About Me

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I'm a published author of short fiction for kids and adults. I have an MFA in Creative Writing from Spalding University. I'm a former content writer for Spirit and Truth publishing on their Living the Word series. I've also worked as a paid book reviewer and as a student editor for The Louisville Review literary magazine. I'm a wife and mom to two great kids, three dogs, and a cat. I love books, movies, gardening, kids, and animals.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Chat with Mrs. Claus


I am truly honored today to welcome Mrs. Claus to my blog as a special guest. For privacy purposes I couldn't post an actual picture of the great lady herself, but there are lots of cute images of her and Santa out there. This was one she sent me that she liked best.

Ann: Thank you so much Mrs. Claus for agreeing to chat with me on one of your busiest days of the year. I am a huge fan of you and your husband.

Mrs. Claus: I'm so glad you asked me. Even though it is a busy season for me and my husband we love to talk about our life's work with believers like you.

Ann: Well I'll try to keep this chat short even though I have lots of questions I'd love to ask. Do you find fewer children believe in you nowadays?

Mrs. Claus: Fortunately, we don't. We have more children than ever who believe in us and thank goodness we have lots of wonderful helpers out there who are more than willing to work hard to make sure many deserving children receive their presents.

Ann: By helpers do you mean elves?

Mrs. Claus: We do have a few elf helpers out there. But there are lots of other groups and organizations that work to get children the presents they deserve. Santa and I love this time of year because of the spirit of giving that is so prevalent during this wonderful season.

Ann: That is true now that you mention it. I can think of several wonderful organizations that work all over the world to help make this season merry for kids. Do you find it hard to keep your anonymity in this technological age?

Mrs. Claus: It is challenging. But with so many people out there willing to be Santa helpers and listen to the wishes of children few people can ever be sure who the real Santa is. Also, my husband and I have been doing this work a very long time. So we have years of experience maintaining our privacy.

Ann: Okay, I have to ask, how does Santa deliver all of those toys to children in one night?

Mrs. Claus: I'm so glad you asked that question. The answer is that Santa is known by many different names and is anticipated on different days throughout the Christmas season. Some children look forward to him coming on St. Nicholas Day, others on Christmas Eve, and others expect him on the day of the Epiphany in January. Also, time zones are very different around the world. Some countries are whole days ahead of others. In Italy, I actually get to deliver the presents as Befana, so that particular country holds a special place in my heart.

Ann: That is fascinating, I love learning things about other cultures. It sounds like you and Santa have a remarkable history together. I wish we had time to talk more about it, but I know you are on a tight schedule, so I'll just ask one last question. Do reindeer really fly?

Mrs. Claus: Dear, Clement Moore and his wonderful poem certainly helped spread my husband's popularity. I can tell you that we do have special reindeer that do fly, but I can't tell you anymore about it. For the safety of reindeer everywhere that is a trade secret that my husband and I guard very carefully. It took us years to train and learn to guide our reindeer safely. Not all reindeer are equipped to do what ours do. It could be very harmful to the animals if people tried to force them to fly when they aren't able to. Let's just leave it at that.

Ann: Well, thank you so very much for taking the time to talk to me today. I know you have lots to do so I won't keep you any longer. I hope you and Santa have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Mrs. Claus: Thank you, Ann for hosting me on your blog. I hope you and your family have a wonderful Christmas and a very healthy and happy New Year. Merry Christmas!


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Happy Belated Birthday Jane Austen and Pride and Prejudice


In July of this year, I was finally able to go to my first ever Jane Austen festival at Locust Grove in Louisville, KY. Unfortunately for me, Louisville is the closest place that has a Jane Austen society in the Bluegrass. A fun group for Austenophiles (I made this word up, not sure if it's a real word) like me, also known as Janeites, who enjoy getting to do fun stuff once a month to celebrate all things Jane Austen. Still, I did get to enjoy a fun afternoon with my daughter and mother, and realized that this year is also the 200th anniversary of the publication of Pride and Prejudice, one of Ms. Austen's most popular novels.

My daughter was introduced to Pride and Prejudice in movie form at a very early age, but didn't remember the story. So, to celebrate it's bicentennial year, we did a film adaptation viewing marathon which then inspired my precocious 12 year-old to read the actual book. We watched the oldest film adaptation I have in my movie library, a 1940 version with Sir Laurence Olivier as Mr. Darcy and Greer Garson as Miss Elizabeth Bennett. Then we moved on to the BBC made for TV version (1995) with Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy, one of my personal favorites, and Jennifer Ehle as Lizzy. We ended with the most recent version I know of (2005), with Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen in the lead roles. Of all of them my daughter loved the newest adaptation the best, though the BBC version ran a close second. When I asked her why, she said that she loved Matthew Macfadyen's nose. Not sure why his nose is a factor, but apparently the Mr. Darcy in her mind has a nose like this particular actor.

