Miss Bookshelf USA 2020

According to the calendar, it’s May and the books on my shelves are NOT socially distancing themselves so I think that means it’s time for…

…the 5th Annual Miss Bookshelf USA. Miss Bookshelf USA

Yes, the prestigious (hehe) event when I pull all the books I read and reviewed the previous year off my bookshelves, dust ’em off, dress ’em up,  fall back under their papery story spells, and crown a tiara on top.

According to what I reviewed in Goodreads,  I read 39 books in total: 2 nonfiction, 2 anthologies, 8 adult, only 2 YA (wow! I’m surprised at this too!), 11 middle grade, 11 picture books, and 3 chapter books. It seems like while 2018 was the year of YA, 2019 was the year of middle grade.

And of those 39 contestants, my Top Ten Delegates are…

… drumroll please.

Michael McDowell’s BLACKWATER saga

Eoin Colfer’s HIGHFIRE

Erin Morgenstern’s THE STARLESS SEA

Delia Owens’ WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING

Paul Rosolie’s THE GIRL AND THE TIGER

Watt Key’s BEAST: FACE-TO-FACE WITH THE FLORIDA BIGFOOT

Ursula Vernon’s CASTLE HANGNAIL

Erin Entrada Kelly’s LALANI OF THE DISTANT SEA

Gillian McDunn’s CATERPILLAR SUMMER

Natalie Lloyd’s OVER THE MOON

Whew, this is tough. I enjoyed reading all these books. Have you read any of these?

Without further ado, Miss Amity is…

… a tie! (Already? Yes, remember from last year I can do this)

CASTLE HANGNAIL and CATERPILLAR SUMMER! Both Molly and Cat hold the heart of their books by their kindness to the Castle Hangnail denizens and her shark-loving little brother, Chicken, respectively.

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Miss Photogenic is LALANI OF THE DISTANT SEA! I adored reading this lyrical Filipino folktale-inspired story, and the map and illustrations by Lian Cho really made it come alive. It was a perfect compliment to Kelly’s tale of inner strength and belief.

thStyle goes to the BLACKWATER saga! While much of this was a reread for me, it’s been since high school (so twenty-ish years ago) and the swamp monster matriarch Elinor Caskey hasn’t lost her style one bit.

thSecond Runner-Up is THE GIRL AND THE TIGER! Isha and Kala’s story had me in the feels most of the read. It’s such a beautiful book with so much growing pains between appreciating nature and economical progress, hopeful and helpless all at the same time.

9780385541213_fdaf6First Runner-Up is THE STARLESS SEA! I loved how the deeper you sank into the honeyed pages, the more connection you found. Stories wove into stories, keys opened painted doors, it was a dream of a book, much like THE NIGHT CIRCUS.

And Miss Bookshelf 2020 is… WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING! I mean, there’s a reason it’s sold 6 million copies and is on the NYT Bestseller list for over 21 months. Kya’s lyrical story of loneliness and appreciation of nature resounds with people more that ever in this time of social distancing. 9780735219090_e11a6

Thanks for playing along! Do you have a favorite book you read last year?

Earth Day Kid’s Book Recommendations

For the 50th anniversary of Earth Day this year, I wanted to come up with my top 5 Kid’s Book Recommendations. But I couldn’t whittle it down from 7 even though who comes up with a Top 7 list? Me. Someone who loves Earth Day and likes to celebrate Earth Day Every Day. Of course, due to COVID-19 our Earth Day celebrations have changed slightly. Instead of commemorating with the community at the Fairhope Pier, the kids and I participated in a 3 week, stay-at-home Pollinator Project Earth Day Challenge with the Girl Scouts of NE Kansas & NW Missouri council. It’s been fun–we’ve all learned LOTS about how important pollinators are and were lucky enough to have monarch caterpillars on milkweed in our garden. Bagel, Tickle Lemon Stripe Stripe, and Stretchy McNibbles became our backyard quarantine buddies.

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Great J-shape, Bagel! Check out my Instagram page for all stages of their metamorphosis.

Now, to the Top 7 list!

Picture Books

BROTHER EAGLE, SISTER SKY, illustrated by Susan Jeffers (Penguin RandomHouse, 1991) The text is Chief Seattle’s heart-tingling speech to the government when they wanted to buy his people’s (the Northwest Native American Nations) land. He believed that all life, especially the earth itself, is sacred. Absolutely gorgeous book on how all life is connected to each other.

THE FATE OF FAUSTO, written and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers (HarperCollins, 2019) My first impression of this modern-day fable was that it was an odd one, but when has Jeffers ever steered us wrong? By the time I read through to the end page, I was in the feels. My boss must’ve seen the expression on my face because she asked if I was okay. It’s about a guy, Fausto, who claims everything, “You are mine” and for a bit, the flowers, the sheep, the mountains bow down to his will. But then he goes too far. This book oddly really resonates with kids–I think it’s the idea of an adult claiming ownership of everything and then a mutiny that’s appealing. I have it on this list because it cautions humanity on claiming things as ours when we really have no right to.

Chapter Book

IVY + BEAN: WHAT’S THE BIG IDEA?, written by Annie Barrows, illustrated by Sophie Blackall (Chronicle Books, 2011) I love this book in the popular series because its takes something HUGE–global warming, and breaks it down into a project that gives children agency. One of the issues with things like plastic pollution, global warming, etc, is that they’re such BIG PROBLEMS, its overwhelming. For adults as well as kids. I love how Barrows breaks it down and her author’s note in the back is not to be missed.

Middle Grade

BAYOU MAGIC, written by Jewell Parker Rhodes (Little, Brown Books, 2015) Y’all may recall this one on my blog when it won Miss Amity in last year’s Miss Bookshelf USA. It has so many things to love about it–folk magic, fireflies, Mami Wata mermaids, and a Cajun setting with an environmental twist–the BP Oil Spill. Which incidentally, just had its 10 year mark.

CHOMP, written by Carl Hiaasen (Knopf, 2012) Really, most all of Hiaasen’s novels fit the environmental theme with its conservation and respect for Florida wildlife, but this is one specifically is what Mermaid Girl picked as this year’s Earth Week read. We’re both enjoying the Florida flora and fauna fun facts and absurdity Hiaasen does so well.

Young Adult

THE GIRL AND THE TIGER, written by Paul Rosolie (Owl Hollow Press, 2019) The girl is Isha. She is sent away to live with her grandparents in the Indian countryside. The tiger is Kala, an orphaned Bengal tiger cub Isha finds in an ancient banyan grove. Together they take a journey to find a safe place for Kala to live. It gives insight on the growing pains India is struggling with by asking, do we protect the environment and animals within (because the natural world is all connected) or do we embrace a world made convenient at other’s expense? Gah, I cried at the end. Its hopeful and helpless all at the same time. Knowing that it’s based on real people, knowing that there are voices for the voiceless, really made it hit hard.

DRY, written by Neal & Jarrod Shusterman (S&S, 2019) So I haven’t finished reading this one yet but wanted to add it to the list as it realistically portrays a future we’re heading into, dealing with climate change and California droughts. Especially as we enter into a megadrought in real life. I want to include this quote about DRY from Publishers Weekly because I think it perfectly summarizes the COVID-crisis as well:

“…effective study of how extreme circumstances can bring out people’s capacity for both panic and predation, ingenuity and altruism.”

So there are my Top 7 picks for Earth Day reads. What are some of your favorites?EarthDayTop7

Something I want everyone reading this to keep in mind is while these are overwhelming issues that can get you right down in the dumps, there are always small steps YOU can take to make the world better. And these books help you find your path.

Unfortunately libraries are closed now, but if a book resonates with you that you’d like to share with your kids, consider checking in with your local indie bookshop. Most are offering curbside pick-up and our local, The Haunted Book Shop, even offers porch-side drop-off in select neighborhoods and free, local shipping (all links connect to the Haunted Bookshop or its partner, bookshop.org.)

Stay safe and 6 feet away from your neighbors but feel free to hug a tree 🙂

Bringing the Writing Workshop to You: Creativity Exercises for the Stuck-At-Home Writer

Activities to get creativity flowing…brainstorms and origin stories.

The Haunted Book Shop in Mobile, Alabama

Last summer, two other authors and I held a Lil’ Haints Creative Writing Workshop at the bookstore tailored to young authors from nine to fourteen. It was absolutely amazing to see the kids’ eyes light up as they told us about the stories they were working on. The students inspired us just as much as we inspired them, I think.

As I was casting around for ideas on how I could use my talents in this uncertain, coronavirus time to help others, I wondered, could putting my Lil’ Haints workshopping lessons online help encourage and entertain young authors at home?

What follows is the workshop I gave on “Brainstorms & Origin Stories” redesigned for this format:

Today’s workshop is about how to be a creative person—whether you write, draw, or underwater basket weave as my middle school teacher used to say. Being creative is about keeping yourself open to possibilities…

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Laughter is the Best Vaccine: Funny Books to Get You Through These Coronavirus Times

Need to boost your immune system with a good laugh and the books that’ll make that happen? Here’s a post I wrote for the indie bookstore I work at as a kidlit specialist.

The Haunted Book Shop in Mobile, Alabama

Stop me if you’ve heard this one. A ghost walks into a bookshop. The owner asks, “How can I help you?” Ghost says, “I’m here for the BOOOOks.”

