Friday, May 28, 2010


Let's have another contest, shall we? For all you horse lovers, mystery lovers, animal lovers, book lovers, and Alison Hart fans - let's give away a copy of her just released book - WHIRLWIND!!!

I love this cover, don't you? What a beautiful horse!

WHIRLWIND is the much anticipated follow-up to Hart's classic mystery story (nominated for an Edgar award) SHADOW HORSE. But don't worry - WHIRLWIND works great as a stand alone novel also.

I was wondering how Alison Hart would pull this off, but she wastes no time in bringing us up to speed with thirteen-year-old Jas, whose beloved show jumping mare, Whirlwind was unexpectedly found dead. After attacking the man who wrongly accused her grandfather of the deed, Jas is sent to live at a foster home, while her grandfather recovers from a stroke in a nursing home.

But when Jas finds out Whirlwind is actually alive, nothing can stop her from finding the mare, even if it threatens everything she holds dear and puts her own life in danger.

This fast moving mystery has plenty to say about animal abuse, horse swindlers with no morals, and the nitty-gritty of horse care. It is filled with great human and animal characters, details (from a rescue ranch to an elite horse ranch where no expense is spared but the horses live in isolation) with even a teenage romance thrown in. What's not to like?

For more about Alison Hart - please visit her website here, read my interview with her here, and read another review of WHIRLWIND here.

So now for the contest. To win an autographed copy of WHIRLWIND, here's how to do it:

  • Leave a comment on this post - 1 point

For extra points -

  • Become a follower of this blog - 2 points (includes current followers)

  • Repost or retweet this contest and let me know - 1 point

I'll calculate all your points and have a random drawing on June 5th, 2010.

Good luck, everyone!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

On clear-cutting and optimism

Last year, they logged the forest across the road from us.

It was sad, and I missed the beauty of the huge old trees
that towered over our heads.

However, I had to admit that without the trees there was much more sun in our house, and I could now see out across the far hills.

I am not a fan of clear-cutting, and I don't believe that replanting with just one species of trees (a monoculture) is best for the health of the forest.

Nevertheless, it gladdens my heart to see the newly planted trees putting on fresh growth this year.

And on walks with my dog, I notice life springing back amidst the wreckage of forest slash.

Wild Iris bloom.
And Bleeding Heart carpets the old decaying stumps.

I'm a glass 3/4 full kind of person.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Peeta or Gale: The Great Debate

If you've seen anything strange lately, like normally calm bookish-type people coming close to fisticuffs over the terms "Team Peeta" or "Team Gale," I thought I might explain what all the ruckus is about.

It's about Peeta and Gale - characters from the first two books in the Hunger Games Trilogy. Now I am not normally a series type person (Huge confession here - Gulp. I never read the Harry Potter books or the Twilight Series - something about vampires just make me *shudder*)

But when I read The Hunger Games (in like, one sitting) I immediately found my way to the nearest bookstore and bought Catching Fire, the second in the series of three, by author Suzanne Collins.

The main character is a fearless young woman named Katniss, who finds herself trapped in a deadly game in which she must fight for her life, her family, and for her own humanity.

In the middle of this life and death struggle are two young men. Peeta is the son of a baker, who has loved Katniss since he was young. Gale is a young man of the woods, who has taught Katniss how to hunt and provide for her family.

I will not say more. You really, really need to read these books. But what amazes me through this entire wonderful story is that what has readers most wondering about, as they wait with bated breath for Mockingjay (the last in the series due out in August/ 2010) is not whether Katniss and her family will survive, or even whether the districts will prevail in their rebellion over the evil government known as the Capitol.

No! What has people most up in arms is whether, in the third book of this trilogy, Katniss will choose:




The Internet is full of various discussion boards where the merits of each are debated. Twitter is rife with back and forth discussions, and facebook is filled with fan pages championing both Team Peeta and Team Gale.

