Monday, August 18, 2014

The Return of Eleanor Hill-- And a Giveaway!

Congratulations to Linda Phillips who won a copy of last week's giveaway, Turning On a Dime. Stay turned faithful blog followers, I have more books to give away over the next few weeks!

I met Lisa Kline when she presented a workshop on historical fiction at one of the first SCBWI events I organized in Charlotte. As she shared her process of writing Eleanor Hill and the way she used her family's history and primary documents, I was hooked. I knew after reading her book that this was the genre I wanted to explore. 

Here is a summary of the story from Lisa's website:
Twelve year old Eleanor Hill knows that women in other places do more than hang laundry, tend gardens, and fry fish for dinner. But in Atlantic Grove, her isolated North Carolina village, most girls see nothing more in their futures than marriage to a fisherman and the meager existence that goes with it. Eleanor longs to experience the fast-changing world beyond Atlantic Grove -- she'd like to drive an automobile, see a picture show, and most of all, attend high school. 
At last she has her chance. Without her papa's permission, Eleanor leaves home to live with her aunt and uncle in nearby New Bern. As she discovers the satisfactions of higher education, Eleanor also attracts the attentions of a handsome Italian immigrant boy and a prominent doctor's son. While spending her teenage years in New Bern, Eleanor begins to realize how valuable love and family are in her struggle for self-reliance. Set against the exhilarating backdrop of 1910's America, this engaging novel vividly portrays one girl's search for identity and experiences. 
Eleanor Hill was first published in 1999 by Cricket. In March of 2014, it was newly released. I asked Lisa to share some background about the book as well as the process of bringing it back into print.

CAROL: Where does Eleanor Hill fit into your career as a writer? What did you learn by writing it? 

LISA: This was my first novel. I used my grandmother’s letters and photos from her childhood and young adulthood as the basis for my story. I felt my way along and had absolutely no idea what I was doing. My grandmother’s spirit truly must have been looking over my shoulder as I wrote, because after I sent it out I had two publishers make offers for it. And then it won the North Carolina Juvenile Literature Award.  

CAROL: I know it is based loosely on your grandmother's life. Can you give some details about how you created the story? What about your grandmother's life prompted you to write this book? What did you include? What did you fictionalize? How did other family members react to the book?

LISA: I found out from my mother, the day before my grandmother’s funeral, that she had been one of the first women in New Bern, North Carolina to learn to drive a car. I was fascinated with that. I thought she must have been a spirited and independent young woman. It made me want to know more about her, and perhaps write about her.

Also, when I inherited her letters, I found a number of notes from young men. One said, “Will you company (sic) me to church this Wednesday?” Of course the young men couldn’t call girls up because a small town like Atlantic had very few telephones in 1910. I knew that my grandmother’s love life needed to be part of my story. She also kept her monthly budgets, and so I saw that she used some of her salary to help her family members, and that made me admire her deeply. I fictionalized some of it, borrowed some of it from the letters, and used some of what I’d learned from my mom about my grandfather.

Family members in general seemed pleased. I have a cousin who bought lots of copies for her friends and family members. I did later hear that some people didn’t like the way I’d portrayed some family members, and felt very bad about that. I’d changed everyone’s name, and almost all characters I’d made up since I hadn’t known them. But it opened my eyes to being even more careful about things like that.

CAROL: What was the impetus for bringing it back into print? Whose decision was it? Any challenges with that?

LISA: I was approached by a small press called The Bridge about republishing Eleanor Hill. ( A board member had read and loved the book. The press takes on select projects and I was honored to have my book be one of them.  I had gotten the rights back from Cricket many years ago – that’s something writers should always do when a book is taken out of print – and you do that just by writing your publisher a letter requesting that rights be returned to you.
CAROL: Tell us about the cover change. Why and how was that image picked? 

LISA: The cover is a photograph of my real grandmother on a dock in her hometown of Atlantic. My daughter, Kelsey Kline, a graphic designer, designed this cover. I love it. There are two men standing on the dock, both ostensibly ignoring my grandmother but in fact very much noticing her. And much of the book is about my grandmother’s decisions about family and independence and men, so it captures the essence of the book perfectly.

Here's your chance to win an autographed copy of this outstanding book for a special girl in your life--or just for yourself. Leave me a comment by 7 PM on August 22. Make sure I have your email address too! For every time you post this giveaway on your social media of choice, I'll add your name to the hat an additional time.  

