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, November 26, 2013

Thanksgiving More than Turkeys and Shopping...What?

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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

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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. 

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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.