I wasn't sure my daughter would like the book. But I hoped she would. I love the character of Elizabeth Bennett or Lizzy as she's referred to by her family and friends. She is strong, she doesn't settle for just any man in order to be safe and please her mother, and she has a firm sense justice for all, no matter your station in life. Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice is the model for many of the romances that women and even some men enjoy today. The aloof and snobby Mr. Darcy is won over by the poorer but bright, and clever Miss Bennett. They fight, and dislike each other in the beginning, then slowly fall in love and end up enjoying a happy ever after moment at the end. All of Jane Austen's books have happy endings for her characters, despite all the trials and tribulations they endure beforehand. My daughter loved the novel and came home telling me about how she secretly squeed in class while she read about Mr. Darcy's first proposal to Lizzy.


It brought back happy memories of my first time reading the book at about her age. So here a day late is my tribute and personal thank-you to Ms. Austen. I don't think genre fiction would be what it is today without your clever stories that see into the human spirit so keenly and accurately. Even today your novels strike a cord with us and our human foibles which haven't evolved all that much in over 200 years. And for those of you out there who love her novels and enjoy watching the film adaptations of them, don't be sad that 2013 and the bicentennial of Pride and Prejudice is coming to a close. The dawning of 2014 will be the 200th anniversary of another of Jane Austen's novels, Persuasion. I'm looking forward to exploring the nuances of this novel with my daughter in the coming year since it is one of the only Austen novels I haven't yet read all the way through. This time we'll read the novel first and then compare film adaptations, of which sadly, I only have two. I'll be interested to find out which Captain Wentworth appeals to my daughter most and why. =)

In the meantime, here are some fun links to check out about Jane Austen and her novels and the movies/TV shows based on her books. Also, which Jane Austen novel is your favorite? Who do you like best of her heroes and heroines and who do you like least?

Editorial of why Mr. Knightley is better than Mr. Darcy

200th Anniversary of Pride and Prejudice and Life Lessons from Jane Austen

List of 11 adaptations and spin offs on Jane Austen stories

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Movie Remakes, and Series vs. Standalones in Genre Fiction

Photo of my personal DVD

Okay, so many of you might have heard that plans are in the works to remake the classic Frank Capra film It's a Wonderful Life. Many people are outraged by this idea. See the link:

Others are excited about it. An article in Parade magazine actually took a viewer poll on the subject.

While I'm not usually a fan of Hollywood's tendency to remake old movies or make movies based on popular older TV series (Bewitched), there have been a few I didn't mind.

Miracle on 34th Street for example. While I love the Maureen O'Hara and Edmund Gwenn version of the original classic, I didn't think the remake was bad. I actually liked it. The 1994 remake starring Richard Attenborough and Elizabeth Perkins was well written and an acceptable update on the classic. And if reviewer's opinions count the two rated very closely on both Amazon and Imdb.

Another remake that comes to mind is Christmas in Connecticutt. In my opinion, the Barbara Stanwyck version with Dennis Morgan as the charming and cute WWII hero, and Sydney Greenstreet as the overbearing Alexander Yardley is the best. The remake with Dyan Cannon and Kris Krisofferson just wasn't the same. Granted it was a made for TV movie, but still...

As for books, don't get me started on movie versions of books. Most of them fall terribly flat. Which leads to another trend in Hollywood of making movies out of popular YA series. While, I'm very impressed with the Hunger Games movies, most of the time there is no comparison. This leads me to another interesting article I read lately. It posed the question of whether you read series books differently than standalones and whether there were ever genre series you gave up on. Here is the link:
Mind Meld: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Genre Series...

While I agree with her on the Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne, I don't agree on the Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher. I think Harry Dresden has gotten more unlikeable with each book since Changes. I do like the Gail Carriger Parasol Protectorate series, and am looking forward to the sequel series and diving into the new YA series she's started. And even though there have been years in between Diana Gabaldon's Outlander books, I'm still a fan. I am not probably going to finish the Beautiful Creatures series books by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, or Maggie Stiefvater's Wolves of Mercy Falls series. Both just sort of bore me.

So how do you feel about movie remakes and the plans for It's a Wonderful Life, the sequel? What about series vs. standalones? Do you read them differently or have a different set of expectations for one vs. the other? And have there ever been series you've given up on?

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Adventures into the Holiday Season



Well the holidays are in full swing. My calendar is filling up more each day with special holiday activities for me and the kids. Thank goodness for cyber Monday or I don't know when I'd have time to shop. I did make it out on black Friday and managed to get a few good deals. But black Friday has gotten more confusing each year since it became more like brown Thursday. It used to be I could strategically plan out my shopping early in the morning on Friday like a general calling up the troops. I'd sneak out of the house while my kids were still asleep and pick up holiday surprises and be back before they even knew I'd gone anywhere. It was lovely. Now you hardly get time to digest your turkey before the deals start on Thursday. I guess it's nice for those of us who don't like getting up super early. But it makes it harder to figure out where to be and when and I'm always so sleepy Thursday evening after eating so much. I did manage to go out with my mom and daughter to see "Frozen" on Thursday though. That's a fun thing to do after you eat if you aren't into football.

