Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Swift Boys and Me, by Kody Keplinger

Nola, age 12, has been friends with the three Swift boys for her entire life. In fact, they live in the other half of the duplex. Brian, the oldest, is sensitive and kind. Kevin, the youngest, is constantly talking. And Canaan, the middle brother, is Nola's age, and he has always stood up for her.

Then one day, Mr. Swift gets in his car and drives away. He's left his family, without even a goodbye. Ironically, Nola saw him go, waved to him, and received a wave back, which, as she says, was more of a goodbye than the boys got.

And the Swifts fall apart. Kevin, who we find out blames himself because the last thing his father had told him to do was quit talking, goes mute. Brian tries to run the household for a while after their mother sinks into depression, but it's too much for him and in effect he runs away from home, staying first with one friend and then another. And Canaan takes up with the mean boys. Far from sticking up for Nola, he's now one of her tormentors.

Nola tries to support the boys, but succeeds only with Brian, and then only temporarily. She also tries to find their father -- mostly because she wants everything to go back to normal, which is no doubt realistic -- and actually does locate him living with another woman in the next town over. But Nola's life is changing, too. Her mom is remarrying, and the couple's plan to buy a house means Nola will have to move out of the duplex. And are the boys there for her? No, they are not.

My favorite aspect of the book is the characters. I liked Nola, the boys, her mom, the new stepdad, and Nola's other friends, Felicia and Teddy. We become disillusioned with Canaan, which I think is inevitable and probably the author's intent, not only because of how he's treating Nola, but because we come to suspect that Canaan's past bad-mouthing of Teddy was completely undeserved. In fact, now that Nola is less tied to Canaan, she is less dependent on his opinions and more able to stand up for herself.

The cover is a bit "cuter" than the novel itself, and does not portray Nola's slight overweight, which is often referred to in the story. (But as one of my editors once said, "That's marketing for you!") And it's possible that Nola understands everything just a bit too neatly at the end, although the plot threads are by no means tied up in a perfect bow. Recommended.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

It's Saturday Already?

My weekly post got away on me this week. But, on both my editing job and my own writing, I've been

 I'll be back next Thursday, though. I read another book to share with you. Till then, have a great one. :)

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Brown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson

Oh, my. This is a simply beautiful book. Books written in verse aren't for everyone, but I tend to like them because the emotion is concentrated and the language precise. I didn't say "verse novels," because this isn't a novel. It's a memoir.

I think most writer/bookworm types are naturally drawn to a book about how a writer grows. To view the writing through a wider lens, it's about a girl finding her voice and her purpose. It's also about encouragement: I as a reader find myself a bit breathless at the fact that Jacqueline Woodson said, and told herself, that she wanted to be a writer from a very young age, and she did it. Oh, how she did it. And to broaden the scope even more, it's very much about the African-American experience in the days of the struggle for civil rights and beyond.

There are surprising bits, such as Woodson's upbringing as a Jehovah's Witness, and gut-punching bits, such as her younger brother lying in bed at night, eating paint chips off the walls. There are arresting lines, such as "Even Salome intrigues us, her wish for a man's head / on a platter -- who could want this and live / to tell the story of that wanting?" and lines that raise ire, such as her mother's warning concerning storytelling: "If you lie, one day you'll steal." As a matter of fact, I don't reject that statement in general; I think lying is a form of stealing; it's theft of the truth. But the claim, even by writers (about which I have ranted in the past), that storytelling is lies just makes me all kinds of crazy. Tell that to Jesus or to Nathan the prophet.

Although I'd like to know what Jackie's siblings did with their lives as well, we don't find that out. However, the book cries out for photos and that cry is answered; they're included in the back.

There aren't many books, when it comes right down to it, that should become required reading; this is one of them. Highly, highly, highly recommended.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving

May your lives be fruitful and your baskets overflow. Happy Thanksgiving, all.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

SCBWI-WI NE Area Fall Meet-up: "Working with Agents and Editors"

I had the pleasure and privilege of being on the panel with these lovely ladies just this past Saturday, November 15. Here we are:

Oops! Looks like I colored outside the lines a little there. But this way you can see us better.

