Monday, May 23, 2016

A Chat with Janice Hardy: What Would You Ask the Person Behind Fiction University?

Facebook can be a huge distraction but it also can be a way to connect with people and find out what's going on in their lives. I'm never sure who I'm going to read about, but at times I find out interesting tidbits about a friend's life. 

For example, several months ago Janice Hardy, author and blogger extraordinaire, mentioned she'd just moved to central Florida and was trying to make her way through a pile of boxes. Wow! One of my favorite blog personalities was living just down the road from me! (Not exactly...but close enough.) I jotted an email and asked if we could meet sometime. It took a few months of coordinating schedules, but we finally met. 

Here are some notes while we ate a delicious lunch at Turner's Kitchen and Bar in Leesburg, Fl. (BTW, they specialize in fresh, local food if you're in the area!)

Janice's Background

CAROL: I'm always impressed with your depth of knowledge about the writing craft. How did you learn so much?

JANICE: I taught myself "on the job" and by reading every writing book I could put my hands on. I learned a lot about writing by critiquing other people when I was a member of Critters Writing Workshop.

CAROL: I'm surprised. I thought you had a degree in writing!

JANICE: My training is in commercial art. I did that to make a living, but I’ve always wanted to write. When I was little I drew stories and then wrote stories about them.

Finding the Time

CAROL: You're a novelist with three fantasy books in print, you write and self-publish excellent books about writing (Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure Foundations of Fiction Volume I) plus you post A LOT of blogs. How do you find time for everything?

JANICE: I don't. (grin) Some stuff just doesn’t get done.  And I have days when I feel like I'm behind in my own writing. My goal is a minimum of 2000 words a morning (I write for about 4-6 hours). If I'm disciplined I can write 80,000 words in two months. And that’s a book. I keep a structured schedule but make sure I take breaks. 

This might not be the best writing in the world, but it’s a pretty good draft.  In the afternoon I also try to write 1000 words a day on my writing books and/or blog posts.

I don’t check my email until noon and can walk away from it if it's not important. 

It helps to have a guest authors every week on the site besides myself. I have posts that are just story prompts. My Indie column features Indie authors and I also have a monthly, "How do they do it?" series. I've recently begun re-posting old articles on my Refresher Fridays. Real Life Diagnostics runs on Saturdays, and sometimes they can be pretty quick to write, but not always. 

I'm always trying to make writing easier for my readers, that's why I cross post to previous blogs. My husband Tom said it is more like a writer resource site than a blog.

Inside Fiction University

CAROL: What is your favorite thing to do on your blog? 

JANICE: Finding different ways to approach a tough subject for people. For example, how do I explain show don’t tell? It's gratifying when I know I have helped a writer take the next step. 

CAROL: What is the most common mistake you find in Real Life Diagnostics

JANICE: A lack of conflict; no sense of a problem. 

Inside Janice Hardy

CAROL: What are you working on right now?

JANICE: I'm revising an adult paranormal suspense that I began as a Nano novel. I wrote it for fun and it's making me laugh. I may self-publish it since I know there are readers out there for this type of book. I'm also working on a young adult science fiction fantasy. 

I'm working on a writing book on revision that I will self-publish. Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Final Draft is due this summer; it's a more fleshed out writing workshop.  I have a third Planning Your Novel Workbook that is a companion book to the writing book.  

CAROL: How long did it take before your first novel was published?

JANICE: Fifteen years. I received lots of rejections in the beginning because I didn't know what I was doing. When I had the  right book, the process of getting an agent and publisher went fast. 

CAROL: What's your opinion on critique groups?

JANICE: The sweet spot is being in the middle skill-wise. Having a few people better than you who you can learn from and a few people under you who you can help is ideal. You learn by teaching; you'll see stuff in other people’s work and either check it in your own or realize you do it too.

I have critique partners who give me different types of feedback One on characterization, another on descriptions or worldbuilding. All my beta readers have different strengths and bring something strong to the table. 

CAROL: If you could give advice to other writers, what would it be? 


  1. Don’t send your manuscript out until it’s ready.  
  2. Read and write a lot. Read widely. In your genre and other books also. It gives you ideas about how other writers handle things. 
  3. Focus on what’s unique about your story and run with it. 
  4. My high school creative writing teacher told me: “Stories are interesting people solving interesting problems in interesting ways." When your character resolves his problem, the book is over. 
  5. Write your query first. Set up the world, the characters, and what the problem is and how they’re going to resolve it. The better you know the ending, the more you'll know where you're going with your book. 
  6. A great story trumps writing skill any time.  

If you haven't already found the wealth of information Janice has on her blog, what are you waiting for? Fiction University is at your fingertips and like One Stop for Writers, is another amazing writing resource.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Linda Phillips: On Marketing, Celebrating Mental Health Month, and a FANTASTIC Giveaway!

Congratulations to J.Q. Rose who won a 1000 word, pitch, and query letter critique from Joan Edwards on last week's blog. 

This week we're hearing from Linda Phillips who is a familiar face to many of you. Her book CRAZY, came out in 2014 and she's still marketing it--although this maybe a "novel" idea for many of you. Take it away, Linda! 

Carol:  I understand you tried a new way to market CRAZY.  Care to explain what you did and how you got the idea?

Linda:  I recently exhibited the book at the Blue Ridge Bookfest, which means I wasn’t a speaker but was invited to set up a table and sell my book.  While we are speaking about marketing tools, book festivals are an interesting lot.  You need to choose them wisely, unless you have unlimited time and funds.  Many times you have to pay a registration fee, sometimes you must join the organization with an even higher fee, most times you must foot your own bill for lodging, and they usually span two days of your time.  Unless you are the featured speaker or a well-known name, you will probably average around a half-dozen sales.  But the upside is the networking, and that almost always leads to lucrative new connections, ideas, or gigs.  

Back to the Blue Ridge. Someone mentioned a well-known author who originally boosted his sales by buying up his own books.  That got me thinking outside the box, and on the drive home, I came up with this idea.  My book is about a teenage girl coming to terms with her mother’s mental illness, and May happens to be Mental Health Awareness Month.  What if I bought up some of my own books and gave them away, with the asking price of a review on Goodreads?  My agent is currently shopping my second book and she keeps reminding me that potential editors love to prowl around and look at your numbers.  The idea seemed like a win-win situation.

Carol:  How did it turn out?  What were your expectations for this experiment?  Did you meet them?

Linda:  I’ve learned over the past year-and-a-half that lower expectations reap happier results.  I put a notice on our neighborhood list serve, as well as posting on Facebook, and told myself I would be happy if I connected with a half-dozen people.  On Saturday morning I parked myself at the top of my driveway with a lawn chair and a sign, another book to read, and a bag of my books.  Here are the results:
  • Three responses from FB, including a hospital chaplain.  
  • One neighborhood acquaintance who, unbeknownst to me, is a retired counselor.
  • Two neighbors whose family members have bipolar.
  • A college student majoring in Psychology who gave me the name of her professor.  (By the end of the afternoon, I had a presentation booked with this professor.)
  • Another college professor had committed by email, and became discouraged when she discovered she couldn’t use my driveway and would have to cross the street.  
  • And sadly, more than one person who quickened his or her steps to rush by me after reading my sign, or crossed the street before having to pass by me.  If you are counting, you’ll note that I made seven positive face-to-face encounters.  I’d call it cheaper, more satisfying and certainly as successful as any book festival I’ve attended recently.  

Carol:  Would you do it again?  How would you change it?

Linda:  Yes, I am hoping to repeat it a couple more times during the month of May.  Unfortunately most of the colleges are between semesters right now.  I’m toying with the idea of sitting in front of the trunk of my car in a key parking lot, but I haven’t firmed that up yet!  Certainly if I do it again at home, I will move onto the grass so someone can pull into my driveway.  We live on a busy street, and I just hadn’t thought that one through.  Ah, the intricacies of marketing!  And if I really get gutsy, the thought occurred to me that the idea might be newsworthy and a phone call to the local paper might be in order.

Carol:  Can you share any of the conversations you had?  

Linda:  The conversations with those who “connected” followed the same pattern I’ve seen since the beginning of promoting my book.  There is a look of understanding, something that clicks in the person’s life experience that erases stigma and opens the way for awareness and acceptance.  I know that is general, but it is really the best payback I have received with CRAZY.  My goal from the beginning was to start a dialogue about mental illness, and I feel gratified and thankful that it has happened every step of the way, one person at a time.

I would just like to add that I can step back and see the change that has happened within myself as a writer since October 2014.  I think being comfortable giving the book away marks a new phase for me.  You might call it not taking myself so seriously, not taking the writing life so seriously, getting a grip, chilling out, or you name it.  I think it’s like trying to get pregnant, or being a new parent.  Once you relax, good things start happening. 
How about you? Would you be willing to read and review CRAZY? If so, Linda will send you an autographed copy. All you have to do is be one of the first five people to email Linda by noon on May 20 and promise to post a review on Goodreads. Here is Linda's email address: Enter soon!

Monday, May 9, 2016

Joan's Elder Care Guide: Empowering You and Your Elder and a Giveaway!

Although I normally feature middle grade or young adult books and authors, every once in awhile I find another author whose work I want to share with you. Joan Y. Edwards is a NC author who recently published Joan's Elder Care Guide drawing from her own life experience caring for her mother, Ethel D. Meyer. It is my privilege to have her answer some questions about her new book. 

How did you get the idea for writing the Elder Guide?

When I was taking care of my mother, the substitute caregivers told me that the plans I left for them made it easier for them to care for her. I thought if it helped them, it might help others to better care for their elders and enable them to relax while someone else cared for their loved one.

Can you give a synopsis?

Joan's Elder Care Guide: Empowering You and Your Elder to Survive gives you, the caregiver, ways to meet your physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and social needs and those of your elder to promote healing, well-being, and survival.

Based on the my research and fourteen years of
experience caring for my mother, this book provides 
many resources to find the right place for your elder to
live, explains ways to improve communication to help 
find solutions to problems, and gives organization ideas
for medical, financial, insurance, and legal documents. 
It offers ways for a caregiver to get time away from
caregiving responsibilities and contains information
substitute caregivers must have to keep their elders

Along with all this, the book explains the signs of the 
end of life, ways to celebrate an elder's life, and gives 
duties of an executor of an estate. It also includes ten 
useful charts to assist in assessing and recording an 
elder's needs and capabilities.

What is the intent for your book? 

My intention in writing this book is to empower the 
caregiver and her elder to survive by finding ways to 
meet their physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and 
social needs. I want them to have a sense of well-being.

How is it different from other books on the subject? 

It’s the only elder care guide that focuses on meeting 
the needs of both the caregiver and the elder. My book 
has techniques for getting answers you need from 
health care professionals to care for your elder. My 
book shows how to use a routine to bring about 
calmness for you, the caregiver and your elder. My 
book has charts and lists to help organize information 
needed for taking care of personal, health, legal, 
and financial affairs of your elder. My book tells how 
updating your elder’s needs assessment and organizing 
information in a notebook strengthens your ability and 
the health care professionals’ ability to meet your 
elder’s needs.

Tell us about your path to publication. I know it 
hasn’t been easy!

I submitted my manuscript to three publishers. I submitted 
to 4RV Publishing and received a contract 
from them in 2011 for the book to be published in June, 
2015. Waiting such a long time was difficult. 
Therefore, in the summer of 2013, I asked if there was a 
way to speed up the publishing process. They said if I 
bought the first 100 copies of the book, they would start 
the editing process. Since one editor wasn’t able to 
continue editing, they assigned a second editor. It took 
over two and one half years for the complete edit.

What is 4RV Publishing’s market plan and yours?

My plan is to have book signings, seminars, and 
workshops at book stores, libraries, medical centers, 
churches, or community centers.

4RV Publishing’s plan is to offer to create paperback, 
hardback, and eBooks, if I wished. One was free, I paid
extra for the ISBN number and for the formatting for 
the other two. The eBook will come out in 6 months to 
a year. 4RV attends writing conferences and local book 
festivals and takes copies of its books to sell. They
announce their new books on their blog.

Why is this book needed?

In 2000 during the U.S. Census they counted 35.0 
million people 65 years of age and over in the United 
States. As health continues to improve many of these 
will make it to their eighties and even many will live to 
be over 100 years old. Unless doctors are able to find 
cures for dementia and Alzheimer’s, these 35 million 
people may need someone to care for them. The 
Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services estimate 
that one out of five workers balances work and elderly
caregiving responsibilities. This means that as many as 
7 million people might want help caring for their 
parents. Middle-aged adults in the next 20 years may 
end up caring for parents and grandparents. My book 
will help these people find a less stressful way to meet 
their own needs and care for their elders, too.

Thanks for all this helpful information, Joan. I could have used a book like this when I was helping to care for my mother. I hope that it helps many individuals as they care for their elders. Best wishes for its success!

You can order Joan's book through any of these stores:

4RV Publishing Paperback $15.99 includes shipping within the USA

4RV Publishing Hardback $19.99 includes shipping within the USA

To celebrate her book's debut, Joan is giving away a 1000 word, pitch, and query letter critique. Leave me a comment by May 12 when I will pick a winner. Make sure you leave your contact information if you are new to my blog!

Joan Y. Edwards is an author, illustrator, and retired teacher in North Carolina. Joan's Elder Care Guide: Empowering You and Your Elder to Survive is published by 4RV Publishing. She wrote and illustrated picture book, Flip Flap Floodle, and self-published it with BookSurge in 2004. She is currently working on illustrations to self-publish her chapter book, Larry, the Terrifying Turkey.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Books for Babies: By Eleanor

As some of you know, my life has been pretty busy recently. I spent two weeks in Philadelphia helping out with my youngest granddaughter, Eleanor. This past week my husband and I moved into an apartment in Greenville, SC. Not much time for writing or blogging. Usually this blog is about writing tips, author interviews, or book reviews. Indulge me for a minute, for a post that is brought to you by my youngest guest blogger, 10-month-old Eleanor.
Lisa and Adam both love books and have been reading to Eleanor from her earliest days. 

8 days old and already a Sandra Boynton fan!

They lined her board books on a shelf that is perfect for Eleanor to grab. They usually suggest she picks three, but as we all know, sometimes it's hard to limit ourselves.

Limited in her verbal abilities, Eleanor communicates her enthusiasm in other ways.

After picking her books, there is snuggle and reading time.

Of course, we did other things besides read. 

At the park, I struck up a conversation with a young mother who told me about the 1000 Books before Kindergarten program. In Lansdowne, Pa. where they live, the library rewards children with prizes for every 100 books which are read to them. She was using an App to keep track of her daughter's books. 

As a grandmother, I just shake my head. They certainly didn't have that when my young 'uns were growing up!

If you need more ideas on promoting reading in your family, here's another great blog on How to Create Readers (and Read More Yourself) by Liz Michalski on Writer Unboxed.

Monday, April 25, 2016

One Stop for Writers: The Place to Go!

Congratulations to Clara Gillow Clark who won EMPTY PLACES by Kathy Wiechman.

Illustrators and artists have brushes, pencils, and digital tools. Similarly, writers have their own set of tools: journals, laptops, and a wide array of websites, blogs, and online resources 

In today's blog I'm featuring my new "go-to" website: One Stop for Writers. The last time I blogged about this fantastic tool created by Angela Ackerman, Becca Puglisi, and Lee Powell, I hadn't started using it. Today you're going to hear some of Angela's observations about the site, interspersed with examples from my WIP,  HALF-TRUTHS.

What is the inspiration behind One Stop For Writers? 

Becca and I love books, and as writing coaches, we love helping writers. But because our books are part list, anyone with a digital copy has to scroll through many pages to see a single entry. This isn’t ideal.  And, with many more descriptive thesauruses on our blog, nothing was in one place either. This left us frustrated and searching for a way to have everything in one spot. Lee Powell, the creator of Scrivener for Windows, came along at the perfect time, and his passion for helping writers matched our own. Together we created One Stop For Writers, a unique online library of description that also contains an arsenal of tools and information tailored to elevate storytelling. We are all about building stronger writers so more stories get into the hands of readers.

From Carol:

For those of you who are new to my blog, my YA novel is set in Charlotte, NC in 1950 and is written from 2 POV: 15-year-old Lillian (Lillie) Harris, a light-skinned descendent of a slave; and 14-year-old Anna Katherine (Kate) Dinsmore, who just moved in with her wealthy grandparents, along with her siblings and a goat named Eileen. In the course of the book the girls discover they have the same great-grandfather. The girls meet when Lillie gets a job helping Big Momma at the Dinsmores.

In the chapter I was working on today, Lillian is in the Dinsmore kitchen, helping her grandmother (Big Momma) prepare ambrosia for a fancy luncheon for Kate. Earlier I had randomly looked through One Stop's Symbolism and Motif Thesaurus and found this on "Enslavement."

The helpful tip on that page reads: "Symbolism is something that many readers recognize on either a conscious or subconscious level; including it adds a layer of richness to the story. Think about how you can add specific motifs or symbols to your setting that will reinforce the symbolism you are trying to convey. Additionally, symbols woven into the description of your scene can help reinforce your character's emotions and mood. In this way, you’ll be able to do more with less."

Since part of Lillie's struggles revolve around being help which she swore she never would be--I added this paragraph:
The kitchen is quiet except for flies buzzing outside the screen window. I hear Frankie yelling at Eileen. The goat is probably pulling on it’s rope and not wanting to be led around like a dog. Can’t say I blame her. She doesn’t belong in a small field like this. She needs to be somewhere she can romp and play.  
I had already included the texture, taste, and smell of the pineapple which Lillie was cutting and enjoying (although it made her want more), but I wanted to deepen the scene and introduce more conflict. I opened up One Stop, looked through the Setting Thesaurus list under kitchens, and found:

Rotten food! I started thinking how layering something distasteful into this scene might create more conflict. The tip on this page reads: "Settings should always be chosen with care. Consider the emotion you want your viewpoint character to feel and how setting choices, weather elements, and symbolism might build a specific mood in the scene, create tension and conflict, or even raise the stakes." 

I came up with this:
I’m about to ask Big Momma if she knows that she’s working for her half-sister when Missus Dinsmore looks in on us. "What on earth is that smell?” she asks. 
Big Momma sniffs the air. “I don’t smell nothin’ but this lovely ambrosia.” She gestures to the mixing bowl that is almost full of oranges and pineapple.  
Missus Dinsmore crinkles her nose in disgust and looks around the kitchen. “Not that. I smell something rotten.” She opens the back door, lifts the lid of the trash can, and then slams it back down. I’ve been so busy this morning I haven’t had time to haul the can out back.  
Missus Dinsmore storms back inside. “That is disgusting! Lillian, make sure you empty that can before Anna Katherine’s guests arrive!” Missus Dinsmore’s face is as red as the maraschino cherries Big Momma is spooning into the ambrosia.  

Back to Angela:

You’ve been up and running for just over 6 months. What’s the reaction so far? 

We’ve had nothing but good feedback. Hurray! I believe users are finding this site saves them time when it comes to character creation, world building, and sensory description because ideas are a click away. Story Maps is also popular, demystifying structure and character arc while allowing writers to “see” the turning points of their novel visually. And of course the expanded Emotion Thesaurus is a big favorite. It’s nice to not be stuck mid-scene trying to figure out how a character should behave and instead access lists filed with ideas for realistic body language, thoughts and visceral sensations. Writing time is precious, so anything we can do to make sure more of it is spent actually writing, the better! 

From Carol: 

When you check out this valuable resource you'll see why it's appropriately named, One Stop. And when you do, you'll be able to generate a list in your notes index that looks something like this:

These notes help me remember quirks and nonverbal behavior that are characteristic of each person. Inevitably these notes not only help me stay consistent but also prompt further associations. 

In an earlier scene Lillie boards a bus to work right after a confrontation with her best friend, Darla. She is debating about sitting in the white section. I thought about how she was feeling at that instant, looked up Self-loathing in One Stop and related words under Depression and Death. The word hollow jumped out at me and I wrote this:
Someone is coming up behind me. I hear Darla’s voice describing me as high yaller. I could sit here, but should I? 
“Girl, you need to get movin’,” a voice behind me says. I drop my hand and shuffle forward. 
I’m glad someone made the decision for me but I feel as hollow as an empty casket. What am I doing—letting someone else tell me where I belong?  
Back to Angela:

Your first upgrade included the ability to bookmark favorite content, a massive new Setting Thesaurus, and Story Maps, a visual story structure tool. What’s next? 

Deciding what’s next is always the hardest part for the three of us. We have so many ideas! A Scene Map tool and a Timeline tool is coming soon, rounding out the story structure element at One Stop. 

It won’t matter if you are a Plotter or a Pantser, we’ll have helpful story planning tools for every comfort zone! Also, an organizational system is in the works, allowing users to group bookmarks, worksheets, notes, and maps by project. This way people can have multiple stories on the go and keep everything organized. 

Honestly, it’s just a lot of fun dreaming up new ways to help writers and creating tools we believe will help them succeed. 
I hope this quick look at One Stop will whet your appetite to explore the site yourself. For those of you on Pinterest, Becca and Angela have shared some of their amazing worksheets there

Have you tried One Stop? What features do you like best?

Monday, April 18, 2016

Kathy Wiechman: Behind the Scenes of EMPTY PLACES

As promised in last week's blog, Kathy Wiechman agreed to answer a few questions about her inspiration for EMPTY PLACES

CAROL: I believe you used some family history to create this story. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

KATHY: EMPTY PLACES is not a family history, but events in family history served as inspiration for aspects of it. The fiction came first. It was only after I had created Adabel and her situation of being raised by her sister, Raynelle, that I happened to think about the fact that my husband's sister was also his mother figure. Thinking about his sister Mary helped me to flesh out Raynelle's character more.

I had also created a missing Mama, and throughout the story, it's a mystery why Mama is gone. My original idea for why she left wasn't working, so again I borrowed from my husband's family for inspiration. His mother (Helen) died when he was 13 days old. His parents had lived in Cincinnati until several years before, when at least three members of his mother's family died from tuberculosis. She feared she would die, too, so she convinced her husband to move their family of five children to the safer climate of New Mexico. Helen gave birth to two more children there, and died in a small town hospital, where medical care was much more primitive than it had been in Cincinnati. Perhaps in Cincinnati, she would have survived. Mama was not really inspired by Helen, because she died before I was born, and my husband has no memory of her. But I did borrow from her death and her fear of tuberculosis.

Both Mary and Helen are gone now, and I hope they would have liked the roles they played in helping me shape this story.

CAROL: My understanding is that within the publishing industry dialect is not looked upon too highly. Yet EMPTY PLACES is full of dialect which gives authenticity and life to your characters and setting. Can you share your thoughts about using the Appalachian dialect?
Coal miners carrying 3-tiered lunch pails to hold food and water. Carbide lamps
are mounted to soft headgear which offered no protection.

 Lynch, Ky Photo from the Benham and Lynch Collection,
Southeast Community and Technical College Appalachian Archive

Read more here:

KATHY: I wrote EMPTY PLACES in dialect, even though I know many editors don't like books in dialect. I used Polly's West Virginia dialect in LIKE A RIVER, and "got away with it," so I figured it was worth a shot. I can't imagine trying to tell Adabel's story without it, at least not in first person. I ran the dialect past many people after I wrote the first few chapters and was given a thumbs up from them all. I mention most of them in my Acknowledgements. The Kirkus Review mentions it as an "interesting choice" I made, but says it works "surprisingly well." The glowing review from School Library Journal doesn't address the issue, which is the way I like it. I feel if I make a big deal of it, it will call attention to it unfavorably. If and when someone attacks the book for it, I will decide whether to respond. 

CAROL: I thought the dialect helped me hear the voices of the characters in my head. Was it hard for you to translate what you heard into words? You have some “invented spelling”  Was that part difficult for you to do? 

KATHY: I received a lot of great advice with the dialect. Author Jan Cheripko said he uses slang for his characters and spells it phonetically. I did that in a number of places, deciding for myself how to spell the words. But I made the decision not to drop g's, as in workin' for working. I felt the number of apostrophes added by doing that could make reading it more difficult. When I read from it aloud, I drop those g's, and hope the rest of the dialect would make a reader drop them, too. It's impossible to get the whole twang clear, but I tried to come close. I didn't want to offend anyone by my use of dialect, so when I had written the first six chapters, I sent them to a Southern lady I know and asked for her opinion. She didn't feel it would offend anyone and made a few suggestions on other ways I could use it. I didn't take all her suggestions, because I felt some of them would confuse or slow down a reader.
Black Mountain Mine #30, Harlan County, Ky
CAROL: Why the coal mines in Kentucky? I remember you saying that you visited Kentucky a lot with your kids—was that part of what drew you to this story?

KATHY: What drew me to that part of Kentucky was meeting a couple who had grown up in Harlan County. They talked about company stores, company scrip, and kin who had died of Black Lung. Everything I write begins with a "spark" that makes me want to tell the story. In most of my writing, the spark was an event (the Sultana disaster, a coal mine explosion, a flood). With EMPTY PLACES, the spark was a place. I just had to set a story in Harlan County. from the Benham and Lynch Collection,
Southeast Community and Technical College Appalachian Archive
Read more here:

Read more here:
CAROL: Any comments on the state of historical fiction for young readers? I’m wondering the reactions you’ve received from reviews, teachers, or media specialists. 

KATHY: I know of several teachers who assign or read aloud LIKE A RIVER in their classrooms. And I will speak on using historical fiction in the classroom at a Children's Literature Conference in November. I think Common Core might have led to historical fiction being more readily accepted in recent years, and while Common Core seems to be on its way out, perhaps this is one good thing to come from it. The Grateful American Book Prize was developed for the purpose of getting young readers more interested in American history, and it might help more quality fiction to be written and published.

CAROL: What’s next?

KATHY: My current project is a novel about the 1937 Flood in the Ohio River Valley. It's based on my father's family's experiences during that flood.

As mentioned last week, I am giving away the ARC of EMPTY PLACES. Please leave me a comment with your contact information and I'll add it to the list I started last week. A winner will be drawn on April 21. 

For another chance to win one of Kathy's books and for a different inside view of Kathy's writing process, see Clara Gillow Clark's blog.

Monday, April 11, 2016

EMPTY PLACES: A Review and ARC Giveaway

Congratulations to Deb Allmand  who won SCAR on last week's blog.


I first introduced my husband's uncle, Robert Toupal, to middle grade historical fiction by giving him Joyce Hostetter's book, BLUE. Since then he's often my first reader when I receive an ARC. A man of definite opinions, I wondered what he would think of EMPTY PLACES (Calkins Creek, 2016) by award winning author, Kathy Cannon Wiechman
Robert Toupal
I've heard many of Bob's stories of growing up in East St. Louis in the 30's and 40's, as the son of a shoemaker. Familiar with hard times, the depression, and folks who worked hard, his comments about Kathy's second novel didn't surprise me. "People who haven't been there can hardly believe that's the way it was...Coal miners had a rough way to go."

Writers as Readers

Writers-in-training have certain writing principles drilled into their brains. 
  • Hook your reader from the start
  • Show don't tell
  • Choose specific details to show characters and settings
  • Employ verbs as your muscle words 
  • Use imagery and beautiful language to convey your story
Whenever I teach writing, I advocate learning how to write by reading good literature. Let's examine some excerpts from EMPTY PLACES to see what we can learn.