This year I decided it wasn't worth it to get up and out early on Friday. Most of the deals had been going on too long by then. So I had a nice leisurely breakfast of pumpkin pie with whipped cream, hot tea, and waldorf salad with lots of apples and cheese. I figure pumpkin is a squash so it is perfectly acceptable to eat it in pie for breakfast, plus if you do it before you go shopping you can walk it off all day long. After doing a little shopping with my mom, daughter, and sisters, we had lunch and went to see a holiday movie called the "Christmas Candle." Overall, it made for a nice new holiday tradition and it took some of the pressure off shopping on that one crazy day of the year. I think if you're going to have deals around the Thanksgiving holiday you should do them all throughout the week. That way people can browse and shop and see what's out there the weekend before and it makes it easier to plan your attack later in the week. Plus it might help alleviate the mob scenes that still seem to occur on Friday. Some of the stores did do that this year and I think that might be a sensible approach.

And as I mentioned earlier, if you aren't able to get everywhere over the weekend, you can shop in your pjs on Monday and still get some good deals. Then you can celebrate by making holiday fudge or maybe peppermint bark. Yum!

What about you? How do you feel about the black Friday/brown Thursday trend? What holiday traditions do you enjoy this season?


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Thanksgiving More than Turkeys and Shopping...What?

Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

I am not hip and current on things in the world of Facebook. And don't even talk about Twitter or Pinterest. Over the course of this month I've been noticing all these Facebook posts that go something like this...

Day 26: I'm thankful for the fact that it hasn't snowed yet. Since my sister and her family are traveling the roadways today to get to my parents house.

These were nice posts. I enjoyed reading them and EVERYONE, including my sister mentioned above was doing them. But I had no idea why. I finally figured it out at a community Thanksgiving service I attended this past Sunday. Apparently, the month of November was 30 days of giving thanks month.

Now I realize this means two things. One, I'm dreadfully behind on my thankfulness list. Two, I probably could have figured out what was going on if I'd asked someone. But I'm too hip to ask questions like that. If I asked my sister I would get an eye roll and pitying smile as she explained to her decrepit older sister what this was all about. My husband would either chuckle and tell me, or he would be as clueless as me. Fifty-fifty odds on that one. Anyway, once I was clued in to what was happening I started to think about this whole thankfulness thing. It was a good thing to ponder.

Now I could list all of the things I'm thankful for right here and now. You would probably get a little nauseous reading this and stop following this blog if I did that. But I decided I'm not going to do that. First, because I'm not sure it would serve the purpose it was meant to, and second, because I'm not sure it would really work for me. Not because I'm not thankful for my life. I am VERY thankful for my life. I go to bed at night thanking God for all my blessings and pray that I get to hold on to them and that he will protect them for me. I know life is precarious and I constantly worry in the back of my mind the other shoe will drop someday and tragedy will strike.

But what if we did more than be thankful for 30 days, or even for the rest of our lives? What if we woke up every morning and and consciously thanked God just for another morning of life? What if we not only made the effort to push away all the worry and stress another day brings for most of us, and promised to do one small thing that was kind that day? It could be something as simple as trying to smile and wish people we see a good morning. Or letting someone who only has a couple of things to pay for in the grocery line jump ahead of us in line. Just one kind thing wouldn't take that much.

I freely admit, I don't know if I will be able to start doing this everyday. My life like everyone else's is busy, stressful and hectic. The holidays don't relieve that stress. In many ways they add to it. There are expectations to be met for ourselves, our families, our children, you name it. But the season we are going into is a season of hope. A new year will dawn soon. I wonder how much better my day would be each morning if I really tried to breath a simple prayer upon waking that I am still alive. I have another day and another opportunity to share some good in the world. Maybe if I can do that I can spread my thankfulness quotient beyond 30 days and extend it to whatever time I've got left in this world. As a Christian I think it would be a good start for me, because the one I believe came to light my way in the darkness didn't ask for much. He simply asked me to love my neighbor. How can I do that if I can't wake up in the morning loving myself? Maybe I can start by not thinking about what the world asks of me so much and simply start by taking a breath and being glad that I'm able to.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Beginnings

Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net
The beginning to any story is crucial to drawing in a reader. I find the first chapters of my novels are initially the weakest part of my story.

Part of this might because I start with a synopsis for most of my stories and craft them from there. I don't usually have an outline when I begin or if I do it is a very basic one. For me it is more fun to dive in and see where the story takes me. I know I have time once its done to go back and fix things later.


In the rewriting process my beginnings give me the most grief. This is ironic because I've always hated writing my endings more than my beginnings. The first few lines of my story are often my favorite. The words pour out of my head onto the page in this wondrous way and I can't help smiling as I write them. But when it comes time to start showing my story to my trusted critique group I usually come away with less than positive feedback.

It seems that in my joy of pouring out my story I tend to go on and on too much with info dumps, too little dialogue, and a beginning that has been done too many times before. Sometimes the unfolding of the plot that seemed so clear to me as I lived it in my mind is even confusing to my readers.

When this inevitably happens I take a moment to let the chapter sit a while. As I re-group I've found the best inspiration for me to go back and do better is often to re-read some of my favorite books, or even a new book that came highly recommended. When I do this I find myself really looking at those beginnings. It is amazing to discover the beauty in those first few words that drew me into that world and made me fall in love with that story. Reading them again or even for the first time gives me the courage to strive for something just as beautiful in my own work.

