Monday, April 30, 2018

You Heard it Here First: Viviane Elbee's Cover Reveal!

Today I'm delighted to introduce you to Viviane Elbee and her debut picture book, TEACH YOUR GIRAFFE TO SKI (Albert Whitman, November 2018). I met Viviane in 2010 when she attended the Charlotte, NC critique group which I led. She came to our group brimming with ideas but without the writing or publishing experience to bring her manuscripts to life. I remember suggesting that she join SCBWI and attend the Carolinas conference. She recently told me she was glad I convinced her to take those steps! 

Although I don't have a picture of Viviane and I (my cell phone didn't take pictures then!), here's where we first met:

And here is Viviane with her sparkling smile now:

Path To Publication

Without further ado, let's hear from Viviane.

CAROL: How did you get to this point in your writing career?

VIVIANE: I've wanted to be a writer since I was 8, but I couldn't seem to finish any of the novels I started. After the birth of my first child I fell in love with picture books and board books. About 8 years ago, I wrote a few stories and joined an in-person SCBWI critique group. My supportive and encouraging critique partners urged me to turn one of those stories into a picture book. A year later, I joined SCBWI and went to my first SCBWI conference, which was inspiring and informative. 

Three years after I joined the Charlotte critique group, one of my very prolific critique partners (Dorothy H. Price) got a publishing offer. I was very excited for her, and her success taught me an important lesson. Prolific authors are more likely to get publishing offers. I had spent three years perfecting one manuscript but I had nothing else in the pipeline. To push myself to be more prolific, I joined Julie Hedlund's 12x12 community. With the help of 12x12, I was able to write 12 new drafts that year. 

After many years of writing, reading and learning, I got my first acceptance from Highlights High Five magazine and was awarded a diversity scholarship from 12x12.

CAROL: What was your inspiration behind TEACH YOUR GIRAFFE TO SKI?

VIVIANE: I share that journey in this blog post.

CAROL: How did you meet your editor, Annie Nybo?

VIVIANE: I signed up for a critique at the SCBWI-Carolinas 2016 conference, and was very lucky to get Ms. Annie Nybo as a critiquer. I was convinced she would have tons of fabulous advice on how to improve my manuscript. To my surprise, when I walked in, she exclaimed that she had been looking forward to meeting me. She was very enthusiastic about TEACH YOUR GIRAFFE TO SKI and asked me if I could change the ending and submit the story to her. Then she asked me if I had any questions, but I was in such a state of shock I'm not sure any questions came to mind. 

After the conference was over, I changed the ending and submitted my manuscript to her. I didn't hear anything for months. When I finally decided to nudge, I discovered Annie had left her publishing house. 

A few months later, one of my critique partners texted me. Annie Nybo had joined Albert Whitman and Company. I decided to send her a nudge email, though it had been nine months since the initial submission and I wasn't even sure she would still remember my story. I included the full manuscript with my nudge email, just in case. 

Twenty-four hours later, Annie sent me a publishing offer. My manuscript was the first one she showed the editorial staff at Albert Whitman!

CAROL: What a great story, Viviane. How did you get your agent?

VIVIANE: I signed with Natascha Morris at Bookends Literary Agency after getting the offer of publication from Albert Whitman. I sent "Offer of Publication" queries to five agents including Natascha. She was already familiar with the story because she had seen it while working at Simon and Schuster. 

Cover Reveal

Now for the moment you've all been waiting for, here is Viviane's cover marvelously executed by Danni Gowdy!


Leave me a comment and your email address (if you are new to my blog) and I'll put your name in the hat to receive the ARC of this humorous picture book. I'll be reviewing it later this year and I'll give it away then. 

Remember! One way we support our favorite authors is by pre-ordering their books. If you pre-order now, you don't have to pay for shipping! Here's the link to Barnes and Noble. 

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Summer Writing Classes

If you are in the Greenville or Easley area, I'm teaching one adult class and two writing camps for kids and would like you (or your child) to join me!


