each containing a clue to discovering a secret Amy never imagined Aurelia had. Banished from home, Amy must go on a journey to follow Aurelia’s clues, not only to find out her friend’s secret but also as an important journey of self-discovery.

After a successful career in nonfiction publishing, what led you to the decision to write an historical fiction novel?

I had always wanted to write fiction. It was my first dream and it never really gave up on me! I went into publishing after university because I knew how hard it is to make it as an author and I thought it would be helpful to understand the publishing process from the inside. The first job I got happened to be in a non-fiction company and then I built on that. Over the years, I tried writing all sorts of fiction in all sorts of genres and Amy Snow just happened to be the first one to be published. I love historical fiction because it transports the reader to a totally different time with different values, manners and customs. Over the course of what I hope will be a long writing career, I would like to write more historical fiction and also other kinds of books too.

What would you like readers to take from it?

I think that whatever I write I am preoccupied with themes of personal development, the importance of believing in yourself and following your inner promptings. Amy starts out as an extremely shy character with little self-confidence but her unusual journey forces her to discover how resourceful and resilient she really is. I think we all tend to under-estimate ourselves sometimes and I’d love readers to be inspired by Amy’s story and think, “well if Amy can do it, I can do…” (whatever they dream of!).

What are your current/future projects?

My second novel, also set in the nineteenth century, comes out in the UK this month so I’m incredibly excited about that. I’m currently halfway through writing my third novel, set half in the present day and half in the 1950s and I’m loving writing it. I’m also working on some workshops that I’ll be giving in the UK in the Autumn; I love teaching and sharing ideas and experiences with others.

 What motivates you?

I love writing. I love language, story and imagination. I love transcending reality, escaping into other worlds, making the adventures of my imagination concrete on the page. So it’s not hard to keep motivated! Watching a really great film or reading an amazing book inspires me no end - a good story seems to send off sparks… And I love imagining readers reading and enjoying a finished book. I love hearing readers’ feedback and comments, their requests for sequels, these are all tremendously motivating. Also I love helping people overcome obstacles so that their dreams can come true so whenever I hear that my story has inspired someone that makes all the hard work (and back ache!) completely worthwhile.

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

My routine is not especially regular; one of the things I enjoy about my job is that every day is different. However since Amy was published I have learned a LOT about how to manage the workload. I used to write every day but now I make myself take weekends off so that I stay fresh and don’t exhaust myself! It’s also very important that I try to intersperse desk work (which is not only writing but also publicity, marketing, correspondence etc) with exercise and other activities because otherwise my back and shoulders really suffer. I’ve learned that my routine varies throughout the year, with different tasks prevalent at different times. For instance this year there has been a lot of solitary time writing book three for the first few months but now, with Amy published in the States and the second book, Florence Grace, coming out in the UK, there are more publicity enquiries, more author events and so on. Late summer will be revising book three and Autumn will be editing once my publishers have been through it, so it varies a lot month to month.

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

Oh so many! I’m sure all authors say this but it would be almost impossible to pick a favourite. Certainly the old classics - Dickens, the Brontes etc, are huge favourites of mine and have certainly fed into my love of this period and, I hope, given me a real feel for it, helping me to set a convincing mood. Then, because of my second career in psychology and therapy, I also love anything where human nature is finely drawn and radiantly real. American author Elizabeth Berg is one of my favourites in this regard. I love Natalie Goldberg’s books about the process of writing and I love David Mitchell for his big, bold, mind-blowing concepts. I also adore young adult and fantasy books. I’m a great believer in the power of fairytales!

What are the most important elements of good writing?

I think the most important thing is to write from the heart. Obviously, there is room in our world for all kinds of different stories, as the wonderful proliferation of genres on offer shows. So there is scope for people to write what they really believe in. Any type of writing will have its fans and those who aren’t so keen but I believe that heartfelt writing always finds its true audience. Obviously good language is important too and, further to that, language that suits the type of book it is. Language provides the framework for all the ideas contained in a book; it’s the access point for readers. And of course, good strong characters are important to bring a book to life and make readers care. There are many different reasons why we keep turning pages: it might be a breathless, clever plot, a character we’re rooting for, stunning language, escapism, humour… but I think a well written book, written from the heart, about a character readers can care about contains the magic three!