Yeah, that was more groan-worthy than a haunted staircase. But in these weird times of uncertainty and distancing ourselves from friends and family, having a sense of humor, and feeding it, is one of the healthiest things we can do for ourselves.

A good guffaw can help soothe tension and physical symptoms of stress by stimulating circulation and relaxing muscles. Positive thoughts (which go hand in hand with laughing) releases neuropeptides that help battle stress and potentially more serious illnesses. Thus boosting your immune system.

A shared joke can help you deal with difficult situations and bond you with a person more fully, even if you can’t be within six feet of them.

Laughter can also be as helpful as a workout…

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Valentine’s Day Giveaway

Love is in the air! But so is something else…

Hi, y’all! If you’re a newsletter follower, then you already know about the Mobile Writers’ Guild’s third annual anthology that recently released called Valentine’s Day Pieces. It’s a collection of short stories, creative non fiction, and poetry. Some fun-filled and loving, others chilling when love goes awry.

AnthologyGiveawayPicAnd because this Valentine’s Day I want y’all to know how much I appreciate the time and attention and positive thoughts from you to follow my tangly journey to publication, I’m giving away a copy! And it’s not only signed by me, so that’s pretty cool.

All you have to do to enter is SIGN UP HERE for my newsletter. If you’re already subscribed, you’re already entered, easy-peasy. I’ll have the kiddos draw Sunday evening and announce the winner on my facebook author page so you can get it before February 14th.

Thanks so much! Y’all enjoy the upcoming chocolate and king cake season that will soon be upon us!

I also want to thank my critique partner, Carrie Dalby, for walking me through all things newsletter-ish. Like this giveaway for instance, lol. If y’all like Southern Gothic family sagas and/or YA historical fiction, go check out her books!

Writing Goals: Looking Back on 2019

MGTreeWe’re about to load up the car to visit family for Christmas but I wanted to take a moment and look back at my year writing-wise. It’s helpful to see where I’ve been to know where I’m going (or at least in what direction), and I encourage you to do the same.

This was the year I took a leap and invested in myself. I started off January by taking a Children’s Book Academy course as well as enrolling in a Writing Magic class. I learned a lot from both and ended up being inspired by Mira, the founder of CBA, to write a new picture book manuscript that earned a Golden Ticket to submit to three editors of houses I normally couldn’t submit to on my own. It’s also Girl Scout Cookie season so January was pretty packed, haha. Submissions: 1 YA, 1 sub (full request!); 3 PBs, 3 subs

February submissions: 3 PBs, 3 subs; 1 MG, 2 subs (another request!) and y’all know I can’t resist Susanna Hill’s ValenTINY writing contest.

March was Mardi Gras and more submissions: 1 MG, 5 subs (2 full requests!), 1 YA, 1 sub (contract offered and accepted with Owl Hollow Press!); 3 PBs, 5 subs; 1 BB, 1 sub. I entered the amazingly generous, Vivian Kirkfield’s 50 Precious Words contest for the first time. I also wo’manned a table at the Mobile Literary Fest and did a reading (I’m slowly getting more comfortable with those, but gotta get better at making eye contact!).

April showers brought another writing contest, a Spring Fling from the lovely Kaitlyn Sanchez where I received Honorable Mention. I also helped plan Indie Bookstore Day with the Mobile Writers’ Guild and The Haunted Bookshop. Submissions: 1 MG, 1 sub; 1 PB, 1 sub; 1 YA, 1 sub.

The first week in May was NaPiBoWriWee or 7 picture book drafts in 7 days which was A LOT of fun and I ended up with 2 viable manuscripts and 1 magazine piece. Submissions: 1 YA, 1 sub (full request!); 3 magazine, 3 subs; 1 PB, 1 sub. I also started to work part time at The Haunted Bookshop, our local indie bookstore which is just the best.

HBS13thArtWalk

With authors and critique partners Carrie Dalby & Joyce Scarbrough

In June, I was an instructor with two other fabulous ladies at the Lil’ Haints Creative Writing Summer Workshop. It was so much fun hearing ideas and brainstorming with young writers. I submitted 1 short story which was accepted for publication and just came out this October. I received a pitmad request as well as sent out 3 more picture book queries. I also submitted a chapter book to SCBWI’s Southern Breeze writing contest and won first place–WIK 2020, here I come!

July submissions: 1 MG, 1 sub; 1 PB, 1 sub

August submissions: 1 PBs, 2 subs; 1 CB, 1 sub; 1 MG, 1 sub; 1 BB, 1 sub

September: 1 MG, 4 subs (2 full requests which led to me signing with my new agent!); 1 YA, 1 sub; 1 PB, 1 sub; A picture book I submitted April of last year was accepted for publication!