Are you interested in strengthening your writing skills and developing tools to write compelling fiction? Join me at Joe's Place in Greenville, SC from 5:30-7 every Monday evening in June. We will explore theme, deep point of view, voice, the role of the antagonist, world building, deepening scenes, plus editing and revision. Classes combine lecture with writing activities, critique, and feedback and are suitable for all writing levels. Previous writing and/or publishing experience is not necessary.  Class size is limited to 8. Interested in attending? Shoot me an email at


June 4 Deep Point of View and Developing Your Character’s Voice

June 11 The Role of the Antagonist and Creating Authentic Dialogue

June 18 World Building and Deepening Scene Intensity

June 25 Theme: What is the Big Idea? Editing and Revision.

Payment Information

Classes are $40.00 each and you can pay through Pay Pal (top right of the sidebar) or the evening of the class with a check or cash. Or, receive a $20.00 discount by paying $140.00 ahead of time for the entire month. 



Blogging for Kids  
June 11-15, 2-4, $80.00. Rising 6th-10th graders.

Does your child dream of becoming a reporter or newscaster? Then he or she needs to practice descriptive writing! In this fun blogging camp, students will learn how to write attention-grabbing articles that will be posted on our camp blog. They will gain valuable critiquing skills as they comment on each other posts. Each camper needs an email address and Laptop or IPad in order to compose during class and post their work on the blog. A phone or camera is helpful, but not necessary. 

Register online at Fine Arts Center of Easley or call 864-442-6027.

Fiction 101 for Tweens and Teens

July 16-20, 1-3 PM, 4-10th grade, $80.00

This is for the budding author in your family! This fun, hands-on writing camp will stretch imaginations and promote creativity. On the first day we will lay the ground work by acquiring writing tools such as Learn from Literature; Exercise Muscle Words; Show, Don’t Tell; and Details Make the Difference. From there, campers will create an authentic character, sensory setting, and believable plot. Laptops or iPads are recommended but not required.

Register online at Fine Arts Center of Easley. Or call 864-442-6027.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Crossing Ebenezer Creek- A Review and ARC Giveaway

Congratulations to Clara Gillow Clark who won I AM FAMOUS and Sheri Levy who won SHARK NATE-O.
Two scruffy, scraggly bearded soldiers in sky-blue trousers and dark-blue sack coats flanked the root cellar doors. Musket rifles at the ready.
From astride a bay steed, a third white man--crisp, clean shaven, long, lean--looked down on her and the boy. (pp. 8-9)
What a way to set the scene! Although this isn't the opening of Crossing Ebenezer Creek, through the use of precise details the author, Tonya Bolden, quickly establishes the time, place, and some of the characters the reader will meet.  

School Library Journal Best Book of 2017, Young Adult
Mariah, a young Georgia slave, has lived all her life waiting for this day. So when Yankee soldiers arrive and pronounce "Freedom!" she hardly knows what to do first. She grabs her younger brother, Zeke, and starts desperately to look for the other slaves to make sure they all leave the Chaney plantation as soon as possible.

One of the men who liberates the plantation is a black soldier, Caleb. He is immediately drawn to her.

Mariah. Strong, proud-sounding name. But then he remembered that passage in Exodus about a place named Mariah. "A place of bitter water," Caleb said to himself.
How bitter her days? Caleb speculated on how much hell Mariah had endured, especially with her being such a pretty one. Mahogany. Her dark eyes had a shine like diamonds. Lips a bit pouty. Button nose. (p. 25) 
I love how this paragraph with it's small snippet of dialogue reveals so much:
When the signal to fall in came, Caleb looked back, saw Mariah heading for his wagon. His heart sank when she climbed into the back, but then his spirit soared when she pulled a quilt out of one of her sacks and placed it over Zeke and Dulcina.
"Captain Galloway gave you some good news?" Mariah asked as she rejoined Caleb in the buckboard.
"Not really. Why?"
"You look like you won a prize or something." (p. 37)
As more people join the march, or as Mariah calls, "one moving wound," the two very slowly get to know one another. And like the slow moving march itself, their friendship and love develop slowly. Each one has deep wounds in their past that make trusting each other almost impossible. 