How about you? What are some of the best story beginnings you've ever read?

Monday, November 11, 2013

Swing Low, Sweet Harriet by Rhonda Rucker (Author Interview & Giveaway)

This wonderful historical novel, by author Rhonda Rucker, is told from the perspective of a thirteen-year-old slave boy named Ben. It is geared toward middle grade readers, and offers a unique narrative point of view for juvenile fiction that isn't explored enough. Below is a short, short summary of the book.

Photo provided by author


People on the Lowndes plantation have heard of a woman known as Moses. There are tales about how she leads folks to safety and freedom. When Moses starts showing up at meetings, some are curious to know more, while others think it’s safer to keep a distance from her. The war is on—can anyone be trusted? Still, no one, including Ben, a thirteen-year-old slave, can ignore her message: “Be ready. Freedom is at hand.” Even wish Uncle Minus says things are different now. And though Ben doesn’t realize that Moses is actually Harriet Tubman, he does know a dangerous secret about the soldiers that he wants to tell her. Then Ben’s sister, who works in the Big House, learns another important secret: The plantation owners know about Moses and they don’t like her moving about the area and spreading her new ideas.




Photo provided by author


Author Rhonda Hicks Rucker practiced medicine before becoming a full-time musician, author, and storyteller. Rhonda performs with her husband, James “Sparky” Rucker, adding vocals, piano, blues harmonica, banjo, and rhythmic bones to their music. They appeared on the Grammy-nominated CD, Singing Through the Hard Times, in 2009. Rhonda and Sparky have recorded ten albums together. Their 1991 release, Treasures & Tears, was nominated for the W.C. Handy Award for Best Traditional Recording. Rhonda has been an author since 1998, publishing articles in newspapers, magazines, and books. She was a contributing author for the Encyclopedia of Appalachia, published by University of Tennessee Press. In 2013, Highlights published her article, “Rescuing Miracle,” and Motes Books published her debut novel she will be discussing with my today, Swing Low, Sweet Harriet.

I am very pleased to have the opportunity to talk Rhonda today and offer one lucky person a chance to win a free copy of Rhonda's book. 

Ann: Hi Rhonda. Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed on my blog about your wonderful debut novel, Swing Low, Sweet Harriet. Many people know about Harriet Tubman’s work with the Underground Railroad, but I’d never heard about her involvement as a spy for the Union army. How did you learn about this particular part of Harriet Tubman’s life?

Rhonda: Thanks so much for having me, Ann! My husband and I are musicians and storytellers, so we travel around the country and occasionally overseas for performances. About twenty years ago, my husband was doing a solo performance in Savannah, Georgia. (At the time, I had a day job in our hometown.) After the concert, Asa Gordon, a historian and scholar, told my husband about Tubman's role as a spy and scout during the Civil War. After verifying it, my husband began telling the story on stage. The slaves in that region of the country were Gullah, retaining much of their African tribal customs and heritage. According to their legend, they wrote the song we've all heard, Swing Low, Sweet Chariot. However, they say they originally wrote it as Swing Low, Sweet Harriet, as a way of honoring Harriet Tubman.

Ann: Your work as a storyteller and musician with your husband sounds really fascinating. I’m surprised you could narrow down the scope of the story you wanted to tell with that kind of background in folklore music.

Had you ever written any historical fiction before tackling this novel? What went into researching it? Were you familiar with this area of South Carolina?

Rhonda: This is the first novel I have ever written. I had originally written it as a picture book. Somewhere along the way, I realized this story was better suited for older children. I shelved the idea, thinking I would write it as a novel someday. In June 2011, I went to a Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators event in Lexington, Kentucky and told an editor about the Harriet Tubman story. She loved the idea and asked to see the first chapter by October. She provided the motivation I needed. For the next several months, I focused on the novel, initially spending many hours researching the story. I used both primary and secondary sources. In many ways, researching is easier nowadays since some documents can be found on the Web. Sarah Bradford interviewed Harriet Tubman and wrote two biographies of her in the 1880s, and I found those online. I also found newspaper articles written after the raid. My husband's copy of the Official Records of the Civil War was helpful. Some of my sources are listed at the back of the book. During our travels, my husband and I stopped a couple of times to view the area of the raid. Seeing the river and the terrain helped me visualize the story.

Ann: Wow! So going to workshops and SCBWI events really paid off in this case.

Have you read other historical novels told from a slave’s perspective that is geared toward this age group? Did you find it challenging to tell a story from this perspective and a boy’s at that?

Rhonda: I've read other children's historical fiction from that time period, but I can't remember ever reading one from a slave's perspective. I think it's always challenging to write from a child's point of view. However, I enjoyed my childhood, and I love using my imagination to put myself in a child's shoes. I also like to empower children and make them realize that they can have a real and important role in changing the world.

Ann: I agree. I think it is a very important privilege of writing for children that we can use this art form to empower and inspire them.

How long did it take to write this novel and find a publisher for it? What advice would you offer to other writers struggling to complete or publish their own first novel?

