Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Saving Granddaddy's Stories: Ray Hicks, the Voice of Appalachia --An ARC Giveaway

The text and illustrations for Saving Granddaddy's Stories  (Reycraft Books, 2020) complement one another beautifully and I'm excited to share both with you. This is author, Shanon Hitchcock's debut picture book. (You will find my review of one of her novels, The Ballad of Jessie Pearl, here.) She wrote about Ray Hicks because she grew up in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains near where Ray lived. And like Ray, her family loved to tell stories too. As you read the book, you can almost hear Ray's voice spinning off the pages. 

Look closely at the illustrations by Sophie Page. She is a mixed-media artist and creates images in two dimensions to tell her stories. These illustrations were made from paper, fabric, wire, and a "handful of Jack's magic beans."


REVIEW


Ray Hicks was a poor boy who grew up among the "shimmering peaks and coves of the Blue Ridge Mountains."



Ray spent a lot of time listening to his Granddaddy Ben's Jack-tales.



All of the stories were about a poor boy named Jack who worked hard but "traded his cow for a magic bean, because he was starving."



At school when his teacher read Jack and the Beanstalk, Ray asked to tell it the mountain way. "Ray imitated Granddaddy and spread his arms wide."



Ray grew up and started telling Jack tales, just like his Granddaddy.



Morning and night, Ray told stories to anyone who would listen.

Then he heard about the International Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tn. 



The people in Jonesborough had never heard a man like him. He was, 
"A teller who'd lived his stories--gone cold and hungry."

After ten years, he won the grand prize for storytelling, traveled to Washington, D.C., and met the vice president, "a fellow named Bush." Ray was recognized by the Smithsonian by receiving a National Heritage Award.



Granddaddy's stories lived on. Ray returned to his beloved mountains, to the same home he was born in. "And he never turned away anyone who wanted to hear a story."





FOR MORE INFORMATION


For a DVD about Ray Hicks, click here

Here's the book trailer, narrated by Shannon Hitchcock. 


GIVEAWAY


I have my ARC to give to one of you. I'm going to change the giveaway this time, so listen up! IF you live in North Carolina, tell me that in the comments and I'll put your name in twice. To entice my non-North Carolina friends into wanting to visit my beautiful state, leave me a comment and I'll enter your name THREE times. MAKE SURE you leave your full name and email address. Lately, someone named Victoria has been commenting but I have no idea who she is so I can't include her. Also, a lot of comments are showing up as "Unknown;" although people with Google accounts seem to be getting through OK. To be safe, leave your name and contact information. 

As always, I appreciate it when you share this post on social media!


JUST FOR FUN 

Why not have your child create his or her own mixed media project? Pinterest is loaded with ideas. Or, just create a picture out of craft materials in your house. My granddaughter and I spent a fun hour together and made these: 






Wednesday, January 20, 2021

How Do I Find An Agent?

 Congratulations to Connie Saunders who won The Middle School Writing Toolkit from last week's blog.

                                                                  ******

"May I ask, how do I even begin to find an agent?"

That was the question that Theresa Pierce, a two-time Rowan Salisbury Teacher of Year award winner asked me last week. Theresa has 35 years of experience teaching reading and history. In retirement, she has decided to pursue a new vocation--children's writer. 

I met Theresa through our mutual friend, Joyce Hostetter. Theresa is busy writing as well as learning about writing and publishing. That's a lot to cram in! But as her husband wisely told her, "You didn't get to be a teacher of the year overnight. This writing adventure is new for you. Give yourself time to learn."


My Response


This is a BIG question and it is a BIG learning curve. 

Let me say first of all, that even though I've been working on  Half-Truths for over ten years, I haven't submitted it to an agent because it wasn't ready. As Joyce told me many times, you only want to send a manuscript when you’re sure it’s ready. I thought it was ready several times and even sent it out once--but withdrew it after receiving feedback from Joyce that demanded to be incorporated into the manuscript.   