Ms. Bolden reveals Mariah's and Caleb's backstories through flashbacks. In this one, Mariah remembers Nero, the slave driver who constantly harassed her. She would always be on the look out for, 
Him peeping at her through the cookhouse door, making nasty gestures.
Him trying to sneak up on her when she headed to the chicken coop.
Him once just staring at her, mumbling about extra dresses, more food, and how she was to respect the white in him. (p.105) 
Caleb's backstory comes out when he tells Mariah about the white man he almost killed because he had killed his sister, Lily. 

"You killed the man?" Mariah interrupted when Caleb told of picking up a brick.
"Was about to when something came over me. It wasn't like I heard some still, small voice. More like I saw myself becoming a worse evil, knew if I murdered the man, his blood...never enough. Me, I'd never be right. I'd only soil my soul." (p. 189) 
I appreciated the Christian sub-theme that ran throughout the book. At one point Captain Galloway is training new soldiers to help the ex-slaves. Caleb sits in on one of the captain's talks "where he [the captain] handed out tracks about slavery. And now he watched him put another plan into action, starting with Privates Sykes and Dolan. "They say they are Christians. I want to help them prove it."

The privates are given the job of distributing food. Later in that scene one of the privates says, "I was just--it sounds like we'll be serving them...them."... "You will be serving your Lord and Savior," said Captain Galloway. (p. 53-4)

I don't want to give away the ending, but it crept up on me and although in retrospect I saw it was predictable--yet it still surprised me. Based on the true account of Ebenezer Creek, this beautifully written story will be useful in the classroom and appeal to both girls and boys, as well as adults. I highly recommend it. 


I am giving away this middle grade novel for boys and girls in conjunction with the spring issue of Talking Story on Prejudice. Leave a comment here for one chance; leave a comment through the newsletter and I'll enter your name twice. Giveaway ends April 30th. 

Monday, April 16, 2018

Two Sisters + Two Debut Picture Books = Two Great Giveaways!

When I read in the SCBWI-Carolinas Facebook Pal Group that Tara Cattie Luebbe's debut picture book was coming out in March, I asked if she wanted to share her path to publication. She not only agreed, but offered to give away a copy of each book! Details on how to enter the giveaways are below.

Author Interview

CAROL: Can you share the backstory for each of these books? How did you got your ideas and how did the stories develop?

TARA: I AM FAMOUS is about a little girl who believes she is a famous actress, singer, and dancer. Because she is famous, she’s always being photographed by the paparazzi (her parents). When she messes up her biggest gig ever, she realizes her fans are the best kind—loyal. 

Albert Whitman, March 2018

The idea for I AM FAMOUS came from listening to Weird Al. He has a parody of Taylor Swift’s song You Belong to Me called TMZ, which is about the paparazzi stalking celebrities. It reminded me of today’s parents, social media and their children. 

SHARK NATE-O is about a shark-obsessed boy who pretends he is a shark, but who can’t swim. He takes swimming lessons and uses shark facts along the way to help overcome his fear. There is also a nonfiction shark fact section in the back. 

Little Bee Books, April 2018

The idea for SHARK NATE-O came from a boy in my second-grade class who always pretended to be a shark and would chomp us at recess. But that wasn’t enough for a picture book. It wasn’t until my own son, Nate, went through a shark phase while also taking swimming lessons that I began to envision the story. My brother called him “Shark Nate-O” and that was the lightening rod, and title, I needed.

CAROL: Both books are co-written with your sister, Becky Cattie. Can you share your collaborative process?

Tara and Becky

TARA: It was never the plan to co-author with my sister. When I began writing, I sent her my first story and she sent it back half-changed for the better. So, I asked her if she wanted to do this together! We live in different states, so we do a lot on email and phone calls. We just go back and forth until it’s right. 

CAROL: Was there any interaction between the two of you and your illustrators? 

TARA: We had no contact with the illustrators during the process. Any art changes we wanted to suggest were made through the editors. 

