Monday, March 30, 2020

Write2Ignite 2020

If you write Christian fiction for children or young adults, here is an outstanding workshop with my mentor, Joyce Moyer Hostetter. I have learned so much from her--this is your opportunity to do the same!

Mark your calendars. Registration opens May 1.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Including "Real" People In Historical Fiction And A Book Review of WAR IN KOREA

One of the cool things about writing historical fiction is the people I have "met" in my research. Some are relatively well-known, some are names buried in history. It is especially cool if I'm able to include their stories in my WIP, Half-Truths.


For those of you who are unfamiliar with the plot, Kate Dinsmore, my protagonist, moves to Charlotte, NC in 1952 to live with her paternal grandparents. Her father has just left for the Korean conflict. Soon after moving in, Kate meets Lillian Harris, the granddaughter of her grandmother's cook. The girls uncover family secrets that bind them together in ways neither can ignore. 

There are several "real" people who I've included in my story. Carolina Israelitepublished by Harry Golden  is a newspaper that Kate's grandfather reads. Kate is a budding journalist and at the end of the book gets a job working in his office.  Kelly Alexander, the NAACP leader in Charlotte, NC from 1940-1980, is someone Lillian admires; his voice is heard in Half-Truths. The DeLaine case in South Carolina led to the landmark Supreme Court decision to integrate schools in 1957; Mrs. Harris reports about it at a NAACP meeting the girls overhear. (You'll have to read the book to find out how they're able to finagle that!) 

And then there is Marguerite Higgins

Kate first reads about Miss Higgins when she reads this quote in the New York Herald Tribune: I wouldn’t be here if there was no trouble. Trouble is news, and gathering it is my job.” Kate is inspired by Higgins' courage and bravery. 

By the way, Higgins covered WWII, Korea, and Vietnam and in 1951 was the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Foreign Correspondence. The Pulitzer Prize jury wrote, “She is entitled to special consideration by reason of being a woman since she had to work under unusual dangers.”

Now, back to Half-Truths. At one point in my book, Kate chides herself for her lack of bravery. She writes this poem in her steno pad:

Daddy and Marguerite Higgins  
face bombs      
hidden mines       
swarms of enemy soldiers       
that kill, maim, and destroy.    
Thousands of miles away  
I’m safe    
from death’s grenade.  
I wanted to know more about Higgins and ordered her .25 cent autobiography, War in Korea, (Doubleday, 1951) off Amazon (now worth a bit more!) Her reporting was amazing given the dire circumstances within which she worked. As I often do with nonfiction books, I'm going to quote some of her outstanding observations of the war between June and December, 1950.


During one long wait, while a scouting party was looking for a place to ferry across the river, Colonel Wright noticed my gloomy air. "What's the matter, kid," he asked, "afraid you won't get your story out?" And after a pause he offered, "Look, stick by this radio truck and we'll try to send out a message for you if you keep it short."

It was now growing light, and in my elation I immediately get out my typewriter, put it on the front of the jeep, and typed furiously. Streams of retreating South Korean soldiers were then passing our stationary convoy. Many of them turned their heads and gaped at the sight of an American woman, dressed in a navy-blue skirt, flowered blouse, and bright blue sweater, typing away on a jeep in the haze of daybreak. I got my copy in all right. But as far as I know, communications were never established long enough  to send it." (p.12)

.....Before long the Americans were leading a ragamuffin army of tattered soldiers, old men, diplomats, children, and a woman war correspondent. (p. 13)

Can't you see these scenes unfold?

I was crouched by the side of the windy airstrip typing a quick story on his visit when the general [Douglas MacArthur] appeared. He was clad in his famous Bataan gold-braid hat and summer khakis with the shirt open at the collar. He smoked a corncob pipe....

On seeing me on the airstrip, the general came over to say hello and then asked if I would like a lift back to Tokyo. Since the Bataan [his plane] was the only means of flying back to communications and getting the story out, I gladly accepted. (p. 14-15)

Or, how about this:

It looked that afternoon, for a few brief moments, as if I would never leave Taejon. Late in the day I was jeeping unconcernedly past the compound of that enclosed division headquarters. Suddenly a roar of voices boomed to me to come back.