Opening Paragraphs, Specific Details, and Figurative Language 

If you'da rode into Harlan County, Kentucky, that June in a shiny new 1932 Packard, you'da seen hickories, oaks, and maples leafed out with the promise of shady places to rest and listen to birdsong.
If you'da got close enough to set in one of them shady spots, you'da heard the chug of engines pulling coal cars that squealed on aged tracks. You'da heard swear-words of miners and seen coal dust that clung to their faces, filled their pores, and caused their lungs to heave out deep, retching coughs. 
But even if you'da been close as a tick on a dog, you wouldn'ta heard the secrets each body kept, secrets not even told in whispers--secrets about my mama. 
Secrets and gossip spread through coal camps like Smoke Ridge the way a fever does, keeping folks talking. Until new gossip seeps into their lives. Old gossip, like stale bread, is all but forgotten when there's fresh bread to chew on.  (p. 7)
Are you hooked? I was! Did you get a taste for Harlan County, Kentucky during the 30's? You probably could practically hear the trains chugging through town, feel the cool shade, and sense the whispering gossip. Kathy gets an "A+" for sensory details that pull the reader into the time and place. How many powerhouse verbs do you count in these four paragraphs? As for figurative language, the comparison of gossip to how fever is spread and to stale bread are both masterful. As the story plays out, both fever and stale bread are components in this authentic Appalachian story.

The Story

Pretty quickly the reader meets spunky, 13-year-old Adabel Cutler who is trying her darndest to keep her family from falling apart. Adabel's father is a coal miner who drinks too much and fights with her big brother, Pick. Her older sister, Raynelle, wants to marry the grocer's son to help keep food on their table. Her little sister Blissie has a "sweetness that makes folks smile and forgit she's a Cutler." (p. 10). But Adabel's biggest problem is that her mother disappeared seven years ago and Adabel is tormented by the fact that she can't remember her. "Mama was an empty place in my mind." (p. 17)

Like a detective, Adabel's relentless pursuit of the truth propels her through the story and into conversations with her family and neighbors. This dialogue transpires after Pick tells her about how their father sent the children away after their mama disappeared:
"Don't ya remember? When Mama first left, Daddy shunted us young'uns off. Me to Shovel's. Raynelle and Blissie to Granny Cutler's. And you...I cain't recall who he give you to. Was it Jane Louise's mama?"
"I don't recall none of that. I only remember living in the old house with y'all. Till we moved her last year. It's always been us. You, me, Raynelle, Blissie, and Daddy."
"Ya's lucky not to remember ever'thing. Some things is best forgot."
"Ya's wrong, Pick." A mind full of empty places was worse'n the awfulest memories a body could have. (p. 67)

Each conversation leads to the next. Adabel asks Jane Louise's mother:
"But ya recollect Mama leaving?"
"I just recollect how broke-hearted your daddy was. He loved your mama deep."
It was hard to think of Daddy loving anyone deep. (p. 77)
With each new conversation, Adabel begins to put together a picture of her past that is different than what she had previously believed. 

Not having memories of her mother haunts Adabel. When she finds out the reason for her poor memory she thinks, "Knowing didn't fix the empty places in my head, but having a reason for 'em being there made me feel a heap better about it." (p. 188)

Adabel's new found knowledge gives her courage and strength. I'm not going to spoil the ending for you--I hope you decide to read EMPTY PLACES yourself--but let's just say Adabel's detective work brings healing to her family and leaves the reader feeling hopeful for her future. 

EMPTY PLACES will be a great classroom resource for middle school students studying the Depression, coal mining, and the Appalachian area.

In next week's blog, Kathy will answer some questions about the inspiration for this story. I'll pick a winner on April 21 and give away this ARC then. Leave me a comment on this post and I will enter your name. If you leave a comment next week or post this on social media (and let me know what you do!) I'll enter your name accordingly. PLEASE leave me your contact information if you are new to this blog.