CAROL: Are you agented? What was your path to finding the publishers?

TARA: I am represented by Tracy Marchini of Bookends Literary. Both of my debut books were post-conference submissions from the SCBWI Illinois Prairie Writers and Illustrators Day. We heard from both publishers soon afterwards and were able to get Tracy on board to help us from there. 

CAROL: What role did SCBWI Carolinas have in publication of these books?

TARA: I joined SCBWI-C shortly after beginning my writing journey. Through the organization I met valuable critique partners which has been a huge part of my success. I enjoy the conference every year and love connecting with other writers from our great region. 

Support Authors!

I've talked about how you can support authors by pre-ordering their books. Another way is to request your local library to purchase a copy. It only takes a few minutes to fill out a request form and authors really appreciate it!


Tara and Becky are giving away a copy of I AM FAMOUS and SHARK NATE-O. Please leave me your name AND email address (if you are new to my blog). The top two names selected by will win books on April 20th. 

Tara Luebbe is an ex-retailer turned picture book author. She co-writes with her sister Becky Cattie. They are the authors of I AM FAMOUS, illustrated by Joanne Lew Vriethoff, (Albert Whitman 2018); SHARK NATE-O, illustrated by Daniel Duncan, (little bee books 2018); I USED TO BE FAMOUS, illustrated by Joanne Lew Vriethoff (Albert Whitman Spring 2019); and CONAN THE LIBRARIAN (Roaring Brook Press Spring 2020). She is also the founder of Writing with the Stars, a free mentorship program for aspiring picture book writers. You can learn more at and you can find her on Twitter @t_luebbe.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

A is for Astronaut: A Picture Book Review and Author Interview

To celebrate the International Day of Human Space Flight, I am pleased to give you a peak into a new book by retired astronaut, Clayton Anderson (Sleeping Bear Press, May 2018). 

A is for Astronaut: Blasting Through the Alphabet, will appeal to readers of many ages. Like other books in Sleeping Bear's ABC list, each letter of the alphabet is anchored by a short poem for readers ages 5-8 and a longer exposition for 9-11 year-olds. 

Illustrated by the talented Scott Brundage, each picture amplifies the text as in, B is for Blastoff.

Amazing illustration!

Here is the poem for N which stands for...NASAWhat else?
The world loves outer space; it's a grand destination,  
And NASA's the group representing our nation.  
The N stands for National, and it gives us such pride  
when a rocket is launched with our flag on its side! 

Don't you love the young astronomer's t-shirt?

I liked the R page because of the accessible description of Rendezvous. Here's the second paragraph:

Consider the much-simplifed example of a football game where the coach has called for a pass play. In order for the pass play to be successful, the quarterback must throw the football (spaceship one) to the pass receiver (spaceship two) who will catch the ball. The quarterback throws the ball to where the receiver is going to be--not where he is at the instant he makes the throw. When the ball finally arrives and the receiver makes the catch, the play is a success! This is similar to the way spaceships will dock, or meet, in space.

That's an explanation I will remember!


“Astro Clay”–Astronaut Clayton Anderson's story is one of perseverance. He applied 15 times before NASA selected him as an astronaut in 1998; and he spent 30 years working for NASA, 15 as an engineer and 15 as an astronaut. He is the first and ONLY Astronaut selected from the State of Nebraska. 

This STEAM book will be a great addition to any school or home library. Here's a brief interview about how this book came to life.

CAROL: What prompted you to write A Is For Astronaut?

CLAY: I was in Omaha, NE at the West Town Barnes and Noble, preparing for a book signing with my first book, The Ordinary Spaceman.  The store manager kept pulling me over to the nearby children’s section.  “You should write a children’s book,” she said.  

Hesitant, I shrugged my shoulders and replied, “Yeah… maybe one day.” 

She pointed out specific publishers, continually mentioning Sleeping Bear Press (SBP).  “They don’t have ‘A is for Astronaut’,” was her firm “suggestion.”  Shrugging my shoulders once again, and feigning only brief interest, I was overjoyed when the actual book signing began and turned my focus onto something I actually understood!  