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

Revising is another reason I always say write what you love. Put simply, it can either be a delight or a nightmare. If you didn’t really love what you wrote in the first place, to go over it again and again is just punishing. If you do love it, it becomes an opportunity to polish and perfect, to spend yet more time in the company of characters that you love. Also, it’s really helpful if you take time out between drafts. On my current schedule I don’t have scope to do this much but I always make sure I have a gap even if it’s just a few days. It gives the mind a chance to relax and the subconscious to process everything I’ve just written. Then, it makes it easier to go back to the manuscript in a different frame of mind. Writing and revising are really two very different processes. Writing is entirely creative and can be very organic for many writers. Revising is where the thinking brain needs to kick in, so you can read what you’ve written and assess what works and what doesn’t, what the manuscript needs more of and less of etc.

What is one additional piece of advice about writing or publishing you would like to pass on to readers and writers?

Again, it’s been said before but to writers I would say, never give up; persevere! We receive so many messages about how publishing is a difficult industry to crack. Well it is, that’s true, but difficult is not impossible. There are, as I said earlier, so many great books out there, in all sorts of different styles. And thank heaven for that! They make life so much richer and more magical than it would be without them. Someone’s got to write them! So why not you? And to readers, I would say, you (we!) are the other half of that magical process. Not much point writing something no-one’s going to read. So please know how much writers appreciate you choosing their book and absorbing their words and responding to them. That’s what it’s all for. Thank you!
Anything else you would like readers to know about you and/or your book?

I really appreciate you reading Amy Snow and taking a chance on a new author. I’ve wanted to write all my life, since I wrote my first poem at the age of three! For me it’s a joyous, wonderful process and I hope that somehow comes across on the pages and I hope you’ve enjoyed. Being a published author is my greatest dream come true so thank you for being part of that.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Nonfiction Monday

For Nonfiction Monday: "Awesome America" by Katy Steinmetz

            This new release from Time for Kids offers young readers in grades 3-6 a different way of approaching the familiar topic of American history.  The thematic organizational style and heavily illustrated interior provides an interesting perspective on the history, people, and culture - both past and present - of the United States. The expected topics: our government, founding fathers, 13 colonies, the fifty states, the presidents,  American landmarks, civil rights, and immigration are all here. In addition, there are chapters such as "America's Home-Grown Gifts to the World" which asks the question "What are America's greatest innovations?, highlights the origins of American music, and takes an up-close look at American inventions. Information is supplied in brief, engaging snippets designed to convey the essentials while tempting the reader to research topics in greater depth via the section entitled Explore Some More. Full color photographs, detailed illustrations, charts, graphs, and timelines quickly capture a reader's attention and keep pages turning.

          Awesome America would be an excellent resource for exploring a wide range of topics and will spark ideas for reports and essays. Well worth adding to home, classroom, and library bookshelves.


Friday, June 24, 2016

Poetry Friday

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Random Noodling.

My selection is "Animal Poems" by Valerie Worth with pictures by Steve Jenkins.  

This collection of twenty-three poems about a variety of animals was published following Worth's death in 1994 and is a fitting tribute to her remarkable talent for using ordinary words to create an extraordinary experience.  Worth's perceptive free verse observations invite her readers to see the familiar -- from snails to whales -- with new eyes.  At first glance, the book appears to target a young audience, and many of the poems suit a youthful demographic.  However, there are also works that require a more sophisticated vocabulary and world view that will appeal to teens and adults as well.

Each spread highlights an individual poem and features the inventive cut-paper artwork for which Steven Jenkins is famous.  Textured, multi-dimensional collages are a visual treat in harmony with Worth's word pictures.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Writers Wednesday

If you read or write historical fiction, you're in for a treat. Author Antonio Elmaleh shares a bit of his experience in creating his carefully researched  and well crafted post-Civil War  novel, THE ONES THEY LEFT BEHIND.

Native New Yorker, Elmaleh, who began his career in film, started researching and writing his novel in 1999 and saw his work published in 2014.

The Ones They Left Behind is inspired by the true story of  Gilbert Bates, a civil war veteran who carried the American Flag  from Vicksburg to Washington D.C. in 1868 as a symbol of unity. The novel is told through the eyes of the fictional veteran Harriman Hickenlooper, and addresses not just the experience of a single man, but shines a light on the wounds of the past that continue to resonate into the present and the ongoing need for healing.   