October: my submissions stop because I sign with the amazing and intuitive Katelyn Detweiler of Jill Grinberg Literary Management and we’re busy working on my mg, Marvel & Happy. My short story, “The Levee and Bea Pearl” is published in OHP’s anthology, Cabinet of Curiosities. And my Publishers Weekly announcement for Bea Pearl released! I also helped judge A Fall Frenzy which was tough because there were SO MANY exceptional entries. PWannouncement

I now have a GoodReads page for THE EXISTENCE OF BEA PEARL, joined the #Roaring20sdebut group, and have my very own writerly newsletter! (The sign-up link is on my Contact page, if you’d like to see what that’s all about)

I’m sure I’ve forgotten things but I really need to help the kiddos pack–no telling what they’ll bring on their own. So I wish all of you the happiest of holidays and hope you take a moment to reflect on everything you’ve accomplished in 2019 too!

 

A Fall Frenzy & Sunflowers

The temperature was 84 degrees the other morning so I’m pretty sure that was Fall. Maybe? It’s still my favorite season even if the weather doesn’t cooperate.

This year, I’m getting in the Fall spirit with a contest to spark creativity by my writing buddy, Kaitlyn Sanchez. I’m a judge too, but am told I can play along as well ’cause y’all know I can’t resist a reason to write. Check out all the rules here so you can enter too. You have until the 11th.

The image I chose from the many gorgeous ones listed: Sunflowerpexels-photo-2901913

Some people say
sunflowers—whose cheerful,
many-petaled face follows the sun—
will face each other
when skies are grey
to share their energy.

I don’t know if that’s true. But
I do know
if my eyes are grey
I can press my face to yours
nose to nose kiss
forehead to forehead
and your sunshine
and warm delight
in the world lifts
my face from the shadows.

Sunflowers–and kiddo snuggles–are the best.

I hope to see your entry too. Good luck!

Every Rejection Happens for a Reason

Did I get tons of eyerolls for that title?

Of course, there’s a reason for the rejection. I’m not talented enough. My writing needs to be stronger. I’ll never make it as an author. Look how good everyone else is.

Or, Magic8Ball

Acquisitions didn’t see my vision. They didn’t get what I was trying to say. They didn’t give my writing the time it deserves.

Or even,

They already have XYZ genre, subject, or theme on their lists. I’m too late.

I’ve wallowed and gnashed my writing teeth in all that mire. But once my head clears and I don’t take the rejection quite so personally, I wonder: what if I was selling myself short? What if I was settling, an injustice to the words I carefully selected and strung together? Worried and pried to make them the best and strongest they can be?

What if the rejection happened because it wasn’t the right place for my writing?

Two days ago a short story of mine was accepted into an anthology. As the lovely congrats comments posted, I realized a good bit of them were from authors I had ‘met’ from last year’s anthology, published by the same press.

And I thought, if last year’s short story, “Swamp Mallow”, had been published by the first place I sent it, I would never have met these nice authors. And honestly, it wouldn’t have been as strong of a story as it is now. I wouldn’t have been as proud of it as I am now. It would still be called “The Girl and the Gator” and feature a carrot as a weapon. *facepalm*

In 2015, 500 ‘new’ fairytales were discovered in Germany, compiled into The Turnip Princess and Other Newly Discovered Fairy Tales collected in the mid-19th century by Franz Xaver von Schonwerth. One of those was “The Girl and the Pond”. I’d always liked the fairytale, “Moss Gown”, the Cajun combination of King Lear and Cinderella, so I wanted to retell “The Girl and the Pond” with that bayou atmosphere. Hence “Swamp Mallow” was born.

I knew it was a good story: had a great setting, developed characters (the villain needed more motivation, mentioned one editor), and a nicely-paced plot. The feedback I received was positive: original, creative, etc, but it was always a no. Dejected, I put it aside. Even though I loved the story, I was forcing it to fit themes that didn’t work.

But then a publisher announced their 2018 theme: a full moon. It spoke to me. I rewrote it. All of a sudden, my story had heart and that pesky villain had motivation. This time a theme not only fit my story but made my story even better than it had been before.

My story found the home it was always supposed to have.

So yes, every rejection does have a reason. And sometimes it’s not anything to do with your writing abilities. Sometimes the reason is because better things are waiting on the horizon.

Don’t give up.
Keep writing.
Keep sharing your words with the world. My hope in this example is that the rejections don’t get you down for long.

How do you get through rejection? I’d love to see your tips in the comments!

Interested in reading “Swamp Mallow” and the 27 other fabulous short stories that take place UNDER THE FULL MOON’S LIGHT? Here’s the link.