A few months later, during some idle time at home, I did a Google search on SBP.  It was then that I finally woke up and saw their tremendous success with their alphabet book series.  Electronically investigating “A is for Airplane,” and a couple other titles on their highly populated series list, I thought to myself, "I can do this!”

Immediately I began to formulate the words I would use for each letter of the alphabet.  A was easy… astronaut.  B followed suit with Blastoff.  I was cruising until I got to letters like F and K and I.  Some more research via the internet gave me all 26 letters and a corresponding space term.  Then came the poems. I actually finished the entire book in about 1.5 weeks! 

CAROL: What was the most difficult part to write—the poems or the expository text? Why? 

CLAY: The expository text was the most difficult for me, although difficult is a relative term.  The poems simply “flew” from my brain (do you like that space reference?!)  Writing them was a tremendously fun process. With the text however, a different challenge was presented.  I was seeking to entertain, educate, and inform, while at the same time creating interesting reading material that was technically correct and had the ability to “stretch” the young reader’s vocabulary. 

Certain space concepts (e.g., rendezvous) forced me to dig a bit deeper as a writer.  Often speaking to young children in schools, I use visual demonstrations to communicate some of the more technical aspects of flying in space.  It became a simple matter of putting those demonstrations down on paper.  A second part of the challenge was technical accuracy.  I don’t claim to be an expert on “all things space.”  Heck, I’m just an astronaut.  Finding adequate reference material to ensure that what I wrote was valid and correct, required a bit more digging than I thought would be necessary.  In the end I think we succeeded masterfully, but I’m partial!

When speaking to kids and young adults around the nation, I constantly implore them to remember that “…they are just like me.”  They can be anything they chose to be.  It will take hard work, a lot of help, and a little bit of luck, but the future is theirs.  They must dare to make it extraordinary. 


Check out this fun video starring Clayton Anderson--as himself! 

Monday, April 9, 2018

Men Who Hate Women and the Women Who Love Them: An Audio Book Review

As most of you know, I generally review books for children or teens. But every once in awhile I share books for adults. This time, I'm tackling a serious topic in a book by psychologist, Dr. Susan ForwardMen Who Hate Women and the Women Who Love Them.

Before listening to this book, I had never heard the word misogynistic and had no idea that it meant "reflecting a distrust, hatred, or mistreatment of women." Nor did I have any idea how prevalent this syndrome is today.

Originally published in 1986, it was re-released as a paper back in 2002 and is now available in audio format through Tantor Media. The narration by Randye Kaye was clear and easy to follow. 


In Part I, Dr. Forward describes the symptoms of a misogynist relationship through family histories of her patients as well as stories she heard time and again as a talk show host. The women find themselves the recipients of ridicule, are always seen at fault if conflicts arise (and what marriage doesn't have conflict?), and are frequently afraid of the men in their lives because they are threatened either verbally or physically. As a result, these women walk on eggs; not wanting to upset their partner, and often give up important relationships, activities or even their jobs in order to not rock the boat.

Many women ignore early warnings that their relationship has serious problems and fantasize about how they can make things better. Not wanting to ruin romantic dreams, the reality of the trouble these women experience frequently gets shoved into the background. It takes great courage and strength to face these problems--or if the problems go on long enough, the woman becomes desperate to receive help. 

The second part of the book is devoted to advice to women who are in these types of relationships. This comprehensive section includes
clarifying relationships to remove oneself from self-blame, recognizing when a man is emotionally unstable and wanting a woman to be dependent on him (and why), understanding how a woman can't change a man's basic personality but how she can set limits and respond to his threats. It also included reflections on what leads a man to becoming a misogynist. Questionnaires and visualization exercises give the reader opportunities to examine herself, her relationship, and how to create new responses to the man in her life. Dr. Forward handles many tough topics, including how to handle physical threats to the woman or her children.