What did you learn about yourself in the process of writing?
I enjoyed rewriting more than writing. I am very observant. I listen well.
How does your career as a writer influence other areas of your life and vice-versa?
It teaches me patience and hones my ear for the way people talk, act and feel. My love of history informs me as a writer of historical fiction.
What do you do when you're not writing?
Read, stay connected to family and friends, travel.

Briefly, what is your book about?
It's about a man learning to forgive himself and others, and find a reason to live and love after suffering excruciating loss.
What led you to write the book?
Seeing that a great divide rends our country from wounds of the Civil War to this day and wanting to tell a story of hope and reconciliation that is as pertinent today as it was 160 years ago.

What would you like readers to take from it?
To believe that one man can make a difference and to remember that our truest selves will always love and care for one another.
What are your current and future projects?
I am writing another book and continue to finance start-up sustainable energy and sustainable living companies.
What is your writing process? Do you follow a regular routine?
I write every first draft longhand on yellow legal pads. I write 2-4 hours a day, but no particular time of day. I read about my subject and travel to where the story takes place. I rewrite intensively and edit myself mercilessly. I go for three words instead of six.
What challenges did you face researching material and balancing fact with fiction?
Answer: First, there were no live people to interview, so finding the voices of characters came from within me. Second, I focused my research so I stayed on point and did not stray into tangential or superfluous material. Third, knowing when to move from fact into finding the spirit and implication of those facts on my characters.
What books and authors have influenced your writing and how?
Elmore Leonard's "10 Rules of Writing" (hint: it's about ten pages long) and Steven King's "On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft" stand at the top of the list.
Writers of influence: Ernest Hemingway, Elmore Leonard, Steven King, Stephen Ambrose, Alan Furst, Joseph Conrad
Do you ever suffer from writer's block? If so, what do you do about it it?
No, there are just some times when I don't write, but I am always researching through reading and travel, which is part of writing.
Talk about revising and /or suggestions for upcoming writers.
Rewriting is like film editing, the realized finished work is in that process, so learn to trust it and beware of quick fixes and magic bullets. Learn to give space on the page. Like in music, often silence and pauses are more dramatic and powerful than loud noise. Big hint: Learn to trust your reader's own imagination. Giving them less provokes them to fill in details, which deepens their identification with the characters and their journeys.
What's one additional piece of advice about writing or publishing you'd like to pass on to readers and writers?
Be gentle on yourself when you work. You are building an entire world for someone else, do it with patience and care, but no judgment. The inner critic loves to hamper and second-guess what you've done, but that critic isn't doing the work, it's just being supercritical. Consider each day's work one step and don't lose sight of the fact that writing, like life, is a process of single steps.
Anything else you'd like readers to know about you and/or your book?
I'm grateful to have the chance to connect with you and hope you enjoy my book, which is inspired by a true story.

Read my blog at

Monday, June 13, 2016

Nonfiction Monday

For Nonfiction Monday: "Ocean Animals" by Laaren Brown and Animal Planet


Here's another in the fabulous Animal Bites series from Animal Planet. This time young readers are treated to a look at ocean life from the creatures of the sky such as the albatross to animals from the ocean's deep sea vents like the exotic giant tube worm. There is the familiar bottlenose dolphin, great white shark, and humpback whale sharing pages with less familiar surgeon fish, green sea turtles, and  whale sharks.

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 sea life on our blue planet.

This book would be great paired with a visit to the aquarium or ocean. A must have for home, classroom or school library. 

Friday, June 10, 2016

Poetry Friday

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Beyond Literacy Link.

Summer is a time for travel and exploration so let me share with you "Come With Me: poems for a journey" written by Naomi Shihab Nye and illustrated by Dan Yaccarino.


Nye invites readers to join her in a journey through worlds both concrete and fanciful in this collection of 16 free-verse poems. Each turn of the page produces a new opportunity to be surprised, soothed, startled or delighted. The Observer offers the quiet contemplation to be found in the simple study of an inching caterpillar, a drifting cloud, or the glint of sunlight on a blue glass. In contrast, Where Are We Going is an energetic exploration of glittering cityscapes filled with the hustle of crowds.


Yaccarino's bright collage illustrations are a rich addition that produce their own sense of wonder and imagination while capturing the flavor of the text.

The Gingerbread Cowboy Book Trailer