Rhonda: I think I first began writing the story as a picture book in 2010. I sent it to a few publishers then before realizing it would be better told as a middle-grade book. I began working on the novel in June 2011. I finished the first draft before I sent the first chapter to the editor in October 2011. I did that because I had heard that novelists often throw out their first two or three chapters after realizing they have started the story too soon. I wanted to make sure the chapter I sent to the editor was really my first chapter. By the time I sent her the final copy, two years had passed, and I had done several revisions. I know I was incredibly lucky to have my first novel published. I still can't believe I ran into an editor who was interested in the story as much as I was. In writing historical fiction, it's important to do meticulous research. Just as important, though, is coming up with a compelling plot to capture the reader. I think it's helpful to do both those things before beginning to write the novel. Once you've decided on a plot and you have a good sense of the historical events and time period, you can start writing. More research will inevitably be needed as you write.

Ann: You took your time with this first book to get it right and it certainly paid off. It is a beautifully written story.

What new work do we have to look forward to from you in the future? Will you publish with the same publisher?

Rhonda: I am currently working on another historical novel—a YA book based on the Birmingham Children's March in 1963. I started this one two years ago, and it's already undergone multiple major revisions. I'm currently looking for an agent who would be interested in this book as well as future ones.

Ann: Thank you so much for being a guest on my blog, Rhonda.

Rhonda: Thanks to you, Ann!

Ann: For more information on Rhonda visit her webpage at: www.sparkyandrhonda.com. To purchase a copy of Swing Low, Sweet Harriet click on these links for Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Powell Books.


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Tuesday, November 5, 2013

My November Insanity

November means many different things for people. It is one of the last months of the year. For my husband and my mom it means another birthday is on the horizon. In the United States, November represents a time of thankfulness, delicious gluttony and the arrival of the holiday season. For me for the past two years November represents more than all of these things. It is the one month of the year where I naively enter into a challenge that in most cases I have no hope of beating, but take on anyway. Possibly it is insanity, but I prefer to think of it as the eternal optimism of the child inside of me. 

2013-Participant-Facebook-Cover.png (851×315)

In November I join with hundreds of thousands of eager souls around the world to undertake a mission, to write a 50,000 word novel in one month. Yes, I am a NaNoWriMo. For those of you unfamiliar with this strange and exotic term, NaNoWriMo is an acronym for National Novel Writing Month. 

I first signed up to be a WriMo in November of 2011. I had already completed first drafts on two novels and decided it might be fun to see if I could write a third in 30 days. Sick with bronchitis and feeling a little directionless now that my youngest was in first grade and going to school full time, I signed up. I decided I would write a novel that I had no outline for, only an idea of, and I would do it without even breaking it up into chapters. It would be written as just one long piece of free form writing. 

It was fun, it was frustrating, and I completed it within a couple of days of the final November 30th deadline. This YA master piece has be rewritten now once and is going to be undergoing a third incarnation very soon, once I have time. I still have hopes for it eventually getting published when it is fully ready. But the fact that I wrote it in a month is something I am still very proud of, even if it never gets published.

Winning NaNoWriMo was an acheivement I have yet to duplicate. I have signed on to do it again this year. I have the title of my book entered and a short blurb written about it. But I still have yet to write a single word. I still have time to catch up. I will do this. This is going to be the year I write another novel in a month!

Still if I don't win the challenge again this year, I will enjoy being a part of NaNoWriMo for the third time. Being a part of this unique community of fellow writers each November is fun and worthwhile. So stop by and check out this strange place known as NaNoLand. Maybe you will find yourself writing that novel you've always meant to try your hand at in a month too.


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Great Historical Fiction for Middle Graders

Photo provided by author


I have to share the news! One of my critique group partners recently published her debut novel, Swing Low, Sweet Harriet.


I re-read it over the weekend and it is fantastic! It is told from a unique perspective in middle grade fiction, a thirteen-year-old slave boy named Ben. It is set during the middle of the conflict of the American Civil War near the coast of South Carolina. Ben stumbles across Rebel soldiers and overhears their plans to stop the progress of the Union army, when he is out fishing along the Combahee River. When a stranger appears during Sunday meeting and asks him and the other slaves if they've seen any Rebels lately, Ben is conflicted over what to do. Should he share what he overheard with this strange woman named Moses, or should he keep it to himself? Is it worth the risk and can this Moses woman be trusted?


This is a well researched and riveting narrative. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys fiction on this period in American history. Though I will caution you, that since it is told from the point of view of a young slave boy there is some violence in the story. However, this is a true depiction of slavery and nothing was added in that detracts from the narrative of the character. It would be a great teaching tool to use in classrooms or for home schooling. You can purchase this book online at Barnes and Noble or on Amazon.

Happy All Hallow's Eve

Here are some of my favorite things about Fall and the month of October in particular in pictures...

Sunsets are more colorful

Searching in the pumpkin patch...

for that perfect pumpkin

Giant slides at...

farms with corn mazes

Yummy if a bit spooky dinners

Beautiful colors everywhere

Putting together a unique costume to

trick or treat at the zoo and later throughout town Halloween night

Beautiful young voices at All Festival Choir

Carving

pumpkins

and giving them 

fun new forms...like Death Stars

Crisp Saturday mornings watching my kids run Cross Country

What about you? What are some of your favorite things about fall? Any shivery tales you'd like to share about this spookiest of holiday seasons?