If you don't win, look for Eleanor Hill on Amazon,  Barnes & Noble, Powells, or Indiebound

Monday, August 11, 2014

Turning On a Dime- A Review and a Giveaway!

Time travel. The Civil War. Multi-cultural. Horses. Romance. There aren't many books that fit such a wide variety of categories--but Turning on a Dime by Maggie Dana does just that.

Samantha DeVries' father is Lucas DeVries, a third-generation American of Dutch descent and master horseman; her mother, Gretchen, is an African American and a history buff who has traced her family's lineage back to 1875.

Caroline Chandler is the daughter of a plantation owner in Mississippi who prefers her brother’s riding breeches to petticoats and pantalettes. But in spite of her tomboyish interests, she has lived within the boundaries of privilege and mid-19th century decorum. Soon after the story begins, Caroline is sent to a neighboring plantation for a dreaded social visit. While there, she learns that her family has fled their farm after Union soldiers commandeered it. 

Samantha (Sam) and Caroline’s worlds intersect when Sam visits her father’s friend’s antebellum home to look at horses. Sam picks up what appears to be a dime from her bedroom floor and falls asleep listening to Lady Gaga on her Iphone.  When she wakes up, Caroline is staring at her and wondering what a slave is doing sleeping in her bed.

Sam gradually convinces Caroline of who she is, although she admits that she doesn’t know how she got there. Caroline is barely prepared for her guest from the future: she has read about a man who travels to the future and sees horseless carriages and flying machines. But she is even less prepared to see a black girl who speaks, acts, and thinks as independently as Sam does. Fortunately, their mutual love for horses helps ease them over their initial discomforts. Or as Sam says, “No matter who you’re talking to, if they love horses you can get beyond whatever barriers you think are out there...” (p. 45)

Told from both girls’ points of view, the reader watches as Sam and Caroline experience slavery’s painful effects. I particularly enjoyed their “ah ha” moments.  When Sam first realizes she must act like a slave in order not to be detected she thinks,
“I am in a nineteenth-century horse barn facing a man with a whip—a mean looking thing with a knotted leather thong—and I can tell he’s dying to use it on me.
“Yes, mister,” I mumble.
He raises the whip. “Go.”
So I shuffle off trying to look as dejected as possible, but inside I am raging with fury. How did my people live like this? (p. 83)

Later, after Sam is mistaken for a runaway slave and is captured, Caroline thinks,
My fists curl into balls. Angry tears stream down my face. All I can think of is Sam huddled on the dirt floor of a slave cabin, being kicked and whipped. Without Papa to curtail him, Zeke Tuner will be brutal. He’ll unleash all his vicious fury on my dearest friend.
How did I not see this before?
Shame joins my angry tears. I’m angry with myself, and I’m ashamed of the world I’ve inhabited all my life without seeing it for what it really is.” (p. 137-8)

The author does a great job of showing the girls overcoming their initial distrust and forming their surprising friendship. In the process, each girl learns about the other girl's seemingly foreign world. Their wit and strengths are tested after Sam is captured; but working together they find a way of escape—and a way for both of them to return to their families. 

Maggie Dana’s love for all things equestrian is neatly woven into the narrative and the plot. Although separated by 150 years, from the moment that Sam asks Caroline,  “What is your horse’s name?”  they have a common bond. From the saddles, tack, to horse quirks and mannerisms, this novel is a great example of an author using what she knows to build a believable, fictional world.

I would recommend this book to girls from 6th-10th grade, as well as to adults who want to use their own life experiences as a springboard into fiction. And while you’re at it, it’s a terrific example of interlacing multiple genres into one novel. Read it. Enjoy it. Learn from it.
To enter the giveaway for an autographed copy of Turning on A Dime, please leave a comment by 8 AM Friday, August 15. If I don't have your email address, make sure you leave that too. If you post this on your social media of choice or become a new follower to my blog, I'll enter your name twice. Thanks! 

My review of this novel originally appeared on LitChat on August 7, 2014.

Monday, August 4, 2014

A (Teacher's) Blast from the Past

I've been cleaning out filing cabinets-- a once a decade task--and have found some interesting items that I saved over the years. I thought I'd share this gem, courtesy of The Sam Houston Historic Schoolhouse in Maryville, Tn.

1872 Rules for Teachers

1. Teachers each day will fill lamps, clean chimneys.

2. Each teacher will bring a bucket of water and a scuttle of coal for the day's session.

3. Make your pens carefully. You may whittle nibs to the individual taste of the pupils.

4. Men teachers may take one evening each week for courting purposes, or two evenings a week if they go to church regularly.