Agents are busy people. If you make a bad impression the first time, you probably won't get a second chance. Have critique partners, beta readers, and other writers told you that it was ready to go? I am glad that I have waited and kept working on my story. My characters have become more authentic and the storyline keeps getting stronger. It’s a lot of work. 

An agent will read my manuscript soon because I’m participating in a whole-novel workshop that included three beta readers.  I have incorporated these readers' insightful feedback into the manuscript, and now one agent will read the entire book and another will read the first 25 pages. I will receive feedback from both of them which I will evaluate and incorporate before I start my agent search. I have a folder in my inbox just about agents. I will cull through old blog posts and interviews to help me in this process.

By the way, I found this workshop on Kathy Temean’s Writing & Illustrating site. She often interviews agents and they’ll say what they are looking for. You should subscribe to this great blog. And while I'm thinking of it, one reason to join SCBWI is that agents like working with SCBWI members. They know that members are serious about their work.

People meet/find agents at conferences, through Twitter pitches (I have yet to master that—Twitter is pretty much a mystery to me), and through writing magazines. Writer’s Digest has an annual list of agents. I also subscribe to Query Tracker which I highly recommend. It’s a large database of agents and what they’re looking for. It only costs $25 per year and you get frequent updates. You can personalize a list of agents for multiple projects and keep track of your queries. Agent Query is another popular website.

Finding an agent takes time. You want to find an agent who wants what you have written (in my case that is a historical young adult) and then look at their website or wish list and see EXACTLY what they are looking for.  I zero in on agents who are interested in social justice and generational stories. That way when I write my query, I will connect my book to her interest. Writing query letters is an entirely different topic!

I hope this information helps. Yes, there’s a lot to learn about this business!! Writing a great book is only the first part! Be patient and diligent. 

Thank you, Theresa, for asking this question. If any of you are new to the writing-publishing business and want me to answer your question, leave it for me in the comments. I'm not an expert, but I have been in this business for over 30 years and would be happy to see if I can answer it, or at least point you to the appropriate resources. 

                                             *******

Theresa Pierce's manuscript, Up Dunn's Mountain won first place for Young Adult Literature at Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers 2020 Conference. She is a member of Word Weavers and the Daughters of the American Revolution.  

As a historic docent, she shares her volunteer time between the North Carolina Transportation Museum in Spencer and the Rowan Museum in Salisbury. She is also a Toastmaster and speaks to historic groups, senior citizens, and of course, her favorite-- children.  


She is the newest member of the Write2Ignite blogger team and will be blogging about her writing/publishing journey. 


 



Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Enter Giveaways! Win Books! (And of course, a Giveaway)

 Congratulations to Joyce Hostetter who won For To See The Elephant from last week's blog.


                                                            *******

Book Winner Extraordinaire!

I haven't counted how many books I've given away since I started this blog over ten years ago. All I know is that I love doing it and appreciate the authors and publishers who supply me with books and the people who enter the giveaways. You don't know how fun it is for me to put your names into random.org (a long way off from writing names on slips of paper for my mother to draw out of a hat) and see whose name is chosen.


Margaret Federlin picks a winner of Lisa Kline's book, Summer of the Wolves, 2012


One of my frequent winners is Connie Saunders. I thought that she'd won about 10 books, in fact, it's over 25!  Here's what she had to say:


Shortly after I retired as a public librarian in 2015, I discovered Carol's blog dedicated to books and literacy. Many of the books she features are for children and young adults and I was especially eager to stay informed since my granddaughter Isabella was born shortly after my retirement. Carol often shares a giveaway for the books that she features and I've been very fortunate to win several of these books. My latest win was Just Between Sam and Me by Cat Michaels and Rosie Russell


In May, I won Through the Wardrobe by Lina Maslo. It's a great introduction to C.S. Lewis's books.




Here are some of the other books that I've won for Isabella:


I urge all of you to read Carol's blog. She features outstanding books and gives you a chance to win some of them. You can earn multiple entries by sharing on other social media so you need to Read--Enter--Share!

What are Your Favorite Giveaway Blogs?