We met in a lovely old building with lots of dark wood that houses Harmony Cafe in Appleton, WI. And the event was just what it sounds like: Attendees asked questions about working with agents and editors, and we shared our experiences. Researching, querying, revising, publicizing, deciding when a book is ready to query, when you should or shouldn't do an R&R (revise and resubmit), subsidiary rights -- all these and more were covered. Lunch was included, during which there was plenty of friendly chat; it's amazing how talkative a roomful of introverts can actually be. It would have been great to be able to stay longer and share more, which I guess is very much a sign of a successful event. A good time was had by all!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Guest Post by Bish Denham, Author of A Lizard's Tail

Today, let's welcome Bish Denham and let her tell us about her newest release, A Lizard's Tail. If you're like me, you love the look in that lizard's eye! And here's Bish, to tell us all about him.

It’s All in the Name

Thanks for letting me visit your blog, Marcia!

People ask me where I get my ideas and how long it’s taken to get something written. Well, A Lizard’s Tail has been simmering for a long time.

It began around 1977 in the Virgin Islands while I was working for a friend who had a ceramics shop. She made souvenir ceramic mugs and other touristy things, for wholesale. I helped with pouring slip, cleaning, and glazing. One slow days we’d sit around playing with clay, making small sculptures, beads, or hand-molding bowls.

One day I “sculpted” a lizard. When it was dry, I glazed it and fired it. It came out looking quite mischievous and obviously needing a name. Another employee, who helped pack and deliver orders to the various stores, was a nice, humorous guy name Marvin.

He saw the lizard and liked it so much I decided to name it after him, to which he replied that Marvin needed a last name. Right then a wind chime tinkled. From out of the blue his full name came to me. Marvin P. Tinkleberry. What the “P” stood for I had no idea, but we all agreed the name suited my little lizard sculpture quite well.

I knew immediately that I had a character for a story.

Early notes indicate that I was thinking of making him a kind of story teller that explained things like, why hibiscuses are red or why lizards do push-ups. But none of those ideas felt right.

And so Marvin slumbered. Later notes talk about him being vain and full of himself. I was getting closer. Then, about ten years ago, the actually idea for a story came to me. Marvin had to have conflict, what greater conflict could he have than dealing with a dangerous feral cat?

Thus, A Lizard’s Tale began to take shape. I wrote the first rough draft in short order. It was the revising and rewriting that took a long time. I did it in bits and pieces, in fits and starts, because for me, revising is the hard, boring part, though I’m getting better at it.

After I self-published Anansi and Company, I was determined to put Marvin out there too. And now, here he is in all his glory, a vain, young lizard who believes he has a destiny.

What, you may ask, does the “P” stand for? Well, you’ll have to read the story to find out.

Do you have ideas that have simmered for years before taking shape? Do you enjoy revising or is it a part of the job you don’t like? 


Bish Denham was raised in the U. S. Virgin Islands. Her mother's side of the family has lived in the Caribbean for over one hundred years and she still has plenty of family there whom she visits regularly. She says, "Growing up in the islands was like living inside a history book. Columbus named the islands, Sir Francis Drake sailed through the area, and Alexander Hamilton was raised on St. Croix. Then there were the pirates who plied the waters. Life for me was magical, and through my writing I hope to pass on some of that magic."

Bish has known many lizards in her life. Marvin and Leeza are based on two that lived in her bedroom. She is the author of Anansi and Company: Retold Jamaican Folk Tales which you can find on

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Short Blog Break

Once again, tomorrow is Thursday, it's late, and I have to admit that life has just plowed me under for now. I'm taking a blog break this week and next week. But please do join me back here on November 13, because there's going to be a guest poster, and you'll want to find out who it is! Until then, be well, my friends.