As a Christian, I thought Dr. Forward made many valid points about setting boundaries and parameters. Her advice to women not to try to fix the other person but instead to acknowledge her own emotions, negative thoughts, and behaviors, frees a woman to take responsibility for herself. I disagreed with Forward's negative use of the word submissive. Although the concept can easily be misused, within the contest of a Biblical and loving marriage submission takes on a positive meaning and direction. 


As I was listening to the book, I thought how it would be a great resource for writers who are exploring the effects of abuse on men and women. As I have mentioned before, One Stop for Writers, the brainchild of Becca Puglisi and Angela Ackerman, is a collection of helps for writers including all of their thesauri. I thought particularly of The Emotional Wound Thesaurus, and how it digs deep into many wounds related to destructive female/male relationships. If you are writing a book that includes a misogynistic relationship, I would encourage you to read this book to deepen your understanding of what your characters have experienced.


This is a must read for anyone who is involved in a relationship with a man who is very controlling and threatening. No giveaway this time; my copy went to a friend.


To hear a snippet from the book, click here.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Picture Book Bonanza!

As a book reviewer and blogger, I'm now in the happy position of receiving packages of books in the mail. How cool is that? Here's some of the books I received recently as well as two I won from Kathy Temean's blog. 

W is for Welcome: A Celebration of America's Diversity
(Sleeping Bear Press, April 2018)

A is for America, A dreamer's destination, made up of people who are here due to immigration.
Z is for Zeal On Independence Day, we all can celebrate how people of all stripes (and stars) have made this country great.
Author Brad Herzog, along with over 15 different artists, has created a sweeping mural celebrating America's diversity. Each letter of the alphabet includes a short poem for young readers and a longer exposition of the topic for older students. Every page teaches readers about famous as well as not so famous immigrants, why people emigrate from their homelands, and how immigrants built (and continue to build) America. This is a great classroom resource which Joyce Hostetter and I will give away in the spring issue of Talking Story on Prejudice.

Don't Forget Dexter
(Two Lions, 2018)

In this fun book by author-illustrator Lindsay Ward, Dexter, a stuffed dinosaur, has lost his best friend, Jack.  Dexter looks all over the place for Jack and tries his best to get him back. Asking the lady at the front desk doesn't help--she's busy talking on the phone. Singing loudly, swishing his dangerous tail, chopping with his big teeth--nothing works! His worries of being abandoned are only relieved when Jack finally finds him. Young children may not realize it--but their subtle fears of abandonment are playfully and sweetly addressed. This is the first book in Ward's new series about Dexter. The next one, It's Show and Tell, Dexter looks equally fun!

Roof Octopus
(Sleeping Bear Press, March 2018)
This is a book that you have to read and see to believe. Lucy Branam's debut picture book is a fanciful combination of a story that young children will be immersed in along with vivid and imaginative illustrations by Roge´rio Coelho. I read this book to a 3-year-old and she totally understood that an octopus could live on the top of an apartment building. No mistake about it, an octopus can help deliver mail, be a swing for three friends, or help walk a dog. This would make a great baby shower gift or simply a beautiful book to add to your family's collection. 

Sterling Children's Books

Every child wants to be the star of the show. In fact, first-born children usually ARE the stars that are photographed, cuddled, and made to feel famous by relatives, grocery store attendants, and even ordinary people walking down the street. Everything was perfect for Phoebe until a co-star is born. Life suddenly goes downhill when Phoebe is more like a personal assistant, than a star. Until...Phoebe gets her big break, steals the show, and gets her baby sister to laugh for the first time. This delightful book by Lori Alexander, is a perfect present for a first child dealing with the birth of a sibling. That's why I'm saving it for my granddaughter when her baby brother is born!


If you are interested in receiving W is for Welcome, leave me a comment and I'll add your name to the giveaway list. The drawing will occur at the end of April in conjunction with the next issue of Talking Story. PLEASE leave me your email address if you are new to my blog so I can contact you if you win!

THE NIGHT WAR: A MG Historical Novel Review

  By now you should have received an email from my new website about my review of THE NIGHT WAR by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. (It'll com...