I win children's books from Kathy Temean's blog, Writing and Illustrating, and from Rosi Hollenbeck's blog. How about you? Where do you win books?

Giveaway

This blog wouldn't be complete without a giveaway. Today I'm giving away The Middle School Writing Toolkit by Tim Clifford; it will be an asset in every middle school classroom. If you're homeschooling (and who isn't these days?) and feel stuck on writing instruction, this book will help you plan and execute lessons. 



Leave me a comment by January 15 and I'll enter your name. MAKE SURE you leave me your email address if you are new to my blog. I've had several "Unknowns" leave me comments and I can't enter you without a name and email address. If you follow my blog OR share this on social media, I'll enter your name twice. 

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Thereasea Elder Wore Many Hats

 One of the good things about writing historical fiction set in the not-so-distant past is that you can interview people who lived through the conflicts you are writing about. 

One of the hard things about writing "recent" historical fiction is that the people you interview--your experts--are elderly and die. 

Ten years ago I posted my first blog about six people I interviewed for Half-Truths. Only one is still alive. In 2014 I wrote about four women who shared their histories with me. Only two are still living. 

Yesterday, I heard that one of these women, Thereasea Elder, passed away on January 5, at the age of 93.

                                Thereasea as a U.S. Nurse cadet in World War II.

Thereasea's Legacy

I met Thereasea in 2011. With open arms and a smile that never quit, she welcomed me into her home. At the same time, she welcomed Half-Truths into her life. A conversation wasn't complete without her asking, "How is the book coming along?" She encouraged me every time I visited her.

As I tried to understand the city of Charlotte in which she grew up, there were no questions or topics that were off-limits. She told me about the dangers she faced as the first nurse to integrate Mecklenburg County's Public Health Service and the asbestos waste products which coated their window screens from the factory in their Greenville neighborhood.  


In 2014 she proudly showed me the exhibit she helped put together at Johnson C. Smith University honoring those who integrated the medical profession in Charlotte. 

Thereasea's list of accomplishments is long. She was a strong advocate for public health, helped register Black voters, served as president of the Greenville Historial Association, was active in the National Association of Negro Business and Professional Women, served on the board of the Greater Carolinas Chapter of the American Red Cross, and started the Black Heritage Committee in Charlotte. 

Whenever we talked she had a new cause or passion. She was concerned about local drug dealers and gun violence; government officials heard her concerns over the phone and through letters. She received innumerable awards for her service to the city of Charlotte, including the Order of the Long Leaf Pine (North Carolina's Highest Civilian honor) and the Maya Angelou/Elizabeth Ross Dargan Life Time Achievement Award. 

But man, oh man, she loved her hats.


Dozens and dozens of hats were stacked in boxes in her closets. She wouldn't go out without one on her head that of course, coordinated with her outfit.


One day we had a "photoshoot" and Thereasea enjoyed every minute of it.


So did I.

Thereasea was brave and courageous. The same things my protagonist, Kate Dinsmore, wants to be. The same things I want to be.

In 2013 her biography, T.D.'s Truths was published. She was so proud!


The author's note includes an observation that resonated with me:

I was mesmerized by our first meeting. I was struck not only by the power of her narrative, but her ability to cause transformational change in our community. Her nurturing attitude was characterized by unselfish caring, supportiveness, and a willingness to share her time.  

Thereasea's inscription to me reads:

Dearly Beloved Carol,

God has blessed me with your Friendship and Love. To God be the Glory and Power always. 


On a Personal Note


Thereasea quoted this Bible verse to me when she was talking about some of the prejudice she faced growing up:

"For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11

Certainly, the Lord used Thereasea's talents, energy, and love.

One time my husband and I took her out to dinner at a favorite fish restaurant. After that, she never failed to end our conversations by sending him her love. She always reminded me to give him a hug and a kiss; her love for family inspired me.

I will miss Thereasea's hand clasping mine when we gave thanks for our food. I will miss her hug and her voice. I will miss her encouragement and pride in what I was doing. 

And I will miss her beautiful hats.



"Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints." Psalm 116: 15.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

For to See the Elephant: A Novel in Verse and an Autographed Giveaway

 Congratulations to Tricia Clark who won Letters from Space.


Six months ago, author Tammi J. Truax contacted me after reading my review of Orchards on Goodreads. She deduced that I liked free verse historical novels and offered to send me a copy of her book, For to See the Elephant (Piscataqua Press, 2019) Come with me into the pages of this amazing chronicle of the first two elephants who came to America, their keeper, and the people whose lives these honorable animals touched. This is a work of fiction, but as the author notes, "the found poems included in the work are taken from diaries, newspaper articles, advertisements, and songs from the time period." It is a saga of the enslaved.



REVIEW

For to See the Elephant is written from several different points of view including the men who purchased the elephants, the slave boy William who is their keeper, the elephants, and Hachaliah Bailey. A different font is used for each point of view and their voices are all distinctive. To best see the beauty of the poetry, I'm sharing excerpts from several different entries. The elephants' POV are written in narrative.

GAJA, At leaving Bengal, India, October 1795

My mahout was conflicted that day. I could tell by the silent language of his body. Further, I could tell that he needed me to go where he was leading me, but that in his heart he did not really want me to go. I also knew I had been sold...I let out a trumpeting roar, one I knew he could hear as his little bare feet flew across the wharf in the opposite direction that I was headed. I was but a baby and had never been left alone before. (p. 2, 5)


Captain Jacob Crowinsheild at sea. December 1795


I say with certainty

I've never heard 

a sadder sound 

than the cry of 

The Elephant.

Adding to the misery

of the cries,

the beasts thrusts itself

in rhythm with the rise

and fall of the sea,

against the pen

built to hold her.... (p. 9)


William at sea 1795


captain said
I'm to take care of
the Elephant
me
the smallest one here
captain said
I'm African 
so I should know-
what that mean

captain said

get the beast 
to calm down
and clean up
all her mess

captain ain't said
how (p. 11)

Mister Welshaven Owen, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. June 1976


Tonight she makes
her stage debut!
I have rented out
the Elephant
to the Philadelphia Theatre.

I'll have the boy
wash and oil her all up.
Not sure if I'll let the boy
take her on stage
or if I'll do it. 

She seems to like the boy
much more than me. (p. 21)

William on the Maine/New Hampshire border. late 1802


i know why 
folks call her
ugly or beast
or whatnot
i been called
lots of names too
some folks just dont
see things proper
sure she all wrinkled
an got a funny nose
an ears big enough
to make lookers laugh
but they missing somethin
so important

they not having
a good up-close
honest look
in her eye
all her beauty there
in her eye
it looks like
a topaz marble
a boy once showed me

an her pretty eye
have long lashes
that flutter like
a little birds wing

a big beautiful
round eye
full of feelings
.....(pp.54-55)

[Gaja is seriously injured when she falls from a bridge spanning the Connecticut River. ]

William, Amherst, Massachusetts. November 1803


she was hurt bad
I tole em all
she couldn't get up
gave her what comforts I could

I was so sorry
for what happened
but what I mos felt
was angry

I couldn't barely
stand for it
when they drug her
up the hill like that

finally got her
in the barn
master said hes
going to charge

people a nickel
for to see
the dying elephant
an he did...

....me and gaja
we lived likewise lives
I think she knew it  (pp. 74-76)

BIG BETTE IN A BARN AT BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS. January 1804


I CAN TELL THIS IS NOT MY HOMELAND. I DIDN'T THINK I COULD BEAR IT WHEN I DETERMINED THAT FACT SHORTLY AFTER OUR ARRIVAL. I REALLY DID NOT. WHEN I WAS DELIVERED TO MORE STRANGERS AND MY LEG WAS CHAINED IN THIS NEW BARN I CALCULATED HOW I COULD TEAR DOWN THE WALL WITH MY LEG IF I USED ALL OF MY STRENGTH, AND PICK UP ANY OF THE MEN THAT CAME NEAR ME. SIMPLY PICK THEM UP AND CRACK THEM AGAINST A BEAM IN THEIR OWN FILTHY BUILDING....