5. After ten hours in school, the teachers may spend the remaining time reading the Bible or other good books.

6. Women teachers who marry or engage in unseemly conduct will be dismissed.

7. Every teacher should lay aside from each day's pay a goodly sum of his earnings for his benefit during his declining years so that he will not become a burden on society.

8. Any teacher who smokes, uses liquor in any form, frequents pools or public halls, or gets shaves in a barbershop will give good reason to suspect his worth, intention, integrity and honesty.

9. The teacher who performs his labor faithfully and without fault for five years will be given an increase of twenty-five cents per week in his pay, providing the Board of Education approves. 

What do you think about these rules? I'd love to hear!

Monday, July 28, 2014

A Word from Danielle Smith: Jenn Bower's Agent

For the last month Jenn Bower has graciously shared her creative process from her childhood dreams until the time she signed with Danielle Smith of Red Fox Literary. Today you get to see Jenn's work from Danielle's perspective and why she decided to offer Jenn representation.

CAROL What drew you to Jennifer's work? 
JENN Initially I discovered Jennifer's work at the 2013 SCBWI Carolinas Fall Conference. The faculty received postcards in a bag when we arrived for the conference and also had time to preview illustrator's portfolios. During the time we had to preview the portfolios an editor and myself both commented to each other that Jenn's work was really fun and unique. Later I went back to my stack of postcards and searched for Jenn's. Once I discovered it I tucked it (and one other) away for safe keeping until I could email her later. 

CAROL What made her work stand apart from the other submissions you receive? 
JENN My exact words in the first email I sent Jenn were these: "Your characters were fun, a little quirky, and very accessible to children's books."

When I first saw her work online (she had a really well put together blog, website and had great involvement on Twitter with #kidlitart and #inktober) I was instantly pulled in by her characters. I'm constantly looking for the ever-elusive "different" or "spark" with illustrators and Jenn definitely has it. She had one character in particular I loved, a little girl with a huge amount of hair that constantly pulled in a variety of objects and animals. As they say "the devil is in the details" and in Jenn's work there were/are plenty of details and personality popping out everywhere. 

In addition to those elusive details that Jenn brought to the table, it was her submission that showed me she wanted to be a children's book illustrator more than anything else. She mentioned goals she had and her background as a working mom. Jenn's dedication to her craft and her daughter were clear to me and as someone who wants to help to build the career of the clients I work with over the years, these were very appealing to me. Obviously how I found Jenn wasn't exactly a typical submission process and I won't always know this much detail about a potential client's life right away, but knowing that we shared similar priorities was a huge draw to me. 

Jenn's illustration for the July, 2014
issue of Talking Story

CAROL Can you share your collaborative process?
JENN Over the next few months Jenn and I exchanged emails and phone calls while discussing not only text for her picture books, but also the illustration samples she was working on. The edition of the manuscript Jenn first sent me was originally over 900 words (larger than what I'd recommend sending to me, but again, this was an unusual situation) and over those months we whittled it down to under 500 words. I do this with all of my writing clients as I'm more of an editorial agent and prefer to send a polished manuscript on submission. 

Jenn and I also worked to polish her illustration samples. First, Jenn completed a full dummy for the picture book. I don't always ask for this, but because we'd not worked together before I wanted to see her full vision for the story before proceeding. We exchanged a number of phone calls after this to discuss details about the samples we were prepping for submission. Again, I look for details and though I knew Jenn had done amazing work already, I knew she could do even better with a bit of a push. She did! Jenn fine tuned things as seemingly simple as bushes, among other things, and in the end her book is something I am proud to share with editors. 

Thank you, Carol, for giving me the opportunity to share this process with you and your readers. As I mentioned, Jenn's experience may be a little different than "typical" submissions, but I find that discovering new talent is anything but a "typical" process and always an adventure. 

For more than six years Danielle Smith has been the well-known blogger behind the online review site There’s a Book, voted the BBAW’s Best Kidlit Book Review Blog and host to over two-hundred thousand page views per month. Her children’s book reviews have also appeared in top online and print publications such as Parenting Magazine and Women’s World. “There is something magical about working with children’s books,” says Smith who still cherishes the time she’s able to read with her own two children each day. As the latest addition to Red Fox Literary, Smith looks to further expand on the sterling reputation she's built within the children’s trade publishing world. Her client list includes both authors and illustrators working in genres from board books to picture books to young adult novels. Click here for submission information.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Jenn Bower: A SCBWI-Carolinas story- Authorstrator Part IV

In this last installment in this series, Jenn Bower shares how she connected with her agent, and her advice to her fellow writers, illustrators, and "authorstrators." Next week her agent, Danielle Smith of Red Fox Literary, gives us a glimpse of why she decided to represent Jenn. (You can find links to the previous blogs here.)