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Gothically Captivating Reading



Reading when you are young is like being taken on a journey down an unknown path. It is magical and mysterious and you are lost in a world that only you know about, while all around you people are doing other mundane things.

As a writer I feel this way when I start a new story. I have a seed of an idea that makes my fingers itch to get it down on paper. But as a writer who reads, this captivation sometimes alludes me. On a blog post I've started following another writer mentioned this in the comments. That reading to learn craft has taken away some of the initial wonder that follows starting a new book. I've heard this before. At a book signing for an author whose books I enjoy, at conferences from agents and editors, and on writing websites and blogs. I didn't have a name for what this was. But it saddened me a little. Did growing in my craft as a writer mean I was losing the joy of reading?


That would be a horrible sacrifice. And what would I do with all these books that I still haven't read? Good heavens, would my book fetish just be that... A frenzied need to collect stories I'd never be able to read or if I did start, never be able to finish!

Then I read a wonderful article in the Huffington Post that helped it all make sense. It helped me give a name to what I've learned to do as a writer who reads (clears throat) A LOT.

Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net
The post was entitled 11 Lessons That 'Jane Eyre' Can Teach Every 21st Century Woman About How to Live Well by Zoe Triska. This article helped me make sense of what I was doing when I was reading. I was being an active reader. I was absorbing craft, learning to think critically about what I was reading, and consciously, but often subconsciously using this for my own writing. As I read through Ms. Triska's article defending one of her favorite books I realized my joy of reading hadn't lessened. Instead it had become MORE. I needed good writing that was invisible to me, the reader, to become swept away in a story. Something that I did instinctively as a child. If a story didn't captivate me I didn't worry about putting it down and moving on to something that did. As an adult I started conditioning myself not to do this. Either because I didn't want to give up on a book I'd paid good money for, or because the story was by a writer I'd always enjoyed before, but wasn't impressed by this time, the list could go on. I'd like to say this has made me more discerning in my book purchasing. I'm not sure if this is truly the case or not. I do hesitate to buy books more than in the past. So now I'm going to try not to feel guilty if I can't finish a book that doesn't hold my interest as much as it should. Maybe that will give me more time to re-read some of my perennial favorites, like JANE EYRE, which celebrated its anniversary last week.

What about you? Do you find yourself being an active reader? What are some of your all time favorite books that have swept you away and why?


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

A Public Institution that Still Fulfills its Purpose

About a month ago, an author I met at the conference I attended posted about a small side journey he made on his way to the conference. His post talked about something I'd had floating around in my head off and on for some time. It concerns public libraries. I've included the link here for his blog post, Electric Libraryland by Chris Everheart.

In a time where our federal government seems determined to squabble instead of serve these institutions known as libraries continue to muddle along in spite of funding cuts, competition from other sources of entertainment (for those of us who read for entertainment purposes), and other miscellaneous challenges that I don't even begin to understand or know about.

Yet, they serve as a crucial part of a community. They are open to all members of a community and offer services that are free of charge. According to Wikipedia, they are often considered essential to having a literate and educated population. I know some things you read on Wikipedia can be suspect, but on this I agree.

I live in a small community with limited resources. I've seen over the last several years programs cut from public schools because they were nonessential such as elementary art and music. This has been happening everywhere across the country. But my kids, can still learn how to make crafts and express themselves artistically by attending craft night on Mondays at our public library.


Q-tips and parchment paper skeletons


Public libraries still continue to fulfill the purpose for which they were created, they educate and serve their public. They offer books for lend, some even have book mobiles for people who can't drive into they local library.


Storytime for young children and toddlers is offered by most public libraries and promotes literacy in children. Book clubs for teens and adults are often offered, Lego clubs for older kids, as well as classes and workshops for a wide range of things from knitting to crafting jewelry to making even old books you don't intend to ever read again useful as a planter.

How awesome to combine books and gardening!
So check out your local libraries. You might be surprised by how much they have to offer.

Who knew cheesecloth could be spooky? My librarian did ;).

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Author Melissa Foster Talks About Her New Series Love in Bloom

Photo provided courtesy of Melissa Foster

Today on my blog I’m joined by award-winning, International bestselling author Melissa Foster. Melissa’s books have been recommended by USA Today’s book blog, Hagerstown Magazine, The Patriot and several other print venues. Melissa is here with me today to discuss her new Love in Bloom series featuring the Snow sisters and the Bradens. Contemporary romances that deal with issues of family relationships, career challenges, and finding the courage to open yourself up to someone for a chance at lasting love. I was fortunate to receive advanced reader copies of the first book in the series, Sisters in Love, and the second, Sisters in Bloom, in exchange for honest reviews.

Ann: Hi Melissa! Thank you for joining me today. The Love in Bloom series is a little bit of a departure from some of your earlier novels. What inspired you to write this series and delve exclusively into the romance genre?