AND THAT IS WHEN I MADE THE ACQUAINTANCE OF THE NEW MAHOUT I BELIEVE HIM TO BE FROM MY HOME LAND. HE DOESNT SEEM TO BELONG HERE EITHER. HE SHOWED ME THAT THE MEASURE AND CONTENT OF HIS HEART IS THE SAME AS MY OWN... (P. 84)

Hachaliah Bailey in a tavern at Danbury Ct. Spring, 1806


Of course I need to make some changes.
This is my livelihood.
I need the keeper to understand that.
I want him to teach
the Elephant
some more amusing tricks.

I intend to purchase more animals
we can pull along in cages.
And we must take to traveling by night.
Far too many people
are getting a free look at
the Elephant. (p.92)

[Big Bess is shot by a man who had been drinking. William is forced to help dig her grave.]

William, April 1816


...the thought that struck me was
maybe its just time

for me to go
to walk away
theres no more elephants

for me to take care of
this is a place
where maybe
maybe I can
make my own way
in the world

those merry dancers [Shakers]
told me I'd be welcome
at their holy land
and theres indians
up in the woods
where a man can live free
some kind of way
....

dug the dang hole
dug til my hands bled
   my back ached
but my back
wasnt the part of me
   hurtin most

(p. 173-4)


Hachaliah Bailey, Town Hall at Alfred, Maine. April 1816


I can't state plainly enough
that I want that man, that criminal
brought to justice. Further I expect 
to be reimbursed for my losses
which since I came to this town
have been egregiously high.
That elephant was worth
more than a thousand dollars!
And how my elephant keeper
has gone missing!
He's worth nearly that much.
My stop in your town
may just bankrupt me. (p. 176)

Boston, 1797


THE END...PERHAPS THE SPIRIT OF BIG BETTE THE MATRIARCH TODAY


I WAS MURDERED, WITHOUT CAUSE, AND, JUST LIKE GAGA, MY SKIN AND BONES WERE TAKEN IN A GRUESOME WAY AND PUT ON DISPLAY. OLD MAN BAILEY STILL PROFITED BY MY EXHIBITION, DRAGGING THE DEAD ME FROM PLACE TO PLACE. UNTIL AT LAST MY FLESH AND BONES WERE SOLD TO P.T. BARNUM, TO BE SHOWN FOR PROFIT, IN HIS LITTLE MUSEUM OF ODDITIES...IT IS OFT CLAIMED THAT MY REMAINS WERE LOST TO A FIRE THAT CONSUMED BARNUM'S BUILDING AND CREMATION IS AT LEAST, A MORE RESPECTFUL WAY TO TREAT SACRED REMAINS....  (P.191)


CURRICULUM RESOURCE


This novel would be an excellent curriculum resource for middle and high school language arts or history classes. I would love to hear students discuss the content as well as the beautiful way in which Ms. Truax delivered the story.  For more information on her other poetry projects, please consult her website.

BACKSTORY


When I asked Ms. Truax what inspired her to write this story she replied, "I had interviewed an elderly woman who still lived on property that had been in her family for a couple of hundred years. She told me that once long ago "an elephant had stopped by to drink from the well". I was intrigued by that but didn't get serious about research until I heard about the murder of an elephant in Maine and thought that must have been the same elephant. Then I took in on as a NaNoWriMo project in 2015."

                                      Tammi J. Truax next to the roadside marker
                                      in Alfred, Maine where Big Bette was killed.


GIVEAWAY


I have an autographed copy ready to be mailed to one of you. Please leave me a comment (along with your email address if you are not a frequent commenter) by 6 PM on January 8. If you subscribe to my blog I'll enter your name twice!

Stompin' at the Savoy: A Nonfiction Picture Book Review and Giveaway

 Congratulations to Joan Edwards who won Barbara Younger's painting from last week's blog. The other day I received a stack of books...