CAROL How did you find your agent? 

JENN My agent found me at the 2013 SCBWI – Carolinas conference.  Bonnie Adamson, Regional Illustrator Coordinator, had the brilliant idea of including illustrator postcards in the conference faculty welcome packets.  My agent, Danielle Smith picked out mine and fellow North Carolinian, Brandon Reese, to contact.  (Brandon also signed with Danielle following the conference.) Danielle and I followed each other on Twitter and Facebook for about a month while we dialogued.  She asked me to submit a writing sample and about one month later we talked on the phone. 

You always hear how finding an agent is a lot like finding a marriage partner.  Communication is key, as well as common core values, goals, ideas about the industry, and a clear understanding of how each other works.  I was really fortunate.  I sent her one story about a painting horse which she loved.  Then she asked me to send her thumbnails to show I knew how to pace and tell the story through pictures.  I passed those interviews  and that is when she offered me representation.  She is so passionate about the industry and very particular about the product we put out for submission.  We try to talk monthly and engage almost daily via social media.  I love having her by my side.  She can handle the business of getting my books in front of the right people so I can focus on creating.

CAROL: How do you work together with Danielle now?
JENNWe try to talk on the phone at least once a month. I share what I am working on or the "next great idea." Danielle will give me her feedback on where to focus based on the market and what she is hearing editors request.

I will work on a draft and try not to submit until I know it's been through the critique rounds several times and I feel 90% confident it's close. Then Danielle and I discuss her thoughts and the feedback from my critique group. She saw me really struggling through one story and finally suggested I put it down and start something new. My current 'turban' project resulted from that suggestion. Once the manuscript is fairly firm them I start 'character auditions' and sketches.

CAROL: Do you have any advice for other writers and illustrators?

JENN: #1: Don't quit your day job. Not until you are booked out at least a year in advance with projects.  This allows you to be selective about the work you WANT and LOVE to take and put out your best product.  If you are chasing a dollar to make ends meet than the choices tend to be less palatable and I think the end result suffers.  I've seen so many peers do this and end up with work they don't want to put into their portfolio.

#2 Be patient.  We are such an instant gratification oriented society.  Slow down. Take your time. Allow your voice/style to develop before launching it out into the world. Make certain it is the image you truly want to portray. I've learned this with the illustration side, the hard way.  I rushed some pieces and then had to go back and re-work them once the dust settled.  I am still learning this lesson on the writing side.  Something magical happens when you allow work to marinate a bit.

#3 Be involved. Get involved in your local SCBWI chapter.  Go to conferences, not to be discovered, but to absorb and learn.  Be involved in critique groups.  It's amazing how much you'll grow and discover through the editorial process.

#4 Be persistent. This industry is full of high/low moments.  Learn to ride the the sweet spot of the wake so you don't get beaten around so much.  Creativity is a process and not always linear.  Find ways to unwind - I knit, exercise, ride horses, do yoga and get myself unstuck often in those moments when I'm not staring at a blinking cursor on a screen.  Set achievable goals for yourself and don't overload your plate.

#5 Write a mission and vision statement for your career.  I did this in 2012 and it helped me stay focused on the tasks I needed to accomplish to complete my mission.  It was one of the biggest steps I took in moving my career forward.  I taped it up in my studio.

CAROL: Can you tell us about your book out on submission?

JENN: I am sworn to secrecy but I can say it is a book I love.  It is a story about doing what you love, at whatever the cost and coming out a winner in the end.  It’s told from the perspective of a horse who loves to paint.  I’m excited because I don’t really know of another story out there like it.

CAROL: Thank you, Jenn, for sharing your talent and advice with other writers and illustrators. I can't wait to announce, "You heard it here first," when you sign your first publishing contract! 


Jenn has promised to share her "character audition" sketches for her current work-in-progress. Since I am a part of Jenn's critique group, I can tell you that her story and accompanying illustrations will be a winner.

Meanwhile, check out Jenn's customized illustration for the current issue of Talking Story. Joyce Hostetter and I were delighted with how she cleverly illustrated the theme of "Technology and Brain Health."