Monday, November 24, 2014

Liesl's Ocean Rescue and a Giveaway!

Congratulations to fellow blogger, Rosi Hollenbeck, who won an autographed copy of Maggie Dana's book, "Riding for the Stars."

Liesl's Ocean Rescue, an historical picture book struck a personal chord for me. It begins with the awful events that surrounded Krystallnacht; an event which deeply affected my paternal grandparents. Like Liesl the main character in Barbara Krasner's story, my mother also escaped Nazi Germany at a young age and took an ocean voyage to America. But unlike Liesl, my mother's ship docked in New York City and her family quickly traveled to Ohio to establish a new home.

Based on the true story of Liesl Joseph Loeb's voyage on the MS St. Louis, Liesl's journey was different. When the ship attempted to enter Havana on the way to America, the Cuban government refused permission to dock. After almost a week of negotiations, the ship--filled with over 900 individuals trying to escape concentration camps--was forced to return to Europe. Although Liesl's family came to America two years later, over two hundred of their fellow passengers did not survive the war. 

Although every page is full of black and white illustrations by artist Avi Katz, this poignant picture book will best be appreciated by children from 8-10 years old. It will enhance classroom instruction about the Holocaust, bring alive the difficulties that immigrants often face, and offer a great starting point for discussions about war and freedom. A teacher's guide can be found here.

I would like to pass along my gently-used Advanced Readers Copy of this book. To enter, leave me a comment by Friday, November 28. If you are a teacher or plan to donate the book to a classroom library, let me know and I'll enter your name twice. 

Monday, November 17, 2014

Movies, Horses, Runaway Piglets--and a Giveaway!

Congratulations to Linda Phillips for winning a copy of Grace Ocasio's book, The Speed of Our Lives. 

In August I reviewed Maggie Dana's book,  Turning On a Dime. When I asked her if she would share about her love for all things equine, she sent me this post which first appeared on Tudor Robins' blog. I know you will enjoy this glimpse into how Maggie used her life experiences to inform her writing. 

As I writer, I am often asked, “What got you started and how do you come up with ideas for stories?”

The first question has many answers; so does the second, and writers have covered most of them, such as: I’ve always wanted to write . . . my high-school/college English teacher told me I was a natural . . . friends can’t wait to read my next story . . . I have so many ideas, I can’t keep up with them.

And they apply to me, too. But my favorite questions, though, are these:“How old were you when you learned to ride?” and “Where did you do that?”

Being a rider and a writer, I couldn’t wait to answer.

* * *

Back in the dark ages, when helmets weren't required and we all rode in whatever outfits we could cobble together, my first riding lesson scared me so much that I didn’t try again for another three years. But all it took was the right instructor at the right stable, and I was hooked on horses for life.

My new riding teacher, Tom Taylor, was strict, but he understood kids. He drilled us on the flat and over jumps, relentlessly, without reins and stirrups — we knew better than to complain — and when we flubbed up, Tom climbed onto our horses and showed us how it should be done. No matter how cranky our horses had been, they were complete angels with Tom.

A humbling experience.

On top of all that, Tom's stable was slap bang in the middle of Pinewood Studios, England’s version of Hollywood (now home of the James Bond films, Superman, and several other blockbusters)...

 . . . complete with gigantic sound stages, odd-looking props, and movie stars wandering about in full makeup and costume. Just imagine being eight years old, riding a scruffy pony, and seeing ALL THIS AMAZING STUFF as you trotted toward the paddock where your riding lessons were held.

In addition to horses and ponies, the stable boasted a Jersey cow, two belligerent sheep, and a gigantic pig that had one litter after another. Added to this mix were numerous chickens, ducks, and turkeys that pecked at your feet if you weren’t super careful.

Us kids -- the stable rats -- took care of them all. To pay for our riding lessons, we also mucked stalls, groomed horses, stacked hay bales, helped beginners tack up and mount, and made sure the animals didn’t escape.

So, of course, they did.