Comments range from

  • Peeta has loved Katniss forever

  • Gale is a hunter and he can provide for Katniss and her family

  • Peeta can bake bread for her family

  • Peeta is nothing more than a Pillsbury doughboy

  • There is something really sexy about Gale's anarchist attitude

  • Peeta is sweet and sensitive and adores her

  • Gale can outwit the evil army, is straightforward and true

  • Peeta has leadership skills and will be an ideal partner for Katniss

  • Gale will beat Peeta with a skewered rabbit.

See what I mean? The fans of each are rabid. Actually rabid.

Some readers are even hoping Katniss will pick neither of the young men, and just take more time to grow up. Some hope she picks both. Phooey, I say. Phooey. But I don't see how the author can let Katniss choose one, or allow one to die, without upsetting half of the reading nation.

At any rate, if I were in Suzanne Collins' shoes, I'd be plenty excited about all the buzz building for my next book. But more importantly as a writer, I wonder how in the world she is able to write characters that people become so attached to. Hmm - I must reread these books and study how she created such an emotional following.

Here are a few more sites with much more on the Peeta/Gale controversy:

So, who can hardly wait for Mockingjay?

And let's hear it . . .

Team Peeta or Team Gale?

P.S. Want to know my pick? His name has four letters, not five :-)

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Old is Just a Number

I called somebody "Kid" today in an email, and it made their day. "Hey - I'm 34," she said.

"Yeah, well I'm old enough to be everybody's damn Grandma," I said. "Especially Kody Keplinger."

Actually, that's not exactly true. But I think I am the oldest one of Joanna Stampfel-Volpe's clients, a special, tight-knit group of writers who are required (it's in the contract, seriously) to get tattoos (we won't say where) that read JSV.

But, as as one agent blogged about recently - age is just a number. And writers both young and old are celebrated in this post from Laura Marcella.

As for me, I am still young at heart, with a child's delight of things in the world. I hope I never lose that, because that's what keeps me writing for children.

But it is difficult for old people to keep up with all this new internet stuff. Especially the words.

I'm pretty good, though. I know what BFF means. Biggest French Fry, right?

And ROFL. I learned that one, too. Racing out for Lunch. Told ya' I was good.

But all this social networking lingo is dicey. I mean, I think I've mastered:
  • Peep - a people (person)
  • Tweep - a person who twitters (or tweets)
  • Twitface - a person who twits and facebooks (and who is your friend on both)
  • Gleek - a person who lives for Tuesday nights.

but Bestie? what the heck is that? A special internet friend, that reads your blog, your facebook, your twitter, leaves comments and hopefully buys your book someday?

The reason I'm learning all these cool new words is that to be an author these days, you're supposed to social network like crazy, have a web page, a blog, a facebook (which I'm getting really paranoid about because of all the privacy issues, but that's because I'm old, peeps) twitter (which at least I know is completely public, so no prob) accumulate besties like crazy while also writing the next Most Magnificent Manuscript, which is literally exhausting for some of us who are like - really old.

Anyway, I am very glad to be included with all of you as a peep, tweep, twitface, gleek, and bestie. Group Hug, everybody.

Now excuse me while I hobble out to the mailbox. I think my brand new AARP card just arrived. Yes!!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Josie's New Friends

Many of you know my wonderful donkey Josie.

She already has a horse for company, but we thought she might like a girlfriend of her own kind - another jenny.

A friend of mine, who has a wonderful blog about animals told me about some donkeys for sale. There were three of them, so we went to look. They were all tied up in a small pen, a white one, a brown one, and a grey one. How could we determine their personalities? How could we possibly choose?

Sooo . . . at the end of the day . . . we came home not with one donkey . . .

Not with two donkeys . . . .

But with all three donkeys!

Are we nuts?
And after lots of suggestions for names (thanks for the feedback everyone!)
~ please meet ~
Sage (the grey one) Cupcake (the brown one) and Loretta (the white one.)

Josie now has lots of friends. Are we going to keep them all?? Probably not. How do we know which one to keep? How can you possibly choose?

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Research for Fiction

My latest manuscript, which I recently sent to my agent, is a contemporary middle-grade novel. There was no world building involved, no fantasy elements or things I had to conjure out of thin air. So you'd think I'd be able to just sit down and write it, right? Well, not exactly.

There are animals involved (of course.) And the animals scenes are the easiest ones for me to write, because I've been around animals all my life and they just come naturally. Scenes with dogs, cats, horses usually roll right off the keyboard without much effort, and are some of my favorite things to write.

But when the plot involves something I'm not entirely acquainted with, I want the facts to be correct. It's all well and good to say you are writing fiction, and can make anything up. But for me as a writer it's important to be not only plausible, but also to have the scenes be as truthful as possible, especially in a contemporary tale.

So I consulted some experts in the field this time. People who could answer my questions - such as could this really happen? Where and how might this take place?

Most of the time, this is a lot of fun, because when you explain that you are a children's author, and show them proof (a bookmark, a published book) they think it's totally cool and open up to you about everything.

But not always. I talked to a clerk at a fast food/gas station combo that doubles as a Greyhound bus stop in a small town. He was extremely paranoid about answering any of my questions, but even that was helpful information ;-)

I consulted with a probation officer in the state of California about crimes and sentences and phone calls from jail.

I talked to several wonderful young men and women in military recruiting offices, who filled me in on general details from the Army, Navy, and Air Force programs, and who seemed very appreciative that I wanted to get things right.

And I had a long conversation with a very generous Fire Chief about possible consequences of boys playing with fire and getting into trouble.

I loved doing this research, and I took lots of notes. Afterwords, when I sat down to actually write the scenes, I felt informed and satisfied that my words rang true, because even though the plot line involved things outside my area of expertise, at least now I had the facts. And it also gave me confidence to tackle subjects a little out of my comfort zone in the future, because there are always experts in every field.

Have you done research for your writing? Did you enjoy it? Tell us about it.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Meet Kathi Appelt

Kathi Appelt is the author of more than thirty books for young readers. Winner of numerous awards, the body of her work encompasses picture books, non-fiction, poetry, middle-grade and YA. Her middle-grade novel THE UNDERNEATH was both a 2009 Newbery Honor Book as well as a National Book Award Finalist. Kathi has been a SCBWI regional advisor in Central Texas, a creative writing teacher to both children and adults, and currently serves on the faculty at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her newest novel, KEEPER, is due out May 18, 2010. And you can be the first to own a copy - because we are giving one away! Keep reading . . .

Kathi - I first became aware of your work when I picked up a copy of your non-fiction book DOWN CUT SHIN CREEK - The Pack Horse Librarians of Kentucky. Co-authored by Jeanne Cannella Schmitzer, the front cover shows a bundled up woman with full saddle bags riding a mule across snowy fields in the 1930's, delivering library books to rural communities. (I could so imagine myself doing this.) How did you come to write this book?

CUT SHIN CREEK was a true labor of love. The book was actually one of those "happy accidents" that happens once in a while. In a million ways it felt like it was "given" to me. My son was working on his 9th grade research paper and he asked me to help find some things on the WPA. Of course, if you do an internet search on the WPA about a million things show up. But right up front, I saw the site that Jeanne had posted. It wasn't anything that Jacob could use, but I bookmarked it anyways.

Later, I went back and just felt enchanted by it all. As a child, the two things I loved more than anything in the whole world were horses and books. And here, right in front of me was this program that had horses and books. I contacted Jeanne, and we started a conversation. Then she invited me to come to Kentucky and roam around in the state archives and several university libraries. Then we had the good fortune of meeting Grace Lucas, who was one of the packhorse librarians. That was an amazing wonder of a moment. She let us come into her home and talked to us for a couple of hours. A sweetie pie.

I initially thought I wanted to write a picture book but there were so many wonderful photographs that it just seemed like a photo-essay was the way to go. And I really wanted to include Grace's story - which is actually the part in the book called "the way it might have been." I'm happy to report that a picture book now exists, written by Heather Henson, called THAT BOOK WOMAN. It's simply beautiful, with art by David Small. I'm so glad that these brave women have their stories out there. We can all learn from their dogged determination.

Kathi - when I first read your middle-grade novel, THE UNDERNEATH, I found myself swept away. I walked into my critique group and said "Read this book. It's destined to become a classic." Tell us a little about your inspiration for this story.

THE UNDERNEATH started as a short story about a boy who rescued a cat from the creek that ran by his house. It was loosely based upon an experience that my son had when he was about 8 years old and befriended a kitten that had been abandoned. The story kept whispering to me, as if it had things about it that needed exploring. I like to think of THE UNDERNEATH as taffy. I kept pulling and pulling at it, stretching it out. Three years and twenty something drafts later, it became the story that it is. In the meantime, I wrote the boy right out of it. Hopefully, I'll think of a different place to put him.

I know that earlier in your career, Kathi, you have written many picture books. How is the process different for novels?

Picture books are still my first true love I think. For me, I can carry a "whole" picture book in my head around with me. For a novel, I can only wrap my thoughts around different bits and pieces at a time. So, it's different in that my focus switches here and there. Plus, it takes me a long, very long, time, to write a novel.

Can you give us a glimmer into your writing process? Are you a plotter or a pantser?

I'm not sure I know what a pantser is, but I will say that I spend a lot of time trying to figure out where my story is going to end. If I have the end in sight, I can get there. I do keep a kind of informal outline, one that is malleable and that I can bend or change. It helps me to have at least that broad map, so that I don't get stuck or so that I don't write myself right off the cliff.

In your novel THE UNDERNEATH, the setting of the Texas swamps and bayous plays almost as big a part as the characters. What drew you to write about this?

I lived in East Texas for a short time, but it doesn't take a long time to really let that area get under your skin. The piney woods, with its beautiful trees and its swampy bayous and creeks, has a kind of dual enchanted/creepy feel about it. Mucking about in there makes you think that anything could happen in those woods. They feel ancient and removed from the rest of the world. I love it there. I think there are other stories to be found there.

Kathi - I think we both share a love of animals - particularly cats. How difficult was it to write about the perilous circumstances of Ranger, Mama Cat, Puck and Sabine in THE UNDERNEATH?

It was hard. I cried a lot. The animals' story is based upon an incidence in my own childhood. We had a big old dog named Sam, and one day a very small calico cat wandered into his domain and started eating out of his food bowl. It seemed dangerous for her to do that, but she and Sam became best friends. A few weeks later, she had four kittens and Sam became the hound-dog papa. So that was based upon a very real happening in my life.

Tell us a little about your new novel - KEEPER. It appears to me that perhaps setting will play a large part in this book, also. Can you enlighten us?

KEEPER is set along the Texas coast. My grandmother lived in Galveston, so I've wanted to write a story set there for many years. In the story, I actually made up my own town. Galveston is so associated with storms now that I felt that putting my story there would call up too many storms. The hero of my tale is ten-year-old Keeper, who believes that her mother is a mermaid. Keeper has been living with Signe, a young woman who has taken care of her since her real mother swam away. The story is Keeper's quest to find her real mother.

In KEEPER, it looks like once again an animal will be involved prominently in the plot. Explain how you feel about animals in stories, and how they may or may not enrich our experience.

Oh, I love animals in books. My favorite book as a child was BLACK BEAUTY, and if you'll recall it's told in first horse point of view. In addition, I think that using animals as characters gives all of us an opportunity to see the world from different angles. One of the main characters in KEEPER is Captain, a seagull who loves watermelon. When Captain is narrating, he's primarily looking down. It's hard to have flying humans in books, so why not a seagull? It opens up all sorts of possibilities.

One of the things I love about your writing, Kathi, is your unique voice. In fact, reading your novels - your use of repetition, your poetic language - has been an inspiration for me to find my own writing voice. Can you give writers any kernels of wisdom to take home?

The main thing is to trust your own way of saying things. And instead of listening to the chatter around you, listen to you heart. It will always lead the way. Always.

Book Giveaway

If you would like a copy of Kathi Appelt's newest book, KEEPER, leave a comment on what you liked best about this interview.

Repost or retweet for another chance to win.

Contest open until midnight, Pacific Time, May 15th, 2010.

Winner chosen at random and book will be shipped to US addresses only.

Good Luck, everyone!

Kathi - Thank you so much for stopping by with your words of advice and inspiration!