Banner provided by author Melissa Foster

Melissa: Hi Ann! I’m excited to chat with you. The Love in Bloom series is different than my normal more serious work. I wanted to write something upbeat and fun, but more weighty than a simple romance, and the Snow sisters was the perfect branch to lead with. The Love in Bloom series is actually a nine-book series featuring the Snow sisters and the Bradens, and they are very family centric. While the books take a turn for the steamy side with the Bradens, the heart of the stories are about family, love, commitment, and overcoming our pasts and secret fears.

I have fallen in love with the romance genre and after this series is complete I have a few others that will follow: The Remingtons, who readers will meet in Bursting with Love, Book 8 of the Love in Bloom series. I’m also considering a spin-off series to follow Michelle, Chase, and Rusty as they enter college.

Ann: I’ve followed you as a Facebook fan for a couple of years now. You’ve always talked about how much you love your writing career. But with this series you seem to be really enjoying yourself and sound almost ebullient about writing them. Has it been stressful at all coming out with two novels almost back-to-back? How do you find the time to write with all the marketing you’ve been doing for your latest two books?

Melissa: I’m so glad you follow me. Thank you! It is silly how much in love with writing I am, but it is true and real. I adore writing, always have, but writing romance has given me an entirely new focus, and the characters in the Love in Bloom series have become “friends” in my mind. I think about them often and plan where they’ll go next. I am adding another two books to the Snow Sisters early next year: Sisters at Heart and Sisters in Summer. I have a feeling that we might follow the sisters for years to come.

I have spent the last eight months preparing for this series to launch with one book every thirty days, and actually, I’m way ahead of schedule and will probably have the first 7 books of the series out by Christmas. It hasn’t been stressful. It’s been very exciting and a great learning experience, but it has been time consuming. I have spent far too many 13 hour days at my computer, but my commitment is to my readers. I know when I’m reading a series I don’t want to wait six months for the next installment. I want to read it while the characters are still fresh in my mind, and I wanted to give that gift to my readers. Once January hits I might slow down **bites lip…knows this might not happen** but for now, I want to bring the Bradens to my fans.

As for time to write—I’m very covetous of my writing time. I don’t take phone calls from 8-4 and I only leave my desk under duress. . I do my editing in the evenings and on weekends. Each book goes through six weeks of editing with three editors (and many revisions). There’s really nothing I’d rather do than write. I also have the world’s most supportive husband and family, and they make it easy for me to do what I love.

Ann: I agree having a support system like that makes all the difference!
The two sisters we’ve met so far in the series, Danica and Kaylie are completely different in their personalities and outlooks on life. While I enjoyed both of them, I found myself drawn more to Danica’s story than to Kaylie’s. Maybe it’s because I’m an oldest child. Of the two do you have a particular favorite? Is it hard to change perspectives when you are writing these novels to reflect the differences in each woman?

Melissa: I really don’t have a favorite sister. They both are my favorites at different times. I adore Kaylie’s wild side and her snarky comments. She has a big heart and she just needed to get past that wild stage, which I think many of us have experienced. Danica is the epitome of an older sister, and watching her evolution from conservative to a bit more relaxed, and her personal growth has been equally as fun as writing Kaylie. It’s not difficult to switch roles when I’m writing because they are so different and I feel both of them so strongly. The difficult part is really keeping them from going too far over the edge one way or the other so they become unbelievable, but I don’t think we’re going to see that happen.

Ann: Of the two male love interests for the sisters which one is your biggest crush?


Cover art provided courtesy Melissa Foster
Melissa: Even now, months after writing Blake Carter, I am still crushing on him! I crush on all of my heroes. My poor husband has to listen to me talk about them like they’re real. I asked him to woo me like they do. He laughs, thank goodness, but yeah…Blake is a swoon worthy man!

Ann: He is indeed. =) How many books are there going to be in this series? What is the expected release date for the next book or books in the series and who will those books be about?

Melissa: Right now Love in Bloom is a 9-book series as I mentioned earlier. It will feature the Snow sisters and the Bradens. While the books take a turn for the steamy side with the Bradens, the heart of the stories are about family, love, commitment, and overcoming our pasts and secret fears. However, I have plans for two more Snow sisters novels and the spin off series, The Remingtons, will probably fall under the Love in Bloom umbrella as well, because the characters from the sisters and Bradens cross over.

The launch dates were supposed to be one book every thirty days, however, I’m ahead of schedule and will probably have the first eight books published by Christmas. (I HOPE)

Watch for the full 9-book LOVE IN BLOOM series:

Cover art provided by Melissa Foster
 SNOW SISTERS
  1. Sisters in Love
  2. Sisters in Bloom                                                 
  3. Sisters in White

 THE BRADENS
  1. Lovers at Heart
  2. Destined to Love
  3. Friendship on Fire
  4. Sea of Love
  5. Bursting with Love
  6. Hearts at Play

Ann: In addition to being a bestselling author, you are the founder of The Women’s Nest, and The World Literary Café. Can you tell us a little about each group and how and why you started them?

Melissa: Sure! The Women’s Nest is a social and support site for women, where we chat about our lives and help each other through transitions. It’s a gathering place for women who want to talk privately, as opposed to on social networks such as Facebook. I started the Nest years ago as a way to communicate with other women when working from home.