One afternoon, Mother Pig and her ten piglets got gloriously loose among tea roses, herbaceous borders, and topiary trees at Pinewood's most prestigious garden party.

Picture, if you will, starlets with flowery hats and six-inch heels. Imagine film producers in tuxedos, sporting gold chains and Rolex watches, glad-handing gossip columnists and wealthy investors. Think about starched waiters circling with trays of chilled champagne. Then conjure up Mama Pig and her exuberant offspring zooming among designer-clad legs, upending buffet tables, and disappearing into the well-ordered shrubbery . . . all pursued by us delighted stable rats.

We made it last as long as we could. The last piglet wasn’t captured until well after supper.

But my best memory is about Maud, the Jersey cow, when I was put in charge of leading her from the stable and onto the set of a war film that involved rescuing a valuable cow from the German-occupied Channel Islands.

Only one problem.

The story (based on a best-selling book) called for a Guernsey cow — brown with white patches — and Maud was a Jersey (think Exmoor pony for color, as in beige). Now, this was a black-and-white film. The shade of brown wasn’t crucial, but the white patches were. So the film crew got to work with brushes and buckets of white paint while I held the cow … and it took rather a long time.

All this was heady stuff, especially for me — an awkward eleven-year-old — and I was beginning to relax when Maud ruined her moment in the spotlight by relieving herself all over the sound stage’s concrete floor.

A cow plop would've been bad enough, but this was urine.

Oh, horrors.

It splashed, it ran everywhere. I thought I would die of embarrassment. Everyone doubled up with laughter, even the tight-lipped director. David Niven, the movie's star, collapsed into his canvas folding chair and insisted the scene be written into the script.

It wasn’t, thank goodness.

A few years later, when I wound up working at the studios for Richard Attenborough and Jack Hawkins, I worried that someone would bring up the Maud incident, but nobody did.

Now that you’ve heard all this, you might wonder how I’ve used it in TIMBER RIDGE RIDERS, my horse books for kids. Mostly, I’ve pulled on my riding experience, the lessons I learned from talented instructors, and the experiences I’ve had at horse shows. But in the third Timber Ridge Riders book I was able to use my knowledge of the movie industry. The book is called RIDING FOR THE STARS, and it’s one of my favorites of the series.

Leave a comment by 6 PM on November 20 for a chance to win an autographed copy of RIDING FOR THE STARS. It would make a great holiday present for your daughter, granddaughter or niece!
Maggie Dana also writes women’s fiction. Her novel, Painting Naked, published by Macmillan, is available on Amazon and other e-book sites.


Monday, November 10, 2014

Introducing Grace Ocasio: Poet and Performer Part II

Here is the second part of my interview with North Carolina poet,  Grace Ocasio.  Click here if you missed Part I.
Photo of Grace
by Edwin Ocasio
Carol: How did you pick your publisher?  
Grace: I found BlazeVOX in a list of small presses and was  glad to see that it was open to submissions throughout the year. I received an encouraging email after my submission, but that was all. Over a year's time I received a series of emails pertaining to upcoming group readings of BlazeVOX authors as well as their online journal of poetry, fiction and nonfiction. I didn't think much of these emails except that many poetry publishers send little or no material out to potential authors. I liked that the publisher, Geoffrey Gatza, reached out without soliciting funds. His approach struck me as egalitarian in the best sense of the word.  Geoffrey is also a motivator which is highly unusual within the poetry field.  The more I interacted with Geoffrey via email exchanges, the more I knew BlazeVOX was right for me.  There was another small press interested in my manuscript, but ultimately I went with my gut feeling and committed to going with BlazeVOX.  I haven’t regretted it. 

 Carol: How will you market The Speed of Our Lives?  
Grace: I’m planning to send some books to Small Press Distribution this November, which will allow the book to be seen by many fellow poets.  Although it is available through my website, Amazon, and on BlazeVOX, I have mainly promoted the book through my readings. Selling poetry books is really not a lucrative business.   It’s most important to make connections with other poets: to go to other poets’ readings, to invest the time in attending meetings and/or conferences sponsored by organizations like the Association of  Writers and Writing Programs, the North Carolina Writers’ Network, the Poetry Society of North Carolina, and the Charlotte Writers’ Club. 

Carol: Any recommendations for other poets?  
Grace: Persist, persist, persist.  You are your own greatest promoter.  You will receive a ton of rejections and a handful of acceptances.  It is simply the nature of the poetry profession.  Don’t take it personal.  Don’t give up.  Your ultimate acceptance is just around the corner.  Hang on.

Carol: What are you working on now?   
Grace: I am working on a children’s book designed for older middle graders, The Adventures of South Bronx Sally, and my second full-length poetry project, Family Reunion.   I only have three more poems to write for the Family Reunion project, and some of those poems are making their way into small press journals. Then I hope to turn my attention entirely to South Bronx Sally soon. 
Grace will autograph a copy of The Speed of Our Lives for one of you. Leave me a comment by 6 PM on November 13 and I'll enter your name in the giveaway.  If you say what you liked about Grace's poem on last week's blog, I'll enter your name twice. Make sure you leave me your email address if I don't have it. 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Introducing Grace Ocasio: Poet and Performer- Part I

Congratulations to Melodye Shore who won a copy of Linda Phillips' book, CRAZY.
For the next two weeks I welcome North Carolina poet Grace Ocasio, to my blog. Today you will read about why she writes in a poetic style and will be treated to a selection from her recently released book, The Speed of Our Lives (BlazeVOX Books) Next week you'll hear about her marketing plan, what she is working on next, and have the opportunity to win a copy of her book. 

Take it away, Grace!

CarolWhy poetry?  

GracePoetry is the medium I’ve always written in, ever since I was fourteen years old and a regional and national participant within the poetry field of the NAACP-sponsored program, the Afro-Academic, Cultural,Technological and Scientific Olympics.  Shortly before I began writing poetry in 1979, I listened to Gil Scott-Heron’s album, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.  As a result, I started tinkering with the English language.  Scott-Heron inspired me to write in a conversational style very different from what I was learning in my eighth grade English class!  I will always be indebted to him for instilling in me the desire to write poetry.

Carol: It's great that positive experiences in your high school years laid the ground work for your present accomplishments. What was the specific inspiration for The Speed of Our Lives

Grace:   I knew that I wanted to write a poetry collection that would contain a poem for everyone.  I had concluded that my poetry chapbook, Hollerin from This Shack (Ahadada Books, 2009), was a bit dark, a bit pessimistic regarding humanity.  So I wanted to lighten up somewhat. I wanted to pull people in who might not ordinarily read poetry and still tackle topics that were important to me.  

Carol: What links the poems together?

Grace: The poems are loosely linked: the first section is about famous women;  the second section is autobiographical, regarding my varied experiences in my twenties, thirties, and early forties; the third section focuses on famous men and some nature poems; and the fourth section is primarily about black men, some famous, some not-so-famous.

Here is one of Grace's poems, Ars Poetica, from the second section of the book called, She Revolutionary. I think many of you will resonate with the sentiments she expresses in it.

They laughed when I asked
for pancetta,
those grocery store clerks.

I don’t care.
It’s better to be chic
than to lie

in some bland corner
of a room,
wilting and frumpy.

What do I care
for the woman
who never dares to wear

a houndstooth jacket?
It’s up to us to set
the speed of our lives.

Audrey, for instance,
could dazzle
simply by placing

an ordinary swatch
against her skin:
chiffon, silk, organza.

To the nay-sayers I say
if you choose to live
like toads why should I care?

It would have been easier
to ask for Italian bacon.
But isn’t it better

to be swift than rushed?
Better to be svelte than thin?
Better to seek than to settle?
(first appeared in Rattle, Summer 2009, special issue: Tribute to African American Poets)

Join us next week for a chance to win a copy of The Speed of Our Lives.  


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