Looking back, I saw dozens of soldiers, their guns pointed in my direction, peeping around the compound fence. Tanks in front of headquarters also had their guns trained my way. So I hastily wheeled my jeep about and pell-melled into the compound, heading for the building we had adopted for the press. It was deserted except for Bill Smith of the London Daily Express.

Smitty and I went over to the headquarters building to try to find out the cause of the trouble. But about all we found was a number of headquarters men, how had never been shot at before, under a table... (p.56-57)


Joining the sad, dusty American exodus over the winding mountain road, we finally turned off at 21st Infantry Regimental Headquarters, located in a Korean schoolhouse. It was close to midnight and already the ain room was filled with snoring officers sprawled on the floor. Everyone slept in his clothes for the simple reason that you had to be ready to move at a second's notice. I quietly put my blanket done on the floor, doused myself thoroughly with flea powder, and went to sleep.

The astonished offer who woke up the next morning and found me next to him on the floor caused considerable amusement around headquarters by dashing into Colonel Stephen's room with the exclamation, "My God, sir, did you know we'd been sleeping all night with a lady?" p. 57

Seventy years later we might think this is funny, but Higgins faced considerable difficulties because she was a woman. 

Ultimately, her writing and reporting were stellar in a fearful and dangerous situation. 

General MacArthur's great gamble at Inchon had paid off. And in the forthcoming days I was able to fulfill the promise I had made myself--I walked back into Seoul.

It was not an easy or a pleasant walk. The United States Marines blazed a bloody path to the city. The going was particularly rough the day that Charlie Company of the 1st Marines seized a Catholic church in the center of Seoul. We did not know that the road was heavily mined until a medic jeep raced ahead of us. The jeep blew up directly in our path. Of the three people in it, only the medic survived. And his torn body and shredded, bloody face were a ghastly sight.

We quickly climbed out of our vehicles. The company commander shouted to us not to step on any freshly up-turned dirt--it might be a mine. On the rough dirt road it was difficult to follow his instructions, so we went forward on our toes. (p. 86)

Before finishing this blog I listened to President Trump's latest updates about the coronavirus. In Half-Truths, Kate Dinsmore is challenged by the courage of this journalist who wasn't afraid to risk her life to get the story right. 

She's also an inspiration to me to be brave in a different type of war. 

Saturday, March 21, 2020

You Heard it Here First: Dorothy Price signs with Agent, Miranda Paul

It's always fun to share publishing news with my blog readers--particularly if it's news from one of my own writing friends. I first met Dorothy Price 10 years ago when she joined my SCBWI-Carolinas critique group. I've read her manuscripts and she's read mine. Today I'm thrilled to share her story of how she recently signed with an agent. 

Take it away, Dorothy!


I am so excited to share my agent success story, after 11 years of writing kidlit!

This story began in October 2018, when I got a nudge from my writing friend, Tara Luebbe. She suggested I apply to the 2019 We Need Diverse Books Mentorship Program, to which I had zero interest. I was at a place in my writing career where I had gotten discouraged by rejection, and simply planned to stop submitting, to everyone and everything. But something about Tara’s nudge forced me to apply anyway, on October 31st—the very last day to submit. 

Two months later, I received an email from WNDB that I had been selected as a picture book winner, out of more than 100 entries! The amazing Samantha Berger became my mentor, and beginning in January 2019, we edited and revised three of my PB manuscripts.  

In November 2019, I decided to participate in NaNoWriMo, even though I had failed to finish three times before. On November 30th, I finally completed my first middle-grade novel. 

Armed with three completed PBs and a finished MG, I was confident this would attract an agent. In January 2020, I began agent submissions. I had a list of six agents, but one, in particular, was by referral only. This agent was also on the WNDB team, so she had seen my PB submission that won the contest; however, her agency only accepted referral submissions. Enter Samantha Berger, who graciously referred me, which opened the door for me to submit to Miranda Paul with Erin Murphy Literary Agency. 

Although I had two other agents to consider, when Miranda emailed me back a couple hours later and said she was happy to receive my query and asked to speak two days later, I knew she was the agent for me. Her intensity, energy, and passion were something I truly wanted in an agent.

Before we ended the call, Miranda offered representation, and after praying on it, a few days later, I accepted. If it hadn’t been for Tara’s nudge to enter that contest, I’m not sure I would have an agent today. The plug for that is, contests DO help, and I strongly encourage writers to submit! 