The World Literary Café is an online community that bridges the gap between readers and authors, with the mission of paying-it-forward in the literary field, promoting great literature and bringing together the literary community. The WLC offers helpful promotions to authors, reviewers, bloggers, and editors by creating avenues to bring them together under one umbrella in an easily navigable venue. I started the World Literary Café as a way to give back to readers and authors. I wanted to help authors reach readers and offer a community of support. 

I also run Fostering Success, which is an educational venue for authors, where they can learn about self-publishing, marketing, and developing the online presence and platform.

Ann: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today Melissa. It was really great having you as a guest on my blog!

Melissa: I’ve had so much fun answering these questions. Thank you for sharing your blog with me!

If you would like to know more about Melissa Foster and her wonderful books check out her website at www.melissafoster.com. Both Sisters in Love, or Sisters in Bloom can be purchased on the author's page on Amazon. Melissa’s books can also be purchased at B&N, Kobo and iBooks. Other books in the series should be available for pre-order via B&N, Kobo and Apple within the next few weeks. Melissa Foster is also a Goodreads author. If you have a Goodreads account click on her page and sign up to be a fan for updates on all her upcoming releases.

All photos, banners, and book cover photos in this post were provided courtesy of author Melissa Foster.





Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Fun Reads and Movies for October

One of the best things about fall, besides the cooler temperatures and leaf piles for the kids to play in, are the books and movies I set aside to read or watch in anticipation of Halloween.



Last year I started Gail Carriger's Parasol Protectorate series. I only got through the first three books before the Christmas season hit. So I have really been looking forward to finishing the series with Heartless and Timeless. If you like fantasy steampunk set during the Victorian era then you will love these stories about an indomitable character, Alexia Tarraboti, as she navigates adventure and politics within paranormal society. Werewolves, vampires, and ghosts abound in these fun stories along with actresses and other (gasp) suffragettes.

photo courtesy of Joseph-Beth booksellers
Another series I put on hold catching up with are the Iron Druid chronicles by Kevin Hearne. I started these this summer, but then had to give them a short break in favor of other reads. I am currently reading book six, Trapped, and hope to get completely caught up with the series by reading Hunted next. As the name suggests are also fantasies, urban ones. There is lots of adventure in these books along with humor and a loveable Irish wolf hound for those dog lovers out there. The series revolves around Atticus O' Sullivan the last living druid on earth, who looks 21 but is really more like 2100. Again, there are the usual fan favorites of this type of fanstasy, vampires. But there are also Norse gods, Celtic gods and goddesses, as well as, Navajo trickster gods and other mythological characters from several realms. You never know what is going to happen next with Atticus and his faithful companion and sidekick Oberon, his wolf hound, who he can communicate with telepathically. I'm not ashamed to admit that Oberon is my favorite character. Who couldn't love a character who believes bacon to be "the way and the truth."

Of course you can't anticipate Halloween without some stories about either ghosts or witches, not to mention a boy who finds out he's from a family of beastologists. In Annette Blair's Vintage Magic mystery series ghosts and fashion collide. Maddie Cutler a vintage clothing shop owner and former fashion designer has a rare gift. She can see images from the past when she touches a vintage piece of clothing. With the help from her resident shop ghost, and her sexy FBI agent boyfriend, Maddie is able to solve the mysteries from past crimes her vintage clothes pull her into.


If you love stories about witches you will enjoy Jessica Spotswood's Cahill Witch Chronicles geared for YA readers. I've been highly anticipating the second book in this series Star Cursed, to see what happens next with Cate Cahill. Cate gave up everything, her family, her fiancee, Finn to protect her younger sisters at the end of the first book Born Wicked. I can't wait to find out what happens next and how Cate will get along as a member of the Sisterhood.


Lastly, but certainly not least, I'm trying out the first book in a series for middle grade readers called Flight of the Phoenix by R.L. LaFevers, about Nathaniel Fludd Beastologist. Nathaniel Fludd according to the jacket flap is a boy who does not enjoy adventure. But he gets pulled into one by his Aunt Phil after his parents are lost at sea. Aunt Phil it turns out is the world last remaining beastologist and she expects Nate to help her carry on this long running family business. It sounds really good and what better time of year to read about a beastologist.

As for movies, some of my favorites for Halloween are, I Married a Witch, an old movie starring Veronica Lake. There is also the romantic saga of unrequited love, the classic film, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. Other old films my kids and I enjoy watching for the season are Abbott and Costello movies such as, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, or Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy, or one of my faves which is a bit different from their other movies, Time of Their Lives. Another older film we enjoy that is actually in color is Disney's Blackbeard's Ghost. A hilarious ghost movie for younger kids. For those who enjoy movies that are a little more modern and maybe a little creepier The Mummy movies with Brendan Fraser are perennial favorites my daughter insists on watching every year. For those who enjoy witches without too much of a scare factor, there is always Hocus Pocus. Spookier movies with a ghost I enjoy are Dragonfly with Kevin Costner, and of course who can forget The Sixth Sense. If you have older kids who can handle it, why not watch it and enjoy their reaction to the surprise ending.


To top it all off, if you have children or are just a kid at heart you can't let Halloween go by without watching It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown.