Monday, May 30, 2016

Happy Memorial Day!

To all the brave men and women who fought and died for our freedom- I honor you! God Bless America.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Interview with Darryl Womack, author of Tales of Westerford: Dragons, Knights and Kings

Welcome to Middle-Grade Monday! Today I have an interview with Darryl Womack, the author of  Tales of Westerford: Dragons, Knights and Kings. I wanted to know more as soon as I saw that dragons were part of the title :)

1. Tell me about the book in your own words.

Long before the invention of television or radio, family groups gathered together at night around a roaring fire to keep warm, share a meal and talk. Often the conversations became stories as a form of entertainment – especially when adults were trying to teach their children traditions, customs and values. Tales of Westerford: Dragons, Knights and Kings grew out of traditional campfire stories. Young children, staring into the fire, fascinated by the shapes of the flames and glowing embers, asked their father to tell them a story. From deep within the ring of fire, burning logs and smoldering ash, grows a tale of an adventurous boy and a magical discovery.
Nat is a young boy who lives with his family in Sutter, a small village in the Kingdom of Westerford. Like all children his age, Nat loves to play “knights” with his friends. He dreams of one day becoming a knight himself and serving the noble King Edgar. Nat’s other favorite activity is exploring the nearby forest where, one day, he, quite literally, stumbles upon a giant egg. When the egg finally hatches so does a series of events that leads to the fulfillment of Nat’s wildest dreams. “The Tale of a Dragon” is the story of two young friends who take on adventures to save the kingdom. Nat falls in love with the princess and must complete a series of increasingly difficult quests in order to win the hand of his true love. With his best friend, Danby, by his side what could possibly go wrong?
King Edgar needs an elite group of knights to take on special missions throughout the kingdom. “The Dragon Knights of Westerford” looks into the process of selecting the best knights to represent the king and kingdom. Choosing the perfect team is a difficult task, especially in a kingdom with many secrets and hidden stories. Nat and Danby must overcome many obstacles to decide on their Dragon Knights. But, their final test is King Edgar’s Tournament where the ultimate mystery is finally solved.
Treachery and magic spells set the stage for “The True Dragon King.” Traveling back to the beginning, and following a trail of dangerous clues, Nat, Danby and the Dragon Knights must hurry as King Edgar hangs somewhere between life and death. Talia, the witch from Tranglam Forest, is out to get the king and seemingly will stop at nothing to end his reign. Only Nat and Danby have what it takes to solve the riddle and break the spell. Saving the king is the only way to save Westerford.
Tales of Westerford: Dragons, Knights and Kings is a collection of stories born in the campfire tradition and meant to be shared aloud with family and friends. Watch as the flames come to life before the children’s eyes with the adventures of Nat and Danby and the Knights and Kings of Westerford.

2. What got you interested in writing tales of Knights and Dragons?

For as long as I can remember I’ve been a fan of the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, so knights have been a love of mine for many years. Once you start talking about knights and castles and damsels in distress the conversation has to include dragons whether “real”, legendary or symbolic. As far as writing about knights and dragons, that concept came along much, much later.
Several years ago, when our three sons were young, we used to go camping almost every summer. On one trip, while sitting around the campfire, making s’mores and talking about the day’s adventures, one of the boys asked me to make up a story. I began with the classic, “long, long ago there was a boy who lived in a small village in the shadow of a great, stone castle…”
One thing led to another and the boy got a name, Nathaniel, or Nat. He needed a friend so I added a dragon named Danby, because little boys love dragons. Once I had my setting and main characters I added adventures and villains and relationships. These stories became the evening entertainment on our camping trips. It seems that any time we built a campfire a new tale or adventure would come out.

3. What is your writing process like?

Although it has been a dream of mine for many years, actually writing a book was something I never really thought would become a reality. A few years ago my eldest son, Garrett, who is 24 years old, asked me if I remembered the stories about Nat and Danby I used to tell whenever we went camping. I said that I did and he said, “You should write them down.”
I went out and bought a small journal and probably carried it around with me for six months or more without writing a word. It wasn’t so much a severe case of writer’s block as it was silly thoughts like: Should I write in pen or pencil? Should I write in cursive or print? I was concerned that this journal might be the only thing left of my endeavor to write a “real” story and, someday when I was gone, someone would find it and read it and, although it is terribly funny to me now, I was worried what that someone might think.
Finally one day, while out on a bike ride in the hills above the school where I teach, I got an idea how I wanted to start my story, “The Tale of a Dragon”. When I got home I began writing, in cursive and in ink, and within a matter of several weeks filled three of the small journals.
At some point I decided that I needed to type up what I had written to see what it actually said. My scribbles in the little journals turned into a story of more than 50 typed pages. I read it over and edited a bit. I cut some here and added some there and it actually wasn’t too bad. I printed a copy of the story and shared it with a few friends and relatives beginning with my 12 year-old niece and a few of her middle school friends. I know that not everyone will love the story, but I picked my guinea pigs well and received wonderful feedback.
I began to think, with encouragement from others that it might be worth my while to try to navigate the publication waters and see if that dream from long ago might be a possibility.

4. What about your publication journey?

As others read my story a few began to suggest that I try to find a publisher. My sister, Liz, told me she had a friend who is an editor for a publishing company, Elevate Publishing in Boise, Idaho. Her friend, Anna, who we have all known since they were in junior high school, agreed to read my story and give me some advice as to how the publishing game works.
I sent the story to Anna and she emailed back a few weeks later. She began her email by saying that as soon as she agreed to read the story she regretted it saying that she would hate to tell an old family friend his work “stinks”. She immediately followed that statement by adding that, fortunately, that wasn’t the case in this situation. Anna told me that she really enjoyed the story and encouraged her children to read it as well. They enjoyed the story too. She then told me that Elevate was interested in publishing my story. But, she said they would like me to write two more stories to go along with “The Tale of a Dragon”.
The story of Nat and Danby was the one I had told my boys around the campfire in so many different ways and on so many different trips. I would have to work to create two more stories. “The Dragon Knights of Westerford” started out pretty weak, and I knew it. There was a decent story in there somewhere but it lacked something. While writing the second story I came up with a strong idea for story number three – “The True Dragon King”. I was proud of the third story and sent it to Anna within a week or two of sending the second. She and the other editors at Elevate agreed that “The True Dragon King” was every bit as strong as “The Tale of a Dragon”. They encouraged me to beef up “The Dragon Knights of Westerford”.
I had been discussing writing with one of my English teacher colleagues at school and shared my dilemma with her. She asked to read it and I gladly handed it over to her. After spending a weekend with it she returned my story with several sticky notes. One note in particular caught my attention. It said she wanted to know more about a particular place that I had mentioned briefly. That note was all it took. I got an idea and wrote four or five more chapters right in the middle of the story. Sending the story back to Anna and the rest of the crew, I received the feedback I was after. The story was better and with a little more editing the whole book would be sent to the proofer for fine tuning.
I know that I am lucky to have found a publisher so quickly and, seemingly, simply – timing truly is everything. I know that it doesn’t normally happen like this and I am grateful for the opportunity to create something with the support of such an amazing team. I am currently working on a sequel one story of which stems directly from the part that I added in “The Dragon Knights of Westerford” at the encouragement of my friend.

5. Just for fun- favorite ice cream?

A really good fresh strawberry ice cream is always delightful. I also enjoy pralines and cream or other combinations of vanilla with caramel. And, I always make a batch of homemade vanilla on the Fourth of July to go with the rest of the fixins. I make a delicious milk shake that my boys love – vanilla ice cream, caramel sauce and banana. We call them “Waldos” after the big mug with the funny face that we used to drink them from.

6. Favorite book as a child?

I’ve always loved Dr. Seuss. When I was young I remember enjoying Stuart Little, Where the Red Fern Grows, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – classics from my childhood of course. Later I fell in love with Tolkien, Vonnegut and everything Arthurian. Now I read anything by Bernard Cornwell – I love historic fiction. Peter Pan and I need to stop there because I keep coming up with others that I don’t want to leave out. Still nothing like the written word on a page.

7. Favorite movie?

The Princess Bride of course! Great book too!

Friday, May 20, 2016

Caravaggio Signed in Blood by Mark David Smith

YA time! Today I am reviewing Caravaggio Signed in Blood by Mark David Smith, published by Tradewind Books.

The Story-
Young Beppo is the indentured servant of a wine barrel salesman in Italy, circa 1606. Treated horribly, he is none the less loyal and does his job. When his corrupt boss is murdered in front of Beppo's eyes, Beppo flees, making him the prime suspect.

Beppo takes shelter with the artist Caravaggio, who himself has killed a man. Together they travel as fugitives about Italy, fleeing the Pope and other nobleman. Beppo becomes Caravaggio's servant/apprentice, learning about painting and art. While handling the artists business affairs, he falls for the daughter of one of the models. Alas, Beppo is an orphan and pennyless. Plus, he is wanted for murder. Will Beppo and Dolcetta have a future? and how will he prove his innocence?

My Thoughts-
Beautifully written in rich historical detail, this book hooked me from the first page. Though I stumbled over the abundance of Italian used, it just added more authenticity to the story. I felt as if I were Beppo living in 1600 Roma. It truly was a feast to read.

I originally decided to read the book because it involved Caravaggio, and being an art history graduate, I just couldn't resist. Wow, the details about Caravaggio are vivid and come to life to tell the story of a volatile man, who lived a life of debasement, but painted gorgeous canvas' that told biblical stories. Be sure to read the author's historical note at the end, it will bring the story into perspective. The title is also a mystery, one you will discover the answer to at the end.

This is not a breezy story, but one that will stimulate thought and idea. An intellectual read that is also adventurous, romantic and thrilling. I'm giving this one a 5!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

RSVP for Julie Kagawa's VIRTUAL REALITY Q&A/Reading/Dragon Party on Thurs, May 19!

*This just rolled into my email box!*

New York Times Bestselling Harlequin TEEN Author Julie Kagawa to Launch First
Virtual YA Reading with AltspaceVR

New York, NY (May 10, 2016) — Bestselling author Julie Kagawa, also an avid gamer, has tackled vampires, evil fairies and dragons in her books. But now she’s ready to conquer a new frontier that sci-fi and fantasy authors used to only dream about: virtual reality. One of Harlequin TEEN’s veteran authors, Kagawa will host an unprecedented reading and Q&A exclusively in AltspaceVR, the premiere app for events inside of virtual reality on Thursday, May 19th. Fans can attend by downloading the AltspaceVR app for Samsung Gear VR, Oculus Rift, HTC Vive or in 2D mode on qualifying macs or PCs.

After garnering huge successes with her fresh takes on fairies (The Iron Fey series, which recently hit one million copies sold in North America) and vampires, Julie Kagawa began the Talon Saga in 2014—her contemporary action and fantasy take on her favorite mythological creature, dragons. A New York Times bestseller, Talon is the first in a series that will eventually finish with five books. Book 3, Soldier, just went on sale April 26. The VR reading will take place from 6:30PM to 8:30PM EST on Thursday, May 19th and fans can RSVP for the event using this link:

Virtual reality offers a promising new way to connect with fans. Time magazine calls AltspaceVR “a brand new space where you can hang out with your friends, no matter their real-world locations.” They’ve hosted improvisational theater events, tech talks, storytelling events and open mic nights with new events added every week. Their partnership with comedy community, JASH, has seen comics like Reggie Watts, Heather Campbell and Miles Stroth grace their underground virtual comedy club.

“AltspaceVR offers a new platform for authors to connect to an audience from around the world without having to travel from bookstore to bookstore,” says Eric Romo, CEO of AltspaceVR, “We’re excited to have Julie Kagawa share her fantasy-writing prowess with a new audience inside of virtual reality.”

Monday, May 16, 2016

Bailey's Story- A Dog's Purpose Novel by W. Bruce Cameron

Welcome to Middle Grade Monday! Today I am looking at a new release, Bailey's Story, by W. Bruce Cameron. This book is from the Dog's Purpose series and is written from the dog's point of view.

The Story-
Bailey's story begins when he is just a few days old, living with his mom and sibling pups. He decides that the world is waiting for him, so one day he escapes his kennel and ventures into the open. He is adopted by a loving family with a son named Ethan.

Bailey is super excited to be Ethan's dog. He spends every minute with him, but when school rolls around things change. As the pup learns his new role in the family, he also comes to a decision, his true purpose is to protect Ethan. Bailey and Ethan grow up together, going on many adventures and learning about life. When a neighborhood bully grows into a worse threat, it is Bailey to the rescue.

My Thoughts-
Adorable! This book really had me wanting to go out and buy a dog. Just reading from Bailey's POV and seeing how much unconditional love he had for Ethan was heartwarming. It is a simple story and kids will enjoy Bailey's and Ethan's adventures. Several times Bailey is there to save the day and his main purpose is truly just to love Ethan.

The author does a great job of communicating the puppy perspective. He focuses on scent, sound and touch to convey doggy thoughts and feelings.I found it interesting that Bailey seems to have been born with a full vocabulary and awareness of the world, but who knows, maybe dogs are?

The antagonist of this story is Todd, a neighbor  who continually tries to hurt Bailey. The reader can tell right away that something is wrong in his twisted mind. However, it is conveyed in a way that a middle grade reader can understand without being afraid. Caution is also conveyed.

My one critique- Ethan is left alone on a farm at the age of 10? for the weekend. What? Who does that?

Overall, a cute story perfect for middle graders. 4 stars!

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

SCBWI is now accepting Student Memberships!

Great insider news- The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators is now accepting student memberships! If you are a children's writer- PB, MG or YA, then I can not stress how important it is for you to join this group.

Here are the student Eligibility Requirements:
* Must be 18 years of age or older
* Fulltime undergraduate or graduate student at an accredited university – domestic or international
* Copy of current student ID must be submitted for verification

For More Info and to sign-up click HERE.

Monday, May 9, 2016

LDStorymakers Conference Photos

I had a blast this past weekend at the LDStorymakers 2016 conference. I met some amazing authors, took great classes, and snagged a few pictures. Here you go!

Rob Wells- Variant

Dan Wells- Partials, I am not a Serial Killer series

Jeff Savage- Far World Series, The Mysteries of Cove series

Janette Rallison aka CJ Hill- Slayers series

James Dashner- Maze Runner

Me, James Dashner, Julie Wright, and Michelle Wilson

Traci Hickman and wife Laura -DragonLance

Brandon Sanderson- Mistborn, Steelheart series

Me, Christine Hayes- Mothman's Curse and Josi Russell- Caretaker