Things have been going well so far and I am enjoying every minute of the process. I can honestly say, if you put in the work, believe in yourself, and never quit, dreams will come true. 


Dorothy H. Price is a long-time member of SCBWI Carolinas. Two of her nonfiction stories were published in Teaching Tolerance’s 2019 Teaching Hard History: American Slavery series. Her first picture book, Nana’s Favorite Things was published in 2016. You can connect with Dorothy on Twitter

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Boats Will Float: A Picture Book Review

The range of picture books which Sleeping Bear Press publishes never ceases to amaze me. This rhyming book slips in information and illustrations about more than fifteen different boats in a book that a young reader might think is "a day in the life of a boat." 

Think quick. What image comes to mind when I say "boat?" Perhaps a fishing boat, rowboat, or sailboat. I guarantee that some of the boats that author Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum included in Boats Will Float may not be what you thought of. As you'll see below, the illustrations by Brett Curzon enhance this fun picture book. 


Starting on the first page the reader discovers a family waking up on a houseboat.

Next, the reader meets dragon boats,

and a speedboat pulling a grandmother.

Sunlight sizzles, hot and bright, 
Speedboat launches human kite  
Soaring up and sailing free, 
Crystal spray and aqua sea.

The author plays with onomatopoeia on several pages.

After portraying many different kinds of boats, the author returns to the beginning and shows the house boat's interior.

At the back of the book there is a two-page spread with information about each boat mentioned in the text. Have fun with your pre-schooler and find the boats that float throughout the pages of this colorful, informative book. 

Sorry, no giveaway this week. A new baby in my neighborhood will enjoy this with her family! But you know me--more giveaways to follow soon. Click here for a free activity page that readers can print out to go along with the book. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

You Heard it Here First: Kelly Dyksterhouse Joins Raven Quill Literary Agency

When I heard that Kelly Dyksterhouse, a hard-working member of the SCBWI-Carolinas region, had recently become a literary agent, I asked her if she would share her journey as well as what type of books she is looking for. Take it away, Kelly! 

It’s interesting for me to look back and try to trace how I got where I am today. Upon reflecting, I have to say that it started with SCBWI. A little over 16 years ago, Donna Earnhardt hosted a Mingle for writers in Davidson, and I went, knowing no one, but knowing that I loved to write and loved kids books. From the Mingle, we formed a critique group, calling ourselves The Mudskippers after a lovely picture book manuscript by one of our members, Gay Rudisill. Though we don’t meet any more, The Mudskippers are cherished friends, and many of them have published books now, which is so exciting. (This is a plug for SCBWI, Mingles, writing friends, and critique groups, fyi). 

As I gained confidence as a writer in this group, I attended more SCBWI events. At a weekend spring retreat, the Carolinas RA at the time, Stephanie Greene, told me about the low-residency MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults  program at Vermont College of Fine Arts. The teaching author at that retreat was Sharon Darrow, who was also on faculty at VCFA. Thanks to both Stephanie and Sharon, I went home, researched VCFA, and applied. So I started a 2 year program of intense study that consisted of reading and annotating hundreds of children’s books, writing and revising pages of creative work, and writing many, many critical essays and papers. All I can say is that hard work has never been so much fun.

My first semester at VCFA I also started interning for Susan Hawk, a literary agent at The Bent Agency. Thanks to Susan, I got tons of experience reading slush and full manuscripts. Susan moved to Upstart Crow Literary Agency several years ago, and I moved with her and continued to refine my editorial skills. Susan was (is) truly a stellar agent, a super kind person, and the best mentor anyone could ask for. It was while working for Susan that I learned that I got just as much of a thrill editing other people’s work as I did writing my own, and I was pretty good at it. That is also where I first met Jacqui Lipton, who was also interning for Susan. At the time, Jacqui and I talked briefly about starting our own literary agency, but for me the time was not right with my family, and she went on to work as an agent at another agency. A couple of years later, we ran back into each other and Jacqui informed me she was founding Raven Quill Literary Agency and asked me if I wanted to join her. This time, the timing seemed right, and with much encouragement from Susan and others, I took the leap! And I have to say that I am having the time of my life!

And here’s why I had to start so far back in this journey: Sharon Darrow was the author/faculty at the SCBWI retreat who first told me about VCFA. Now 12? 13? years later, Sharon also happens to be one of Raven Quill Literary Agency’s first clients, repped by Jacqui. Some people call this coincidence, but I call it Providence. I love how people circle back into your life, and I’ve learned this is not unusual in the kidlit industry. 

Now, for what I am looking for: I have a basic #MSWL on posted on twitter and on my Publisher’s Marketplace profile. I rep everything from PB to YA, with MG probably being my sweet spot. For PB’s I love the subversive plots, stories that celebrate imagination, and that have a surprise or humorous twist. For novels, I love fantasy that has a vivid world and themes that feel relevant to today. For contemporary novels, the voice has to be really unique and strong, and the characters compelling. I also have a real love for stories with ensemble casts (think The Penderwicks, The Vanderbeekers in MG, and Heist Society and Six of Crows for YA). Really, I am open to any genre as long as it is well written, carries me off into the story, and has characters I can’t forget. 

People can find me on twitter at @kellydhouse and can query me at: http://QueryMe.Online/KellyDyksterhouse

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Ticktock, Banneker's Clock: A Picture Book Review and Author Interview

Congratulations to the following winners from last week's blog:

Deborah Allmand, Jana Leah, and Carol Nelson won BEHIND THESE HANDS.

Joyce Hostetter and Sandra Warren won RUN TO THE LIGHT.

Danielle Hammelef and Connie Saunders won THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM

It's amazing what you can learn through picture books. 

Ticktock Banneker's Clock is another engaging and informative picture book biography by Shana Keller. I recently featured Shana for her new book, Bread for Words about Frederick Douglass. Ticktock's text, along with illustrations by David C. Gardner, depict an important episode in Benjamin Banneker's remarkable life.

Born in 1731, Benjamin, was a self-taught free African American farmer, naturalist, author, and surveyor.  He corresponded with Thomas Jefferson on the topics of racial equality and slavery and authored several almanacs. One of Benjamin's accomplishments was carving a striking clock. The book was voted as one of the best STEM books in 2017.


The story opens with a beautiful drawing showing Ben working on his farm in the Chesapeake Bay.

After his harvesting work was done, he had "time to dream." Sometimes he played the flute or violin, but this day he was fascinated with the inner workings of a pocket watch.

He decided to make a time piece, one that could sit on a mantel or hang for a wall. He took the watch apart, studied the tiny gears, and made diagrams. He carved the clock pieces out of wood, but found that the pieces snapped and broke. 

So, he dried the wood--a time consuming process--and then re-carved the pieces. 

This time, the wheels, pins, and gears didn't break! He had a bell made and timed the clock with the sun. 

Neighbors from far and near came to see his invention; the clock chimed every hour on the dot for the next forty years.

Ticktock Banneker's Clock will make an excellent curriculum resource for grades K-3. Sorry, no giveaway this time, I'm adding it to my library. Instead, I asked Shana what led her to writing this book. Here's her answer. 


When my oldest daughter was in the first grade, she came home with a small paragraph about a man named Benjamin Banneker. Even though I had majored in African American history in college, I didn’t recall seeing his name before and suddenly, I was on this path of research that led from one surprise to another. 

After reading everything I could find online and at the library, I visited the Benjamin Banneker Historic Park and Museum in Catonsville, Maryland. I met with Justine Schaeffer the director at the time and explained my interest. We discussed all things Banneker. I toured his lands which is where the park and museum are located. I saw his recreated cabin (Banneker’s burnt down days after his death). And, I met with some of Benjamin’s collateral descendants - children of his nieces and nephews. I also met with a griot, a storyteller, who was familiar with Banneker’s history. 

I discovered many intriguing things about Benjamin Banneker. He was a landowner. He was never enslaved and mostly self-taught. He was well respected in his community and often relied upon to calculate math problems. He wrote almanacs. He corresponded with Thomas Jefferson about civil rights. He was an astronomer. He helped survey the land where the nation’s capital would stand. And of course, he built a striking clock using a pocket watch as his guide. Given all of his accomplishments, I realized there was a lot to choose from and focus on. The achievement that struck me the most was how he built his clock. Benjamin’s goal was to never stop learning, and so is mine!


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